Should any of us be genuinely optimistic the league and players’ union can actually negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement and avoid a potential lockout next summer?
Recent history warns us that thinking billionaires and millionaires will easily figure out a way to split what is now a $6.5 billion pie without rancor or losing games is folly. Since 1996 (a brief, out-of-season work stoppage), there have been three lockouts, the last coming in 2011. Then, the NBA said 23 of its teams had net income losses, and claimed losses leaguewide of $1.5 billion over a five-year period.
The 2011 lockout, which resulted in the loss of 16 regular season games and a delay in the start of the regular season until Christmas Day, resulted in the players’ share of Basketball Related Income falling from its previous 57 percent to a band between 49 and 51 percent. In addition, teams adopted a more lucrative revenue sharing plan amongst themselves that tapped into the highest revenue-producing local television deals by some of the league’s top teams to its lowest revenue producers. The dual adjustments have stanched almost all of the NBA’s team’s financial distresses.
Both the league and the union have until Dec. 15 to opt out of the current deal, which will run through 2021 if neither side withdraws from the agreement. To head off an opt-out, smaller groups including NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and members of the league’s Negotiating Committee and NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts and members of the union’s Executive Committee have met informally for several weeks.
And around the league, there have been murmurs the last few weeks that things were encouraging. (The league and union have agreed to keep their negotiations under the radar and unspecific to the public.) Those murmurs were amplified by a story from Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical last week saying that significant progress had been made toward a new deal and that both sides now believe the broad strokes of a new CBA will be in place before the Dec. 15 deadline.
Silver said in Shanghai over the weekend that discussions were going “very well,” though he would not put a specific timetable on when a new deal could be finalized. He said he and Roberts spoke in Spain last week while Roberts met with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were playing Real Madrid.
“There's been a great sense and spirit of cooperation across the table and desire to move forward,” Silver said. “I think there's a sense from both the owners and the union management that there is a lot at stake here. I think everyone is feeling the pressure from all the constituents involved in this league, all the jobs that we provide, that it's incumbent on us to work something out and get a deal done … I remain optimistic that we're going to get something done relatively soon.”
At the least, nothing will be done until the Negotiating Committee reports to the full Board of Governors in late October in New York.
There is at least some sense that Silver is especially eager to get something done.
“I think he really wants to continue the good wave we’re on right now,” said one source with knowledge of the talks. It is always instructive to be cautious about such observations, though -- while Silver’s style is less brusque than his predecessor, David Stern, he still has 30 owners to answer to, and they are not known for capitulating easily or quickly.
But walking away from the current trend lines will take some doing.
The gate for NBA games rose significantly, as Kobe Bryant played his last season, and the Golden State Warriors sought to break the regular season record for victories. While almost all other sports leagues are suffering through rapid ratings losses on television, the NBA’s national TV regular season ratings rose last season.
To be sure, the major reason for that was increased interest in the Warriors. All the networks spiked when Golden State was on the air, a trend that culminated with the highest-watched Game 7 ever when the Warriors lost at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. There’s no guarantee those numbers will remain, of course. New local television deals also are bringing more revenues and the Cavs will begin a new local deal this year.
And this summer, the $24 billion television contract kicked in. Salaries exploded, as did team payrolls. A spike in the salary cap as was experienced this offseason, from $70 million in 2015-16 to $94 million for 2016-17, would not be sustainable yearly going forward. But the league has already informed teams that its projected 2017-18 cap figure was too high, with an expected cap for ’17-’18 now at $102 million.
But players aren’t the only ones making out well. Forbes estimated that, this past year, the average value of every NBA team exceeded more than $1 billion for the first time. The nascent market of selling advertising on jerseys continues is just beginning. The Kings have finally replaced one of the league’s oldest arenas with the new Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento.
On the surface, then, there is reason for everyone to sign off. Everyone is making money. Everyone is building equity and resale value.
A new deal may not necessarily involve a great restructuring of the BRI split. The players seem to be doing rather well financially under the current system; yes, the game’s true superstars are still not making what they could under a true unrestricted system, where any team could spend any amount it wanted. But players at that level are so subsidized by their shoe deals that their team salary is, if not irrelevant, certainly not their sole (pun unintended) means of income.
The Vertical report mentioned likely increases in the NBA’s rookie salary scale, in place since 1995. Agents have long sought a jump in the scale, which was put in place to stop the huge jump in drafted player salaries, culminating with Glenn Robinson’s 10-year, $68 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1994. This year, the Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons, taken first overall in the 2016 Draft, signed a four-year, $26 million contract.
The increase will likely come in the max amount players can receive per year in the deal. Under the current structure, a player can negotiate up to 120 percent of his slotted salary per year; the team doesn’t have to give it to him, though almost all teams do. Agents want to be able to negotiate larger percentages of a slotted annual salary.
The Vertical also reported that the league and union were discussing adapting so-called “two-way” contracts, which are frequently used in Major League Baseball and the NHL for players that go between their parent clubs and the minor leagues. The players’ salaries are determined by whether they’re up or down. If they’re in the minors, they get the minor-league salary. If they’re in the Majors or NHL, they get the minimum player salary there. (It’s a concept that’s been discussed in NBA circles for a while.)
Adding one or two “two-way” roster spots to the existing 15 maximum would benefit both teams and the union. The team would get further opportunities to develop players in the NBA Development League while not having to pay NBA minimum salaries; the union would add between 30 and 60 jobs on NBA rosters. This could also help accelerate the “30 for 30” push where every NBA teams owns and operates its own D-League affiliate, or perhaps an increase in the number of rounds of the NBA Draft.
Opening night would go down so much smoother if Silver and Roberts appeared together at a pre-game presser, either in Cleveland or Oakland, and announced that common-sense thinking has replaced rapaciousness. This is a time of tweaking, not cleaving. Making a long-term deal, as real a partnership between management and labor as is possible, has never been more possible.
… AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER
Stick to Sports, Vol. MCMLXVIX, Part the 73rd. From Harry E. Caylor III:
A recent US Department of Justice report covering over a decade shows that 41 percent of felony crime is committed by blacks and 38 percent of the shootings by police are black people. They are NOT being targeted, in fact, they are under-represented in these incidents.
The comment above does not address why the crime rate is so high amongst this group [poverty and lake of opportunity probably] but it is what it is. Blacks are not being targeted. They are way more likely to be killed by their own race.
Having said all this, and probably pissing you off, I watch the NBA [Go. Spurs. Go] for entertainment and not to be preached to or told what I need to do. I am bombarded by all that from plenty of other places.
Even if I accept your claim that there’s a study approximating that figure, Harry (and I doubt one exists, at least one that displays numbers like that without any context whatsoever), are you actually suggesting that if 41 percent of the people who commit felony crime are African-American, that 41 percent of the people shot by police should be African-American? Is the world that reductive to you? What the hell does one thing have to do with the other? At any rate, you do not bother me in the slightest by your argument. I would rather we have an argument and try to find some common ground than continue to stick our collective heads in the sand when it comes to race. Which is why I’m not going to stick to sports, and why black athletes are increasingly not sticking to sports, either. Human beings can process multiple things at once.
Self-Processing. From Noah Goodman:
What are your thoughts on Joel Embiid thus far? What is the latest you have heard regarding the 76ers logjam in the front court?
Watched large chunks of his two preseason games, Noah, and my initial impressions are that he’s got a chance to be really good. He’s definitely put in the work to improve his body. He’s moving really well. If the past is prologue and the first two games are predictive, he’ll be a defensive force immediately. The offense will, as it almost always does, take longer, especially since opponents will still make Philly’s guards and wings make jumpers and will sag into the paint. But the potential is clearly there -- and makes your second question even more pertinent.
Any man that says that ain’t been to Mother’s. From Garvin Reiter:
I know free agents don’t seem to want to come here, but is there a good big man available this summer? Does it not matter because we blew all our money this year? Or does it really not matter because Portland just isn’t a destination for top NBA players?
I guess people in Portland think that, Garvin. I’m not sure it’s as pronounced as you seem to believe. No, Portland isn’t for everyone, for different reasons -- it’s a one-major pro sports town (the presence of Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers has eased that somewhat, I know), and some players feel like they’re in a fishbowl because of that. There isn’t a ton of diversity there, either. But there isn’t a blanket refusal on the part of NBA players to go there or stay there. Case in point: Rasheed Wallace could have left years before he did, but took an extension ($80 million) in 1997. Clyde Drexler was traded in ’95, after 11 years there, because he wanted a chance at a ring with the Houston Rockets.
Of more recent vintage, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have made long-term commitments there rather than testing the free-agent waters. The Blazers have a great organization and their owner certainly isn’t shy about spending money ($112 million payroll this season, which will increase further when McCollum’s extension kicks in next year). But, to your question: the best of the likely available free agent bigs next summer will be the Milwaukee Bucks’ Greg Monroe (who’ll probably opt out of the last year of his current deal with the Bucks), the Dallas Mavericks’ Andrew Bogut (an unrestricted free agent in 2017) and the Orlando Magic’s Serge Ibaka (also UFA next year). My guess, though, is if GM Neil Olshey thinks he needs another big, he’ll try to work a trade. Not saying Portland would be interested, but the 76ers certainly have a surplus of bigs at present.
Send your questions, comments, and any future business plans that include this guy for next week’s Morning Tip to email@example.com. If your e-mail is funny, thought-provoking or snarky, we just might publish it!
I’M FEELIN’ …
1) New coaches are tested early and often. Memphis’ David Fizdale passed his first exam with flying colors, making the tough but necessary call to bench Zach Randolph in favor of JaMychal Green. With Chandler Parsons beside him, the Grizzlies will now have athletic forwards to get out early with Mike Conley in transition, while allowing Randolph to maximize his minutes against lesser players. Kudos to Z-Bo as well for accepting the change without public rancor. It’s a tough conversation when you have to tell a successful player he no longer warrants starter’s minutes. But Fizdale did it, and it was the right call.
3) Don’t know what the Washington Wizards will ultimately look like, but Tomas Satoransky looks like he belongs. He plays at NBA speed and pace, does a lot of good things on the court.
4) In these troubled times, the only thing that can save us … Swishmoji.
1) It is never good to say “only” x number of people died in a tragedy, but there was a chance that Hurricane Matthew would be even deadlier than it was on the east coast of the United States. Even so, at least 19 lives lost in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina are a tragedy. (Sadly, Haiti took the brunt of the storm head on, and more than 300 people are reported dead.) Prayers to the lost and the families affected, and those who are still dealing with the aftermath.
2) Saw Jeff last week and he told me what was going on. Continued prayers to you and your family as you keep battling the demon.
3) Just once, you’d like to see all the Jazz players together on the floor for more than two days, and see what would happen.
4) Just going to say this and move on. I’ve been in locker rooms of all kinds for almost three decades, certainly way more than any politician. And I’ve often heard athletes (and other reporters) talk about women there. Often, it was done crudely. I have, I’m sure, occasionally contributed to that crudeness. But I have never -- ever -- heard anyone noted above mention grabbing a woman by the body part mentioned by one of the nominees for president as part of their pursuit of that woman. Not ever. That was not “locker room banter.” I’ve heard locker room banter. That was a description of sexual assault.
BY THE NUMBERS
80 -- Points that the Clippers’ Paul Pierce needs this season to pass the Celtics’ John Havlicek for 15th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Pierce said late last month that this coming season, his 16th, will be his last.
$312,000 -- Price of a LeBron James rookie card from 2003, sold to a private collector at auction after the Cavaliers won the NBA title in June. That is one-tenth the price of the sports memorabilia business’ most expensive card, the 2010 Honus Wagner T-206, which sold for $3.12 million.
13 -- Career games off the bench for Suns guard Brandon Knight, who will assume the sixth man role for Phoenix this season, while Eric Bledsoe takes over as the starter. Knight accepted the role after being offered the position by Coach Earl Watson.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
Actress/comedienne Amy Schumer (@amyschumer), Thursday, 7:20 pm, getting ready to perform at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland by sitting in her friend LeBron James’s locker. Schumer put James in her movie Trainwreck last year as, basically, LeBron James, and the Cavs’ superstar got pretty good reviews playing sort-of himself.
You're always welcome!! https://t.co/LWv0fBZWwA— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 7, 2016
THEY SAID IT
“For me, it’s as simple as, I got a deal in Miami for $41 million, I got a deal in Chicago for $47 million. It didn’t come down to the money. I thought about Cleveland, but I didn’t fit there. You don’t just do something because, oh, I could win the ring there. I have three rings. I don’t need to chase the ring. This is what I wanted to do. I couldn’t fight it. If you fight it, you’re gonna always be like, you shoulda, or, what could’ve -- I don’t like to live my life like that.”
-- Dwyane Wade, in an interview with SLAM Magazine detailing his decision to play for the Bulls -- and that he never seriously considered going to the Cavs, as had been rumored, to play again with LeBron James.
"People look at me like I'm older, like I'm 25 or 26. But I'm still 22. I still have some young problems in my head. But I try to be 100 percent on the basketball court.”
-- 76ers forward Dario Saric, to the Philadelphia Daily News, on his transition from playing at the highest levels in international basketball the past few years to being an NBA rookie.
“We knew he was destined for something like this. He has a great basketball mind, and his ability to deal with people is amazing…He is unbelievably charismatic, he cares about people, he knows the game, he's fun to be around, and all that translates into being a good coach in this league.”
-- Kings guard Jordan Farmar, to the Los Angeles Times, about his former Lakers teammate Luke Walton, now the Lakers’ first-year head coach.
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