After experiencing a little bit of hope that the NBA owners and players were starting to make some progress on ending the lockout, all hope seems to be lost that this lockout will end any time soon. After unsuccessful negotiations on Tuesday, NBA fans need to face the harsh reality that this upcoming season will either be shortened, or won’t happen at all. Both sides met on Tuesday for about 5 hours and it ended the same way that every other meeting has ended. No progress on a new deal. No new proposal. “Agree to disagree.” Not exactly ringing endorsements.
Derek Fisher, the president of the NBA players’ union, and the rest of the players offered somewhat of a compromise by proposing a slightly lower revenue for the players while still maintaining the current salary-cap system, which is the most important issue for the players. However, the owners remained stubborn and appear relentless in keeping the current salary-cap system for a new labor agreement. Both sides have exchanged proposals. However, neither proposal has influenced either side to change their respective opinion. The players have realized that, for the owners, it is much more than just making a higher profit. The owners of the smaller-market teams such as the Minnesota Timberwolves, Milwaukee Bucks, Utah Jazz, etc. want to ensure that they can compete financially with the larger-market teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, and Miami Heat. Because of the current luxury-tax system, the larger-market teams have been able to be more aggressive in the free agent market by simply outspending the competition. In addition to this, the owners want the players to earn less than their current share of all NBA revenues, which they find extremely significant. The players currently make 50% of all NBA revenue (they technically earn 57% of all Basketball-Related Income, or BRI), and the owners want this number to be much lower. The fact that each side has a different view as to what is the most important issue for the new labor agreement is not a good sign.
Ian Thomsen, a writer for ESPN, described the whole situation best when he said, “The bottom line is that the owners have the means to win this argument because they can afford to not pay the players longer than the players can afford to live without their pay.” David Stern knows that if many NBA players decide to go overseas and play in Europe or Asia, he and the owners will still have more power to get what they want, because Stern believes that many of the players will not be able to live with lower salaries and less appealing lifestyles in international basketball leagues. If this isn’t the definition of dysfunction, then I don’t know what is.
The NBA was at an all-time high in TV ratings after the NBA Finals in June. The much-hated Miami Heat were playing weak, unconvincing basketball and the “underdog” Dallas Mavericks were making the Heat look like, well, exactly what they are: a 3-player team. NBA fans loved to see the almighty Heat collapse under the ultimate pressure of the NBA Finals, so ratings were booming. With all these negotiations droning on, NBA fans are beyond frustrated. They won’t be getting the full NBA season that they deserve. In addition, basketball is going to fall even further down the rankings of the most-watched and most-beloved sports in the US. Football is, of course, at the top despite a lockout of their own during the offseason, and with baseball not facing a lockout and having an entertaining season, basketball seems to be in trouble.
My prediction is simple. The NBA season will happen. It will be shortened down to a 50 game season. However, it will get close to the point of shutting down the entirety of the season. The new labor agreement won’t be settled upon until the very last minute, literally. The NBA’s ratings won’t recover this season, but they will slowly begin to climb up to the point of relevance in seasons to come. The teams with new coaches, such as the Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Indiana Pacers, etc., will all have trouble recovering from the lost training camp and preaseason. They will be forced to throw together new systems in a matter of days, and the teams will suffer dramatically because of a lack of chemistry and understanding amongst the players. How ironic that most of these teams are the teams in the smaller-markets that won’t be able to compete with the larger-market teams in free agency and in general. Seems to be a recurring theme. The more established teams such as the Lakers, Celtics, and Bulls will fare the best. Sidenote: the Miami Heat will not win a championship…just sayin’.
So what does this lockout mean for NBA players? Well, some players will decide to play overseas (some will obtain potential opt-out clauses in their contracts so they can come back to the NBA if there is a season) because of the money and the simple ability to play the game they love. The players that will choose this option though are the ones that are free agents with uncertain futures or reserve/bench players also with uncertain futures as to if they will be traded or not. Will big-name, high-profile players such as Kobe or Lebron go overseas? Doubtful. It’s not worth it to them to potentially injure themselves, especially for Kobe who has faced so many injury problems. All players though will have to stay in shape just in case the season miraculously happens at some point. It’s almost a sense of false hope. Stay in shape and work hard, even though you won’t be playing for probably 4 or 5 months. Lastly, what does this lockout mean for NBA fans? In simple terms, it means that fans won’t be able to watch NBA games for a while. They won’t be able to go see the great game of basketball at it’s highest level of competition for a long time. No more going to Oracle Arena and watching my Warriors anytime soon. Will there be a 2011-2012 season? Eventually. We’ll just have to wait 4 or 5 months and see.