We are close. Very close.
By Monday we could be talking about what the Heat/Lakers/Celtics need to do in free agency, not luxury tax details. There are real signs of hope. David Stern watched the NBA players’ union press conference Thursday from the back row of the room, and both he and union head Billy Hunter were laughing and saying to each other “tomorrow.”
So what has to happen? What has to be covered Friday for there to be a handshake and a deal?
Here are three key hurdles.
• Basketball related income (BRI). This is the elephant in the room — how you divide up the league’s revenue. How you split up the money. It has not been discussed the last two days and Hunter said it will be the first thing discussed Friday morning. Pray it is a long meeting, because if it is a short it means they discussed BRI and remain so far apart they walked away from the table.
BRI is the league revenue, all the money that flows into the league from ticket sales and national television contracts, as well as part of the money from luxury suites, local television and radio, even parking and concessions. In the old deal, the players got 57 percent (of what is left after the owners take a cut off the top for expenses).
Last we left off, the players came down to 52.5 percent, the owners were at 50 percent. That’s looks close but it is still about $100 million a season. If neither side will budge off their line then the talks are dead again. But if the owners gave in on some system issues — for example softening the luxury tax and keeping Bird rights (so teams can go over the cap to resign free agents) — would the players come down closer to 50 percent? Will the owners come up a little? Can they agree to a band that slides up and down depending on revenue? They are close, there are ways to make this happen.
But how to split up the money is what this whole thing is about in the end. It’s not going to be easy.
• Exceptions for luxury tax teams. One thing the owners want in the new agreement is a way to rein in big spending teams, to level the playing field (or so they think). One is a new luxury tax that increases the more teams spend, one that would escalate fines the more years teams are paying the tax.
The remaining stumbling block here is what are the exceptions to the tax, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo.
Before tackling the revenue split, the biggest hurdle left to solving the system issues appears to be with the use of midlevel and bi-annual exceptions for tax-paying teams.
While details were still unclear how a punitive luxury tax system would work for teams exceeding the salary cap, one league source involved in the talks told Y! Sports on Thursday night: “The tax is not the issue. The exceptions are where the fight is.”
• The hardliners not messing things up. This is what has happened when deals have been close before — Kevin Garnett comes in and stares down the owners and says the players will not go below 53 percent of BRI; or owners like Dan Gilbert and Paul Allen push for more from the players and don’t give any more. Even keeping the union’s attack-dog lawyer Jeffrey Kessler out of the room the last few days seems to have mattered (he is in Russia on other business). Keeping those guys at arm’s length until there is a handshake matters — you can sell this deal once it is in place, but those guys could mess it up before we get to that point.
There are other little things to be covered — for example the draft age limit has not been a topic yet — but those are relatively minor and not deal breakers. The three above are the reasons we would not see a deal in the next 72 hours or so.
And if we don’t see a deal then, it may be a long, cold winter without NBA hoops.