NEW YORK — A new collective bargaining agreement between the NBA’s owners and its players isn’t “done-done,” as commissioner Adam Silver termed it Friday, but reports of progress toward a deal that would avoid both a lockout and past acrimony apparently are not exaggerated.
“We’ve made tremendous progress,” Silver said at the end of this week’s Board of Governors meetings in midtown Manhattan. “Hopefully we will be back to all of you in the not-too-distant future to say that negotiations have been completed.”
From the initial informal chats between Silver and National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts more than a year ago through Wednesday’s more traditional negotiating session on the eve of the Board of Governors sessions, Silver – who was heavily involved in previous CBA talks during David Stern’s tenure as commissioner – has been struck by the level of respect and cooperation.
The current 10-year deal was hammered out in the fall of 2011 against the backdrop of a lockout and a season that shrunk to 66 games. That deal included an opt-out clause that could be invoked by either side on Dec. 15 of this year, which would terminate this CBA by July 1, 2017.
At this point – with an extension “nearly complete,” according to a Yahoo! Sports story Thursday – that Dec. 15 date should only come into play if talks break down, a league source told NBA.com.
Details of changes in the revised CBA won’t be official until the deal is ratified, but various tweaks and alterations of current provisions have leaked out via reports from multiple outlets. For instance, figures in the rookie salary scale, veterans’ minimum salaries and certain salary-cap exceptions – which haven’t been calculated as a percentage of the rising cap amount and thus have lagged recent and dramatic cap hikes – could soar by as much as 50 percent.
The “one-and-done” rule for early-entry draft candidates is expected to go unchanged. Two-way contracts that would adjust the salaries of players as they moved back and forth between NBA rosters and their teams’ D League affiliates would be new. Little-used restrictions related to older players and maximum contracts could be adjusted up (affecting players age 38 or older, from 36). And there might be no amnesty clause – which allows teams to free their cap of burdensome salaries, while waiving players who get paid in full – in the new CBA, contrary to the past two.
Still, the 800-pound gorilla of virtually every CBA negotiation is the split of basketball-related revenues (BRI). Five years ago, the players and owners finally settled on a 49-to-51 percent range, depending on certain variables, with the players – who received 57 percent in the deal prior to 2011 – now at approximately 51 percent. That split likely will continue in a new deal, various sources have said.
Not to minimize the other provisions and dickering, but once that split is agreed on, the rest of it can seem like “T” crossing and “I” dotting. So why has it gone so smoothly this time, compared to the rancor produced in 2011 and 1999?
“I think the fortunes of the league, the fact that there is more money to distribute among our players and teams, has created an atmosphere that makes it more conducive to continue a deal that looks a lot like the current deal,” Silver said. “I think there is a sense across the table that we have a system that we both fought hard for in the last round of collective bargaining that for the most part is working pretty well.”
Shorter version: Neither the owners nor the players want to kill a goose this golden. Business isn’t just good, it’s great, with record highs in overall revenues, broadcast rights, franchise valuations and players’ salaries.
Other factors beyond pragmatism and self-interest, however, have played roles so far, too.
Consider Silver and Roberts, both of whom are presiding over the first CBA that will have their names front and center. With Stern and former NBPA head Billy Hunter gone, one or both might have felt pressure to push toward a “we win, you lose” outcome. But insiders have said neither has tried to prove how tough he or she is at the bargaining table as a show of strength to the owners or the players, respectively.
“What’s different is from Day 1, we both tried to establish a tonality, a process in which there would be transparency and in which there would be respect from both sides,” Silver said. “Michele’s word is we both agreed to be ‘adults’ in this process.
“There hasn’t been agreement on everything. I think there’s been a healthy back and forth, but I think it’s begun from a basis of trust. I credit Michele Roberts enormously with coming in with that perspective, with being very professional about how she and her colleagues and the players went about this negotiation.”
Today’s NBA players probably are the most business-savvy the league ever has known, owing to the NBPA’s training and information opportunities as well as lucrative, outside earning potential of contemporary players.
Then there’s one person in the room for some of the talks – the current owner of the Charlotte franchise and one of the most respected former NBA superstars ever – who captures the players’ attention.
“I think having Michael Jordan as part of our negotiating committee [matters],” Silver said. “For players to see him in that position, it doesn’t mean that if Michael says it, it necessarily means that they accept that as the position they should take. But I think that’s really added a special element unique to this league, to have a superstar player like that owning a team now and being part of these discussions.
“I think that added an enormous amount to the atmosphere in the room … [We] all remember the old slogan from when Michael was a player of ‘Be like Mike.’ I think there’s the sense now for the players that that’s yet another area where they want to be like Mike. Look what he’s done, taking sort of his success on the floor and translated that into being an incredibly successful businessman.”
Also, the enlistment by the union of veterans respected by the members – in particular, NBPA president Chris Paul, executive VP LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony as another VP – has lent a gravity to the talks thus far.
Silver also touched on other topics in his Q&A time with reporters Friday:
Competitive balance remains a priority for Silver and the NBA overall, because as much as an individual team want to do everything it can to win a championship, the league feels it prospers most with the greatest spread of talent. In other words, a commissioner can be happy for free agent Kevin Durant exercising his free-agent right to sign with Golden State while doing what he can to avoid a league dominated by a few “super teams.” So with the start of the 2016-17 season days away, how is the NBA doing? “We’re far from the perfect system,” Silver said. “The players are divided a little bit as well because on one hand, they want that ability to be a free agent and to go wherever it is that they choose to play. On the other hand, they recognize that we’re going to have a better league if talent is distributed in a more equal fashion.”
The WNBA format of reseeding playoff teams after each round, while an interesting model for future NBA postseasons, isn’t anything that will be part of the league’s format in the short term.
The NBA already has a rule regarding team personnel during the playing of the national anthem. That, combined with how some players and teams have made unity gestures in the preseason (linking arms, for example), makes Silver believe there won’t incidents of kneeling or other individual protests as seen in the NFL. “It would be my hope that they would continue to stand for the national anthem,” he said. “I think that is the appropriate thing to do.” Silver said the league and the union encourage players and teams to vent social concerns by tackling the problems directly, as they have been doing.
Silver expressed the NBA’s condolences for longtime Detroit sportswriter and Pistons beat man Drew Sharp, who was found dead at home Friday at age 56. The commissioner also wished well USA Today NBA writer Jeff Zillgitt, recovering from his latest round of cancer surgery.
Though not discussed in Silver’s news conference, the NBA announced that the Replay Center in Secaucus, N.J., will determine the outcome of all relay situations except for player altercations and flagrant fouls. Sourcing more rulings to the Replay Center last season (72 percent of all replays) led to a reduction in average review time from 42.0 seconds in 2014-15 to 31.9 seconds, the league’s research revealed.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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