Lakers’ Jeanie Buss will not rule out contraction

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Contraction talk has become the cockroach of the Collective Bargaining Agreement talks — it will not die. No matter what.

This time it was Lakers Vice President Jeanie Buss. Yes, she also shacks up with some guy named Phil Jackson, but make no mistake she runs the business end of the Lakers and is the team voice in ownership meetings.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, she sounded every part the big market owner.

“I would hate to see us lose teams, but I think contraction is something we have to consider,” Ms. Buss said. “We may be in some markets we shouldn’t be in.”

The Lakers are one of the big market teams that, if there is going to be serious revenue sharing, are going to be giving, not getting. Same with the Knicks, Bulls and a number of other big market teams.

With that they don’t want to be throwing money down a well, they want some return on that investment. That means two things.

One is contraction, or as Hoopsworld’s Eric Pincus put it “serious and smart relocation.” The big market owners do not want to be throwing money into markets where the team will never be profitable. Hence some concerns about New Orleans, for one.

The other is some kind of assurances that any money given to small market owners is invested back into the product and not just pocketed (as has happened in Major League Baseball). That has led to talk of restrictions on the money such as meeting benchmarks of ticket sales.

As you might imagine, Buss’ comments were jumped on by the player’s union.

In a sign of what Ms. Buss will be in for over the coming months, an official with the NBA’s players union seized on her statements and said the issue of contraction was “clearly dividing the owners.”

“If the owners are not on the same page it will make it that much more difficult to get a collective bargaining agreement,” the official said.

Dividing might be too strong a word. But they’re playing some hardball with each other as well.