David Stern threw out the over-the-top negotiations red herrings yesterday after meeting with the owners — suggesting cutting at least $750 million in player salaries (more than one-third reduction) and maybe even contraction.
As he kind of had to do, Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBA Players Association (the players union), released a statement, which was a fancy way of saying, “are you kidding?”
“The position expressed by the NBA today is regretful, since in February 2010, the players unequivocally rejected the owners’ proposal which called for a hard cap, a 40 percent rollback in player salaries, unlimited expense deductions and the elimination of guaranteed contracts.
“The players and the union would prefer to work towards attaining a fair deal that addresses concerns raised by both sides and improves the game. But, if the owners maintain their position it will inevitably result in a lockout and the cancellation of part or all of the 2011-2012 season. The players and union will prepare accordingly.”
On one hand, it’s hard to see a lockout — at least one that costs real games in October — because it’s hard to see both sides willing to set the league back so severely at a time of fantastic growth. The league is seeing the most fan interest and the best television ratings since Jordan retired, and the new superteam in Miami is pushing that to new heights. A lockout would hurt business for everyone. And everyone knows that.
But there are owners, particularly owners from smaller markets, really itching for a fight. Conversations with their representative over the past few months made it clear some owners don’t fear a lockout, what they fear more is continuing with this economic system in the NBA.
Can Stern mollify those owners with better revenue sharing and some salary reduction? Will the players union give those things up realizing some markets are hurting? If so what do they get in return? Will the owners get an out on long-term contracts they don’t like? There are a lot of questions.
While both sides say they are preparing for a lockout, are they really? Some are. But one hopes that cooler heads will prevail.