My wife got me started on using the phrase “Is that the hill you want to die on?” and it’s become something of a widespread philosophy-solver for me. You have to pick your battles, and you have to decide what is so important to you that you’re willing to lose substantial capital (be it time, energy, leverage, money, whatever) in order to win it, and what’s just not worth the reward. Both the NBPA and NBA have very poor understandings of this concept. Every little thing in these negotiations have been hills they want to die on. Everything is so important. Everything is vital.
The latest thing to prevent a deal and potentially kill a season is the sign-and-trade. Here’s how this works:
- The players don’t want the 49-51 BRI band, they want a 51-53 band, and they might more easily accept a 50-52 band, but they’ll take the 49-51 band if they get systemic concessions.
- Instead, the owners are getting massive systemic changes, which in the owners’ minds are still a concession because they don’t involve a hard cap. Among the elements in the latest offer is the elimination of the sign-and-trade for teams paying the luxury tax.
- The sign-and-trade is a pretty huge deal because without it, players can’t really get a max deal in unrestricted free agency, get their extra year from Bird rights, and go to the team they want. So if the Knicks, for example, are in the luxury tax when they attempt to sign Chris Paul, they can’t execute a sign-and-trade to get the extra year or fit him in when they’re over the cap. It restricts player movement.
- It doesn’t restrict player movement as much as a hard cap, but the union feels that it does. The union thinks this is their hill to die on.
The league has not relented on its insistence that tax-paying teams be forbidden to execute sign-and-trade transactions, which the union argues — when coupled with the other system restrictions — would dry up the market for free agents in a way that imitates a hard team salary cap.
“They want it all,” Kessler said. “They want the system where tax payers will never be in the marketplace and that for repeat tax payers, it’s going to be like a hard salary cap. And those deals are not acceptable for players today, and it’s not acceptable for future generations of players. … The players will not be intimidated.”
So that’s a huge part of where we’re at. It’s not everything. The union doesn’t like anything about the league’s latest offer, despite it being comprised of suggestions from federal mediator George Cohen, who the union wanted back in talks. They want a higher BRI, they want a better system for player movement, they want lighter penalties for tax-paying teams, etc.
But the sign-and-trade has become this big thing. Because that’s what happens when people are so into an argument they can’t see the forest for the trees.