By John Schmeelk
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The NBA lockout commenced at midnight Thursday night with little fanfare, despair, or real anger from either the owner or the players. It was as though both sides concluded the negotiations, shrugged their shoulders, and went home. No one seemed particularly disturbed about it, mostly because everyone saw this coming for the better part of two years. One has to love the sense of urgency.
The bad news is that the two sides are pretty far apart financially. The number one, two, three, four and five issues are money. It all comes down to the how the owners and players will split money, with secondary issues such as the hardness of the salary cap, at the center of debate. The owners want more of the league’s revenue, and the players don’t want to give it up. It’s pretty simple stuff.
More bad news: the owners are almost as much at war with one another as they are with the players. There are serious competitive balance issues that come back to revenue sharing. With the advent of the “super teams” with multiple stars, can small market teams like Sacramento and Minnesota be truly competitive and attract star players? This is an issue the owners will have to work out among themselves before agreeing to anything with the players. Rich teams, like the Knicks, aren’t that unhappy with the current financial situation since they still make money hand over fist.
At some point there will be a showdown between big and small market owners that will define how long this lockout will last. If the James Dolans and Jerry Busses of the world win that debate, and revenue sharing is very limited, then the lockout will last longer. If the small market owners like the Maloofs can’t get money from the more profitable owners, they will demand more from the players, making finding the middle ground on a deal that much harder.
There is good news, and that is the relationship between the owners and players doesn’t seem to be broken. Billy Hunter and David Stern seem to get along, and the players have also recognized they are going to have to sacrifice in the next CBA. They will wind up with a worse deal than they had under the last contract. It is only a matter of how much. There wasn’t a lot of hate flowing on Friday. Another piece of news that should be welcome is the apparent reluctance of the NBA players to take this to the court like the NFL Union did. The courts do nothing but delay negotiations, and create animosity.
Unfortunately, despite the lack animosity and lawsuits, fans should expect the NBA lockout to last longer than the NFL one. It is only in the past few weeks, with the threat of lost preseason games, that NFL negotiations appear to be picking up steam. Remember, in the NFL, their ownership merely argued they weren’t making enough money, not that they were losing it. In the NBA, teams are legitimately in the red and they will be willing to hold on even longer. Likewise, players won’t be induced to make the large concessions the owners will require to make a deal until they start missing regular season game checks.
I don’t believe, however, that either side is willing to destroy all the momentum from last season by losing an entire season. It would be disastrous to both the owners and players. Both are too smart for something like that. However, a 60 game season, instead of an 80 game year, beginning in January is a distinct possibility.
Since the NBA draft finished, I’ve found myself searching the channels at 10:00 PM looking for something to watch, and I’ve had to do a lot of settling. After such a great postseason and finals, I’m pining for NBA basketball. It will be no different in November, with the baseball playoffs over. NBA fans need to find an alternative, because it could be as many as six months before we see another NBA game. And it will be a very, very long six months.
I’ll try to keep fans updated on the NBA lockout on twitter throughout the offseason via twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk