In the NBA lockout both sides are making some progress, but it turns out the issue that is dividing the players and owners enough to cancel an entire season isn’t really what we thought. After positive meetings throughout August, both sides have acted respectfully towards each other both in public and at the negotiating table. This Thursday, the players, led by Union President and Lakers point guard Derek Fisher, will hold a meeting in Las Vegas. At the same time the owners will be meeting in Dallas. According to the New York Times:
“Right now, we can’t find a place with the league and our owners where we can reach a deal sooner rather than later,” the union president Derek Fisher said after the meeting. “It’s discouraging and unfortunate, but that’s the reality of where we stand right now.”
Fisher was flanked by the union’s executive director, Billy Hunter, and eight players from the union’s executive board, all with dour expressions as they sat along one side of a long conference room table.
NBA Commissioner David Stern has all but admitted that many of the issues at stake, such as contract length, the age minimum, and PED testing, are all easy solves. He does have some resentment against the players for their declaration that a change from a “soft” to a “hard” salary is a blood issue for them. The players want to keep the current soft cap system and have predicated all of their negotiations based on the cap remaining in place. The owners want to remove the old system filled with its loopholes and exceptions and move to the hard cap style that is used in the NFL and NHL. The hard cap allows a broader payroll range but still has a hard ceiling. According to an article by Tom Ziller for SBNation:
“Consider what a hard team cap would do. The biggest impact would come not on players, who will be splitting a set chunk of total league revenue either way. The biggest impact would be on low-revenue teams who would have a shiny new payroll bill due. If you decrease the players’ split of revenue all the way to 50 percent, next year you’d have a hard cap around $60 million. Yes, that’s higher than last season’s soft cap. Why? Because to get to last year’s aggregate players’ take — $2.1 billion — the average team payroll was actually more than $70 million. A number of teams were at or below the soft cap of $59 million, and a few teams were grossly over it. When you harden the cap to create payroll parity — as NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver explicitly stated as an aim on Tuesday — the salary cap is going to need to resemble the average team payroll. That means that although players’ aggregate salary would decrease from $2.1 billion under a 57 percent share to about $1.9 billion under a 50-50 split, the cap would actually go up.
Tell me how that helps the teams that couldn’t be profitable at the old cap level, like the Sacramento Kings. The commissioner mentioned the incredible spread between the Kings ($45 million payroll) and L.A. Lakers ($110 million) on Tuesday. He neglected to describe how a $60 million (or higher!) hard cap helps the Kings toward profitability. Copy that for the New Orleans Hornets, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Indiana Pacers, the Charlotte Bobcats and the Memphis Grizzlies.”
It seems odd that the players are fighting for a system that is better for the owners in small markets while those same owners are fighting to make things harder on the players. The hard cap does, however, allow teams to more evenly share their expenses. For teams who are barely getting by, like Sacramento, this could be a short term solution to their problems. The NHL’s hard cap has caused teams like the former Atlanta Thrashers to pack up and head to Winnipeg with franchises like Phoenix likely to follow suit. The irony there being that the original Winnipeg Jets left to become the Phoenix Coyotes when they could not get their financial act together in the Great White North. It’s not just a small market/big market issue. Both the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders have had trouble existing in the hard cap world; their problems lie more in poor management however.
With many players signing with foreign teams it seems likelier and likelier that there will be no upcoming NBA season unless the owners are willing to give in and remain with a soft cap. Speaking from a fan’s perspective, perhaps Tom Ziller lays it out best when describing why this is a “blood issue”:
That’s why this hard cap is a “blood issue.” Not because it has a lobster’s chance in Maine of creating competitive balance, not because it will hurt all players’ ability to earn. It’s a “blood issue” because owners want to pay less money to supplemental players and because supplemental players want to keep making money. It has nothing to do with the health of the game. It has nothing to do with fans. It has nothing to do with fairness. It’s just stupid.