NBA Lockout Looming? Optimism Still Holds Ahead of Key Deadline

Adam Silver, NBA commissioner

Getty Adam Silver, NBA commissioner (center)

With the NBA and the Players Association having last month extended the deadline to opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement until February 8, there is technically the possibility that the CBA scheduled to run through next season could end this coming June 30th.

But, according to sources from both sides, no one should expect an outbreak of hoopus interruptus.

“I don’t think anyone feels like this is going to be 2011 again,” one source told Heavy Sports, referring to the lockout that shortened the 2011-12 season to 66 games. “You’ve got some hardliners pushing on both sides, but I think this is going to be a lot more sane. The top people involved seem to be in a good place, and, really, there’s too much at stake.”

Indeed, the bottom line is … well, the bottom line. There are certainly some issues up for discussion (a spending limit for teams, whether potential expansion fees will be split with the players), but in a system where defined revenues are shared on a 49-to-51-percent basis, there is motivation for everyone to keep their seat at such a bountiful table.

Exec: ‘It’s Their League’

One can argue the merits of the organizational and player sides, but, said one executive who has been involved in many aspects of this process, there is a certain acceptance.

“The principles of capitalism exist below the ownership level. The owners operate in a very socialistic way,” the exec told Heavy Sports. “Once they get to that level, these devices and these sort of financial manipulations are designed to make sure nobody takes a bath. They, too, have a safety net underneath them that they designed for themselves. So it’s interesting. They live on a certain billionaires’ social security.

“That’s OK. It’s their league. And who are we who work in it to complain? I’ve made a good living in it, and that way of doing business has seen a growth to a $10 billion dollar business. Any complaints should be minimal, because the industry continues to grow, and it grows by substantial numbers.”

The league is clearly trying to mend that so-called safety net by curtailing the ability of well-heeled teams (ahem, Golden State) to far outspend brethren in less fortunate financial circumstances.

While there are bound to be those who figure ways around each new set of rules, that was the basis for the salary cap instituted in the mid-1980s.

“The trade-off was, to get you the salary cap you needed to get the cost certainty necessary, players got guaranteed contracts,” said the latter source. “That is the fundamental underpinning to the success of the NBA. That’s why whenever players start saying, ‘Well, let’s get rid of the cap,’ the corollary to that is, ‘OK, if the cap goes, guaranteed contracts go.’ I don’t think it’s EVER going to get to that.”

Too Much Money at Stake

Again, there is too much money in play for the sides to screw this up figuring out how to slice the pie. And the numbers will be taking a significant leap when the as yet to be negotiated television deals kick in after the 2024-25 season. The league is currently in a nine-year, $24 billion package with its broadcast partners

“When you bring all the different platforms into it, that figure could more than double — or even triple,” said one league source. “Forget about what you hear from the traditional TV ratings, with all the different technology to get around things, sports on TV can still get companies’ ads in front of eyeballs.”

While perhaps the majority tune in to see their favorite players or because they have an interest in the outcome — an interest that will only increase as legalized sports betting grows around the country — the leagues are cognizant, too, of the value derived from ancillary dramatics.

“NBA, as well as the NFL and Major League Baseball, what we are is unscripted reality shows with the biggest and greatest athletes in the world as the main cast,” said a league exec. “And the fact is that the more drama that we have — the offseason with the Brooklyn mess, the Laker mess, the Westbrook controversy, Kyrie’s latest thing, whatever — the more that we have this sort of reality show titillation around our competition, the more popular we become.

“It’s dramatic presentation with no scripted ending. So you keep coming back to it because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

On the other hand, at least as it stands now, there is no such uncertainty or hiatus with the CBA.


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