LeBron James 'very optimistic' about NBA reaching new labor deal

NBA.com Staff

These reports suggesting a smooth and orderly transition into a new collective bargaining agreement between the NBA’s owners and players are rapidly getting to the point where they sound too good not to be true.

It was one thing for unnamed sources to claim, as happened last week, that the league and the National Basketball Players Association had made “significant progress” toward a new CBA, enough that it could be finalized in the next several weeks. But it was even more encouraging when NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he was optimistic about the prospect of a timely accord, lauding the low-profile and ongoing negotiating process in a news conference during the Global Games visit to Shanghai, China, over the weekend.

Then it was LeBron James, speaking on the record from labor’s side of the table, saying the union is “very optimistic” a deal can be reached without the rancor or lost games and revenue of 2011 and 1998, when contentious negotiations hardened into lockouts.

“I think the best thing about it, we started the conversation a long time ago,” James said Monday in Atlanta, where the Cleveland Cavaliers faced the Atlanta Hawks in a preseason game. “We’re very optimistic on both sides, from the players’ association to the owners, to Adam Silver that we can get something done, and I think we can get something done.

“And I think it all started because we started the conversations early, ways we could better our league.”

All of which, if talks were to fizzle now, might feel like Lucy pulling the football from Charlie Brown.

In the 10-year CBA the two sides finally ratified late in 2011 (that lockout cut the regular-season schedule from 82 games to 66 per team), the owners and the players each were given the option to opt-out of the agreement in December 2016. The league’s rapidly changing economics — a flood of new TV money from its nine-year, $24 billion broadcast contract, especially, along with new revenue sharing and rising franchise values — suggested one or both sides would seek to re-open.

That prompted the negotiating committees from both sides, headed by Silver and NBPA executive director Michele Roberts, to begin discussions on an informal basis. If fruitful enough, a fresh CBA could be put in place seamlessly come July 1, when the current version would lapse.

The salary cap for this season jumped from $70 million per team a year ago to $94.1 million, a 34 percent year-over-year increase. It is projected to jump again for 2017-18 to $102 million.

This season’s cap figure represents a 62 percent increase of the $58 million cap of 2011-12. Some have suggested that the stability of the league brought on by the current CBA gave the NBA’s broadcast partners and potential franchise suitors the confidence to bid up previous rights fees and team valuations.

James, an executive vice president for the players’ union, holds as much sway in the NBA’s executive suite as perhaps any player ever, owing to the Cavaliers star’s active interest in league issues and Silver’s desire to seek out player input as an important aspect of his job. The two reportedly talk or text regularly.

Among the expected or possible tweaks in a new CBA: increases in the rookie salary scale that has fallen behind current revenue levels, and a boost in maximum-salary amounts for the league’s biggest stars.

“I’m not here to talk about specifics, what the owners have asked for, what we’ve asked for,” James said Monday. “The most important thing is that our game is as big as it’s ever been. And we want to continue that, and a stoppage of play will not continue that.

“We want to continue to build the brand and make the game as big as it can, where if there’s certain people that can’t watch it, we want them to have an opportunity to watch it in different countries. So that’s what’s most important.”