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Steve Aschbruner

Winners, losers of (tentative) new CBA

Posted Nov 28 2011 7:03AM

Two things are impossible when compiling a list of the likely winners and losers in the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement -- oops, make that tentative out-of-court settlement between the owners and the players.

First, it's impossible to do this without triggering an endless loop of soundtrack songs in one's head: "Winning" (Santana), "Even the Losers" (Tom Petty), "Every 1's a Winner" (Hot Chocolate), "Beautiful Loser" (Bob Seger), "Winning Ugly" (Rolling Stones) and dozens more. At least the lockout -- "Lawyers, Guns and Money" (Warren Zevon) -- is over.

Second, in big picture terms, there are no real losers. The owners saved $280 million or so annually from what they were paying the players, in percentage of basketball-related income (BRI), and can throw that at the financial losses they've been moaning about since before the labor talks began.

The players began the lockout and end it as the highest compensated athletes in North American team sports and, once the National Basketball Players Association is re-formed, the highest-paid unionized workers in the world. The fans, despite losing 240 games from the NBA's traditional slate of 1,230, get a season now that will be crammed with action, leading up to a full playoff menu, with everyone a little bit hungrier for the wait.

However, it is possible, now that the summary of deal terms is available, to assess some winners and losers within the framework of the likely next CBA.

The changes were intended -- and fought for, to the brink of the unthinkable -- to make the NBA both economically healthier and more balanced competitively. Many of them won't apply for a couple of seasons. Teams and players, however, will begin navigating the new deal as soon as it's ratified, and some will fare better than others.


Billy Hunter: Hunter was under fire from the most successful and aggressive agents, and his position as executive director of the NBPA was in jeopardy. But by getting the player reps to go for the disclaimer-of-interest strategy rather than flat-out decertification, he was able to stay involved -- and continue getting paid. Hunter was able, too, to stay involved in the settlement talks. If he sells the tentative deal and his role in getting it the right way, he'll have a lucrative job he enjoys for some time going forward.

Derrick Rose: The Chicago Bulls guard, and reigning NBA MVP, caught a break worth an estimated $17 million if he chooses to stay put via a long-term Bulls extension. The new deal will give certain young overachievers like Rose access to deals worth 30 percent of the salary cap rather than 25 percent.

Miami Heat: Even though the Heat's 2010 offseason roundup of LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade set a lot of owners' jaws for the labor fight that ensued, Miami figures to get stronger before it gets stymied. A pool of amnesty players soon will be available as cheap talent if the taxed-out Heat want to add help -- Baron Davis? Brendan Haywood? -- and some of the tax penalties headed their way won't apply for the next two years.

Chris Paul: And Dwight Howard and Deron Williams, for that matter. They'll have the same options and clout that Carmelo Anthony had last season with Denver because extend-and-trade deals won't get clipped until 2013-14. (Media, fans and these players' current teams might lose here, via endless stories and speculation about the stars' future whereabouts.)

Tim Duncan: Same with Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Ray Allen and other oldsters who came uncomfortably close to watching the ends of their careers -- or a good chunk of that -- slip away with a lost season. Now the vets might even benefit from facing 66 games rather than 82 given their aging name-the-bodyparts.

Regular guys: We're thinking here of players whose egos and lifestyles don't require the limelight. By staying in or going to less-than-glamorous markets, they might do better financially than hopping aboard the big-spenders' bandwagons. How? The salary cap "floor" is going to rise rapidly from 75 percent to 85 percent the next two seasons, then to 90 percent. Someone is going to get paid by teams that previously might have scrimped. This is one time when the big fish/small pond approach really could pay off. A fellow might not even have to upgrade his game to land a serious raise.

Less is more advocates: Don't be surprised if there is a suggestion -- which will be largely ignored by the NBA's competition committee and everyone else in power -- to consider a 66-game season every year. Fewer games should mean less separation in the standings, which should mean more meaningful games. Take the schedule-compression that will be used this time out of the equation and the lessened pounding could boost the quality of play. Of course, fewer games would mean lower revenues and smaller checks all around. So see ya, that idea!

Derek Fisher: The Lakers' veteran guard donated gobs of offseason time and effort to the union cause, traveling across the country repeatedly only to butt heads and go home -- for a few days only -- empty-handed and frustrated. Then he deal with speculation that he was a turncoat, selling out his peers for some vague promise of future league employment. It was a low blow that Fisher was wise not to dignify with much rebuttal. When the players walked away from 50-50 and even pursued litigation, did we read of anyone apologizing to Fisher for that character assassination? He took the high road and likely will stay there beyond his basketball years.


Oklahoma City: Some team is going to fare the worst coming out of this lockout, and the Thunder might quality in one way: The very same CBA change that could make Rose smile could create a dilemma for Oklahoma City. If Russell Westbrook qualifies for an extension that's richer than what Kevin Durant signed, how does Thunder GM Sam Presti handle it? There are those who think Westbrook might be better used as trade bait anyway -- Chris Paul? -- and this might only add to that clamor.

David West: It might not be the best offseason to be an unrestricted free agent, especially if you're a 31-year-old power forward who turned down a $26 million contract extension before suffering a serious knee injury. The phase-in of the CBA is a good thing for West, at least; if all the terms had been applied immediately, he could have gotten squeezed by the steep drop in players' share of BRI and the rush of teams hoping to avoid tougher luxury-tax penalties.

Orlando Magic: And the New Jersey Nets, for their Howard and Williams predicaments, respectively. We could add New Orleans here, except that the Hornets suddenly look like a better investment for whoever takes them off the NBA's hands, given the stronger financial terms in the new CBA.

Dallas Mavericks: The Mavs will get their rings on Christmas Day, a little extra wonderfulness from last June's Finals victory. But they have a bushel of free agents, some of whom will get their rings mailed to them. And soon enough the approach that earned Dallas its first NBA title will earn it double and triple taxation under the new levies on overspending. A philosophical correction is extremely likely for owner Mark Cuban.

Jeff Kessler: The outside counsel for the players turned in a "bad cop" performance during this lockout that might have had Vic Mackey trembling. Kessler, whose years as a Stern adversary already brought a measure of friction into any bargaining session, went ballistic twice after meetings this fall, dropping incendiary terms like "hijacked," "intimidate" and "fraud." By the end, he was a voice on a speaker phone -- and even then he nearly derailed the final session Friday when he sought a boost in the players' share to 51 percent of BRI. It is possible that Kessler played his role perfectly and so exasperated Stern and the owners that they gave in on certain items without even realizing it. But publicly, at least, he seemed to be the guy on the players' side most likely to torpedo a season. (Portland owner Paul Allen might have earned that title from the owners' side.)

Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers face the tough Brandon Roy question, in terms of amnesty. Roy, his gimpy knees and his fat contract would make him an obvious choice to shed via this provision -- if he weren't such a popular player and face of the franchise still capable of stellar moments on the court.

George Cohen: The federal mediator tried. And tried. And tried. But the two sides simply weren't ready to compromise when they welcomed Cohen into the proceedings, and a nice man suffered the same fate with the basketball set that the NFL owners and players handed him.

Jerry Reinsdorf: Right away, the Chicago Bulls owner will have to pay Rose more than he would have under the old CBA. He also faces revenue sharing unlike anything he had to deal with in the Michael Jordan era. And while he's been careful -- and lucky, thanks to Rose and another key young player, Joakim Noah -- to avoid tax liability recently, his team might require a plunge above the threshold to get the offensive help it needs. And that plunge will be taxed more severely than ever before.

Phoenix Suns: Remember when the Suns were a glamour franchise and a coveted destination for free agents, who would sign wink-wink deals to get paid later while enjoying the weather and the high-octane offense now? Owner Robert Sarver's near-teardown of that team and, coming out of this lockout, reputation as a hardline owner has people wonder where and when Steve Nash will go for a sunset ring run to his career.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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