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It has been incredibly hard to find solid information on the NBA lockout these days. It still seems like the two sides are far apart, and to be honest it doesn’t look like either Billy Hunter or David Stern are taking the conversations seriously yet. Thankfully, David Stern was on the B.S. Report with Bill Simmons last week to shed some light on just how far apart the two sides are.
Disclaimer: All ‘facts’ are from David Stern’s point of view.
The meat of the issue is that the majority of NBA teams are losing money. The exact number is fuzzy, and even Stern wouldn’t commit to one set number, but he puts the losses at about $300 million a year. Stern’s main point is that it does not matter how much they are losing, and the fact that they are losing money is enough of an issue to fight over. The NBA has finally ‘opened the books’ so Billy Hunter and the players union know exactly how much the teams are losing, but they continue to disagree with what should be counted towards that number. Hunter thinks that a better revenue sharing system, which Stern says will come after the lockout, would fix most of the money issues. Stern says he wants to make the league profitable first and fix revenue sharing after.
Stern and Simmons went back and forth on a plethora of issues. At one point Stern said his ‘outline’ for what the NBA owners want out of the new CBA is a “reset of the percentage [NBA players make], shortening of contracts, a hardening of the cap, and the continued alignment of pay for performance”. Under the old system, the NBA players made 57% of the gross Basketball-Related Income. The owners want to move this closer to a 50-50 split while also taking some more money off the top for various expenses. We’re talking a difference of billions of dollars over the course of the next CBA. As you can see, the sides are still far apart.
One of the main counter-points Simmons made was that the NBA isn’t doing everything they can to make more money. He mentioned things like letting companies advertise on team jerseys and in the past has suggested adding a tournament for the 8th playoff seed in each conference. Stern didn’t really have a strong argument against any of Simmons’ ideas to add revenue, and I’m sure Billy Hunter is bringing up these issues during labor meetings.
David Stern also talked candidly about contraction for about 20 minutes. He even said that the players union has suggested this as a possibility, the biggest issue being that none of the owners would want to give up their team. When Simmons mentioned the New Orleans Hornets as a potential contraction candidate (they do not have an owner and are currently being run by the NBA), Stern said that after the Hornets’ new TV deal is done, along with the strong season ticket sales, New Orleans will become a top-15 market and contracting them won’t make sense. The other logical contraction candidate is the Sacramento Kings. As a huge Kings fan who knows way too much about the situation over there, I can say they have one more guaranteed year in Sacramento to get a new arena built, and if that happens the team will contractually be stuck there for a long time.
I don’t see contraction as a real possibility for the NBA. Even if the Sacramento arena deal falls through, the NBA has given the Kings owners (the Maloof brothers) the OK to move the team to Anaheim after this season. Stern says that potential owners are lined up to buy the Hornets, and no other team is a real candidate. I think relocation to a place like Vancouver, Seattle, or Kansas City is much more likely than complete contraction.
Throughout the podcast, Stern repeatedly said that he is optimistic about the season starting on time. About the recent canceled bargaining session, Stern said, “I spoke to Billy [Hunter], and in effect, they said it the same way. They said, ‘Our guys don’t want to have a meeting unless you’re going to make a new proposal.’ And we said, ‘Too bad,’ and we canceled the meeting … But that’s their right, and I understand it. It’s not a big deal. They’ve got a lot of education to do with their players. You know that as well as I do.” One of the final statements Stern made was “We are going to get it done somehow” and I believe him. I’ve believed this from the beginning. Neither side is going to leave all of this money on the table.
The recent NFL lockout and the current NBA lockout are obviously very different, but I don’t think losing substantial time was or is a realistic option for either sport. I’d feel a lot better if the sides were closer, but after listening to David Stern talk to Bill Simmons for over an hour, I can’t say that any real progress has been made. With all that being said, I’m willing to bet come late September these guys are going to start kicking it into gear. They aren’t talking to each other yet because they don’t have too.