In many respects, the resolve of the NBA players’ union is laudable. They insist they will not be railroaded into an owner-friendly agreement just to get back on the court.
Based on the pessimism coming out of Tuesday’s negotiations in New York, we seemingly are back to the notion that nothing gets done until the majority of players face losing their first paycheck of the season on Nov. 15.
But this is no ordinary union. This is a workforce whose average careers are 4 1/2 years. That’s it.
These are not Teamsters looking at 20 years more of company time and then, hopefully, a pension.
So if the owners insist on a 10-year agreement, which does seem a bit extreme considering where the economy stands today and how it figures to change appreciably over the next decade, then what if the first five years or so are relatively favorable to the players, with givebacks, such as a phased-in hard cap, coming on the back end?
If each agent’s assignment is to work in the best interest of each individual player, then the majority of players represented today would have moved on by the time the harshest of new measures come into play.
“That’s true if you’re only representing rank-and-file players,” one agent said Tuesday, after talks broke off between the league and union. “But those with the influence aren’t only representing the rank and file.”
Fine. Let’s put aside the agent aspect.
Lose the season and for a significant number of players it means a loss of 20 percent of possible career earnings. Even the most favorable union proposal would be hard pressed to recoup such losses.
While the focus of the lockout to this point has been on where Durant, LeBron or Carmelo will play their next exhibition, for players such as that, the long-term implications of these talks are significant. Players in that talent/youth metric are in line for another high-end contract. Maintaining the high end clearly is in their best interest, even if part or all of their 2011-12 earnings are sacrificed.
But unlike the salary cap itself, or at least the way salary cap is divided on most rosters, the decision on whether to move forward on an agreement remains a one-player, one-vote proposition.
That makes this the rare NBA case when a 12th man has as much impact as an All-Star.
From the start, this never has been a matter of whether the NBA would win, but rather an issue of to what degree.
For the majority of NBA players, careers are highly perishable commodities. It is one thing for an autoworker or longshoreman to stand in arms alongside a brother in a multi-decade relationship.
But in the NBA, one draft class already is poised to challenge for jobs, with a chance another joins in the challenge before this is resolved.
The very players who insist on standing united today could be players who find themselves standing on the outside even if gains are made through a protracted lockout.
Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.