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NBA Lockout Has Become A Traveshammockery

Throughout the summer, I remained convinced that cooler heads would prevail in these talks and that while we might miss some pre-season games, the season itself would be unharmed and start right on schedule.

Even after that went out the window, I never thought the entire season would be in jeopardy.  Both sides had gotten so close to the finish line. A deal was in sight.  "We're on the two-yard line", Billy Hunter said.  That was on Oct. 8th.

It's now Nov. 15th and the union has rejected the league's latest ultimatum and has filed a disclaimer of interest to disband the union and take the NBA to court.  There is no end in sight.

How did it get to this point? 

For months we were led to believe that the split of BRI was the main issue and that once that was agreed upon, the system issues would fall into place.  Dan Gilbert infamously told Billy Hunter to "Trust my gut" when Hunter asked why the Union should accept a 50/50 offer without knowing what the system would look like. In the end however, we got our 50/50 split, with the players taking a 12% paycut, which would cover almost all of the losses the NBA has claimed.

But it is the system that is now holding these negotiations up.  The players took the 50/50 offer hoping to be able to retain some of how the system worked in the previous deal, allowing more freedom of player movement and more free agent options, like having the full MLE available to luxury tax payers, as well as keeping sign-and-trades on the table.  David Stern and the owners gave a little on these issues, but not much, issuing a new ultimatum that if the players did not accept, negotiations would start over with a 47/53 BRI split and a flex (essentially hard) cap.  

The players are entirely right if they feel this deal wasn't fair.  All the "concessions" the owners have made throughout this process was less concession and more crossing items off a want list.  Stern's threat of a reset offer was incredibly unfair, especially at this stage of the game.  If the players weren't going to accept this 50/50 proposal, why on earth would they have accepted the 47/53 proposal with a flex cap that has been off the table for months now?  

The players are backed into a corner.  They could have either capitulated to the owners demands and accepted this new offer or they could have fought back.  Is it any surprise that this group, some of the most aggressive and competitive people in the world choose to fight?  

I think you can tell from the tone of this piece so far and the other thoughts I have expressed to this date that I've been on the side of the players. But the issues they're fighting over now?  The issues that definitely threaten the 2011-'12 season and might threaten the 2012-13 season as well?  They're not worth this trouble.  

What are these issues? Taken from the exact copies of the deal as provided by the New York Times:

  • Limits to what Luxury Tax paying teams can do.  They would not be able to use the bi-annual exception.  They would not be able to do sign-and-trades (starting in the 2013-14 season). Taxpayers would also have their own smaller Mid-Level Exception starting at $3 million with a max contract length of 3 years, available every year.
  • The Luxury Tax would escalate for every $5 million a team is over the cap, starting in the 2013-14 season. Until then the tax would be the same $1 to $1 tax it currently is, so as to phase this change in.
  • Carmelo Anthony rule: No extend-and-trades.
  • Escrow would go up from 8% to 10%.  Rookie scale and minimum contracts would be reduced 12%.  These are in lieu of salary rollbacks across the board to help make sure the players BRI split goes down.
  • Max contract lengths reduced by a year, and the increase in pay per year is lowered.
  • Team Options outside of Rookie Contracts are eliminated.  Player Options are eliminated unless a player who makes more than the average NBA salary chooses to make the last year of his deal fully unguaranteed.
  • Players want specific revenue sharing rules to be included in the CBA while the owners want it separate.
Let's take a look at how many players signed a MLE worth $5 million+ with Tax paying teams over the last CBA: Jerome James, Desagna Diop, Jared Jeffries, Ron Artest, Rasheed Wallace, Jermaine O'Neal, Chris Duhon, Al Harrington, and Antonio McDyess.  Nine players out of 450.  The extend-and-trade? That's called the Carmelo Anthony rule for a reason.

These are not issues worth losing a season over or even 10 games.  To me, the players have already  won a victory of sorts in making sure that guaranteed contracts would remain, as well as keeping a soft cap, and 50% of BRI, more than I believe the owners want to give them.  It's still a crappy deal compared to what they had before, but it is a better deal than anyone thought they would be able to get.  Logic dictates that you would cut your losses here and accept the deal.  Instead the players have gotten so pissed off at this process that they've gone with the nuclear option in a desperate attempt to finally get some leverage in these negotiations.

Just as these issues aren't worth fighting over for the players, they aren't worth fighting for the owners either.  Why can't they just give back some of these system issues to the players?  Hell, it's not even giving back since all they'd be doing is keeping it the same as it has been the last few years.  The players would still be at 50% of BRI, even if the Lakers and Magic wanted to keep handing out full MLE contracts.  The NBA claims these are issues of competitive balance but we all know this not to be true.  Tom Haberstroh had a killer article showing the correlation between how well a team drafts and how they perform.  The union even reportedly offered a proposal at one point that would have given bad teams multiple first round picks that the NBA rejected out of hand, despite the fact that this might have done a lot more for competitive balance than anything the owners have proposed.

Leadership for both sides has been lacking, and ego has taken precedence over logic.  I remain hopeful that before this thing goes to court, someone will realize just how stupid this all is and come to their senses to get a deal done.  Otherwise we're staring at a nuclear winter in the NBA that could last years.

Who's to blame? Who cares. Shame on both of you, for letting it come to this.