For the longest time, we assumed the NBA owners would be as hawkish as they needed to be about switching to a hard salary cap, which would eliminate all the exceptions NBA teams have to go over the salary-cap figure. The idea is that a hard cap would help protect the owners from overspending, since there would be no way a team could have a payroll over a certain threshold. However, according to CBS Sports' Ken Berger, the owners are reportedly willing to concede that stance during negotiations.
There are growing suspicions on the owners' side that their position isn't going to be hard-cap-or-bust. At the very least, whether the cap has exceptions or not isn't the issue the owners are primarily concerned with. They simply want to pay the players less; what system is used to pay the players is somewhat immaterial, at least at this stage of the negotiations.
Of course, there's a reason the owners are softening their stance. According to Berger, a hard cap is, quite literally, a deal-breaker for the NBA Players Association, and it would eliminate any positive momentum the two sides have gained in recent months.
A hard cap, according to a person with knowledge of the NBA's recent labor negotiations, will be "a total deal-breaker" for the National Basketball Players Association.
Not only that, it'll sabotage the negotiations themselves. There are strong indications that the union would break off negotiations if the owners refused to back down from their pursuit of a hard cap. All the momentum gained from two less contentious bargaining sessions after All-Star weekend -- one in August and one in September -- would go up in smoke.
In light of the NBAPA's stance, the owners are considering other ways to more generally lower player salaries. For example, they could push for the abolition of the mid-level exception and fewer guaranteed years in contracts without going to a hard cap. The NBAPA would oppose those measures, but at least they'd listen to the owners' side.
This makes it interesting that Wizards owner Ted Leonsis was fined so heavily for suggesting a hard cap was coming. Before, it was assumed that David Stern fined him for revealing the owners' position. Now, one has to think he was fined because he was actually misrepresenting the owners.