David Stern is trying to create an artificial deadline. The players are bringing in the big names and big guns to hear where things stand and show union unity. Half the NBA owners will be in the room. The owners moved off their insistence on a hard salary cap but added a bunch of strings.
Now things are serious.
Negotiations that will start Friday and run through the weekend are big — reach a handshake deal and the season will start on time Nov. 1. Miss it and you can expect regular season games will be missed.
Can they do it? Could they reach a deal? Yes.
But only if both sides want to badly enough to really give up something of value and compromise. I’m not convinced that desire is really there.
This fight is all about money — the definition and split of basketball related income (BRI). Everything else is secondary. The owners most recent offer gave the players 48 percent, the players have not come down off 54 percent although they have hinted they would go to 53 percent. Even then, this is a $200 million a year difference.
But Chris Sheridan thinks this gap could be bridged with a deal that would keep player salaries flat next year and grow them from there. He says what matters is the money over the life of a six-year deal.
From what I can gather, it is looking more and more like a deal is going to be cut in the 51/49 or 50/50 range when it comes to the split of basketball related income…
That would give the players $13.84 billion in salaries and benefits over six years, an average of $2.307 billion per season. It is a far cry from what the players were getting percentage-wise under the old deal (57 percent), but it is palatable enough — no matter how it is categorized percentage-wise — to ensure a high probability that it will pass a ratification vote.
Then they just need to figure out the cap structure, an amnesty clause and the rest of the system. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo has an interesting quote today from one of his sources.
Stern’s “going to make a real hard push to get a deal this weekend,” one team president told Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday. “If the union makes a slight move, David will move.
“But the players have to blink first.”
Stern does not have the iron fist over this ownership group that he has had in the past — younger owners who paid a premium for their team and leveraged themselves to do it are driving a hard bargain. That is why Stern needs to players to blink first on Friday — he needs to show the hardliners that he has won, that he has gotten as good a deal as he can get without hurting the product with lost games.
Then those owners have to give something to union chief Billy Hunter that he can take back to his charges and say they have something that can work.
That means no salary rollbacks. That means salaries cannot be decoupled from league revenue — with the league makes more money the players need to make more money. It means there needs to be a soft salary cap in style, even if the punishments for going over the cap make it essentially a hard cap.
The bottom line is Hunter needs to be able to say “we gave up a lot of money, but we’ve set up a system that allows that money to increase and will allow player movement.”
All of that points to where the deal will eventually land. The league had nearly $4 billion in BRI last season, so each BRI percentage point is about $40 million. The owners claim losses of $300 million last season. If they get a 50/50 split that is seven percentage points gained, about $280 million. There is a deal in that area, one that can keep vestiges of the old system that Hunter can sell.
The real question is this — will enough of the owners say that is good enough and sign off on such a deal? Not all will, some want to break the union, but is this good enough for most? On the other side, can Hunter and union president Derek Fisher sell a system where the percentage of what the players take in is down but the real dollar amounts are similar? Can he sell this as a soft cap when it was much harder than it was before?
Both sides can if their constituencies are willing to get a fair deal to get the season going again. I’m just not convinced both sides are there and willing. I think there is some fights left. I hope to be wrong.