NBA And Players Representatives Meet To Discuss Possible Settlement

Draft age limit, other “B-list” issues still to be resolved


There are still some big issues sitting out there unresolved in the NBA labor talks.

At what age can players declare for the NBA draft? Keep it at 19 (the one-and-dones) or move it to 20? Or 18? Then there are the specifics of the NBA drug testing policies. And the rules in the unlikely event of the league contracts a team. Plus the owners still have to finalize their revenue sharing plan.

That’s just the tip of iceberg of the B-list issues the lawyers for the NBA owners and players still have to hammer out. They may be secondary issues to how to divide up the money, but they impact the lives of players and future generations of NBA players.

These issues are not going to derail the framework of the NBA labor deal hammered out by NBA owners and players in the wee hours of Saturday morning in New York.

Neither side can afford to let that happen. The five-month NBA lockout that cost 480 games of this season has already tested the faith of NBA fans and risked alienating the fan base in the middle of the worst recession the nation has seen in more than 50 years. To go back on the handshake deal now, to offer a season then pull it back, would simply devastate the game in a way neither side can afford to do. What’s the point of arguing over how to divide the revenue pie if the pie gets much smaller?

But there are still plenty of issues on the table. And the sides don’t agree on them.

The NBA draft age limit will be the biggest. In early proposals the owners wanted to move it to age 20 — essentially two-and-dones. The players have said this is something they want to see moved back to age 18. Expect this to move to 20 or stay the same — this is a more important issue for owners. They do not want to go back to scouting high school players again, both for the expense of it and the unpredictability of the picks. The owners like the idea of more college ball during which time players can be evaluated, plus the NCAA hype machine can already start turning them into stars fans want to follow. Both good things for the owners. Which is why they want this more than the players want the issue moved back to age 18.

This will be one of the next issues on the table and could be decided before the weekend is over, according to a source near the talks.

Other issues include can the league start testing for human growth hormone with a blood test as Major League Baseball just agreed to? That will be a hard sell with players but would be welcomed by many fans.

Another key issue for fans will be the rules on assigning players to the D-League. In the old deal players could be sent down only for the first two years of their contracts and at full NBA salary. Owners want to be able to send players down for more years — up to five — and reduce their salary while down in the “minors.” More years is one thing but the salary reductions would be a very tough sell to the union.

Almost tied to that, should the NBA draft be expanded to a third round? The idea from owners — aside creating a little more draft buzz — is to find guys that they can send to the D-League and develop into NBA players over a few years. Already much of the second round is that way, do we need more?

The other big issue out there is not in the labor deal itself but will be key — the owners still need to finalize the revenue sharing plan amongst themselves. Proposals were put forward but the owners didn’t feel they could talk about revenue sharing until they saw how much they were getting back from the players. Now they know. But getting big markets to fork over more to small markets is always going to be contentious.

There are a host of other interesting little issues we will get to discuss just like those over the coming weeks.

Point is, while the NBA is on the verge of a labor deal there are a lot of issues still on the table. Negotiations will continue. And for guys like high school seniors with dreams of the NBA, those talks matter a lot.

NBA owners won. Big. But the players can live with it.

CORRECTED VERSION - NBA And Player's Association Meet To Negotiate CBA

As the talk starts to build of all the little concessions the NBA players got in the last week to make an NBA labor deal happen in time for games on Christmas day, remember this:

The owners won.

In a massive way. This is an Attila the Hun sweeping through Eastern Europe kind of win — devastating and total.

David Stern and the owners came into these NBA labor talks saying they lost more than $300 million last season and $400 million the year before that. By getting the players to agree to what is in practice a 50/50 split of basketball related income (although the deal allows the players to get to 51 percent if revenue increases enough) the owners got the players to essentially accept a 12 percent salary cut that will cover those losses.

This will come to more than $3 billion back in the owners’ pockets if the deal lasts the full 10 years (both sides can opt out of the deal after six years). What’s more, the deal means the players will have shorter contracts with lower raises going forward. Plus, the system now ties the hands of larger market, bigger spending teams helping depress salaries that way.

The owners will tell you they didn’t get everything they wanted, some will vote against this deal. Those guys are fools — they got more than enough to balance their books. Combined with more robust revenue sharing — soon to be triple what it was — small market owners should be able to break even or turn a profit. They should be able to compete (they could before, ask San Antonio and Oklahoma City). If they can’t, well, it’s on them now. It’s not the system.

All that said, the players got enough small victories — and a couple key ones — that this is a deal they can live with.

Early in the lockout, PBT spoke with former NBA players union president Charles Grantham and he said the smartest move the union ever made, the thing they could not give up in these talks, was keeping the salary cap tied to league revenue. Early offers from the owners wanted to detach the two — players salaries would stay flat at about $2 billion a year and all of the money from expected growth in the league (such as a new national television deal coming in 2016) would go straight to the owners pockets.

The players won that fight. They will get a smaller share of that revenue, but as the league’s revenue grows player salaries will go up. Grow the game and grow how much money you make.

The other two hills the players were willing to die on were guaranteed contracts and a hard salary cap. The owners relented on those as well. Yes, the owners now have more ways to get out of bad contracts faster, and yes the new luxury tax rules make it much more costly for high-revenue teams to spend big, but the players won those fights on principle.

There were other small victories, such as getting the threshold to get to the 51 percent of revenue lowered to a makeable goal. The players got the extend-and-trade so their biggest stars can better control their exits from teams. They got a solid mid-level exception for tax paying teams.

That was enough. It needed to be enough because the players were going to start losing more money in salary than they were making back fighting over the scraps of this deal.

But this negotiation was all about the money, and the owners got a lot more of it. They won. The small market owners in particular should now be able to turn a profit. The players got a way to save face at the end but the owner won and won big.

With this caveat…

In 1999, after a lockout that lasted into January, the owners were thought to have won. They got a cap on max salaries, so that there would be no more deals like the one Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal had gotten. They got a percentage that capped players’ salaries in total at 57 percent. Everyone said the owners won, including the players.

A dozen years later, the owner were crying that the deal was unfair and killing them. You never know how things will play out. And you can bet in 10 years, when this deal formally ends, there will be owners saying what a bad deal this is for them and how it is killing them. Even if the fault is their own management.

Why a deal now? Pressure from the calendar, mostly

NBA And Players Representatives Meet To Discuss Possible Settlement

After two years of negotiations, after 149 days of NBA lockout, after so many marathon negotiating sessions that we all lost track, the NBA reached a deal about 3 a.m. Saturday morning.

That’s great news, we were all sick of taking BRI and escrow and luxury taxes.

But after all that, why now?

Because the calendar became the real pressure.

That’s not what the sides were saying afterwards.

“The reason for the settlement is the fans, the players who would like to play, we’ve got others who are dependent on us,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern. “Our goal was to reach a deal that was fair to both sides and got us playing as soon as possible.”

“Rather than pursue this in court, it was in both of our interests to compromise,” said Billy Hunter of the NBA players association.

But this was more about the pressure of the calendar making it time to get a deal done.

Both sides had said from the start that they understood the momentum the league gained last season, with television ratings the highest they had been since the Jordan era as just one sign of that. There was a real energy to build off of — and to grow revenues.

And for a lot of more casual basketball fans, Christmas is when they start following the league. Christmas is the first day of national broadcast network games — it was like a second opening day with marquee matchups on a huge stage. Missing that was going to be a real blow.

Sources on both sides told us the pressure was really mounting to get a deal done. The players did not want to lose a season of salary ($2.2 billion), the owners did not want to lose a season of revenue (at a greatly increased rate from the last labor deal). Neither side wanted to deal with the damage of a complete lost season, or even most of one. Fans were clearly getting more and more restless and turning away.

What is the point of fighting over how to divide up the revenue pie if the pie itself gets smaller?

A sign of that pressure from the calendar was the fact cooler heads finally prevailed in these talks. Saturday the talks almost blew up again when players attorney Jeffrey Kessler — David Stern’s nemisis in these talks — was on a conference call and said the players demanded 51 percent of the revenues. Stern and Spurs owner Peter Holt rejected the idea fast. In the past, that might have ended the talks, but this time they stayed in the room and pounded out a deal.

With all that pressure, and a foundation laid by those months of negotiations, they reached a deal. A deal neither side really likes, which is how a good compromise turns out.

But getting it done was more about the timing than anything else.