When leaders of the NBPA — the NBA’s player union — emerge from a Times Square area hotel on Monday afternoon, I fully expect them to say the people in the room voted to approve a modified version of the league’s latest offer. It makes sense to put the ball in the owners’ court.
The question then becomes: What areas are they going to modify? Multiple reports suggest a few things frustrate the players. Here are some possibilities.
• The mid-level exception for tax paying teams. It’s not so much this specific item (which impacts just a couple players a year) as it is a philosophical difference between the sides. The league wants to flatten out the payroll — rein in big spending teams but force lower spending teams to bring their payrolls up closer to the cap line. (The idea by the league is that this payroll balance will distribute talent more evenly and create more competitive balance. I — and those that studied the issue in depth — say that balance is a myth because of the gap between elite and role players in the league and how that plays out on the court.)
The players want teams that can afford to go into the tax not to be penalized — basically they want freedom of movement when they are free agents. They want 30 teams to be able to go after a player if they so wish. The owners want to tie the hands of the highest payroll teams. That plays itself out in a few areas that each individually do not account for a lot of players but as a group do allow player movement to the higher-payroll teams. Look for the players to loosen those rules some. This is something the owners may well balk at.
• The escrow. To make sure that the players as a whole hit a specific percentage of Basketball Related Income with their salaries (in total, as a league), part of each player’s paycheck is held back and put in an escrow fund. At the end of the season, a portion of that fund is returned to the players to bring the total spent on player contracts to the right percentage of league revenue. (Still with me?)
In the last deal, eight percent of player contracts were withheld for escrow, the league’s offer ups that to 10 percent. As Ken Berger at CBSSports.com explains, in the first couple years of this CBA the players are not likely to get that money back, so basically this is just taking more money out of their pocket. Nobody likes that, but it is really the only way to get close to the BRI percentages the first couple of years.
• The league’s proposal calls for a 12 percent reduction in future rookie contracts. Those were already real bargains for the league, but again if you can’t rollback existing contracts you have to get that money from somewhere for the owners. Also, the rookies always take it on the chin in these deals because veterans vote and the rookies are not part of the union yet.
Even if the sides can agree on a framework soon, there are a host of “b-list” issues that could prove troubling down the line, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo.
If the players were to vote to accept the terms of the owners’ current proposal, the litany of B-list issues – including contraction, drug testing, Developmental League assignments and draft age eligibility – would still have to be agreed upon.
Those so-called lesser issues could still drive a stake in the heart of the deal because the owner can insist that contraction would force the percentage of BRI to the players to go down. The idea of dramatically reducing a player’s salary if he is sent to the D-League also drew fire from players.
Those issues are not in the deal the players are discussing Monday in New York, but they have to be sorted out before there is a final deal. Which is to say, we’ve got a long way to go yet, folks.