David Stern's interview with WFAN on Thursday actually made me laugh. The whole "NBA lockout could last until Christmas" thing stabbed at my heart, but the rest was just ... funny. Like a Shakespearean comedy, where the audience is in on the joke.
I mean, does The Commish not sound like a parody of himself at this point? I kept waiting for Frank Caliendo to break character and slip into some Charles Barkley to mindlessly agree with Stern, or some John Madden to liven up the affair. Stern continues to pound the points dozens of writers have blown apart like dandelions. (A few weeks ago, when asked if he could see the framework of a deal in the league's negotiations with the players' union, Stern dismissively joked that he'd leave that to the "bloggers." That sad thing is that bloggers representing each side could have had this deal done months ago in a form that I assure you will look similar to what we'll eventually get.)
Only Stern can keep a straight face when lilting through an explanation of the league's 4 percent annual growth projections on his way to a complaint that in seven years, under the NBA's plan, the average player's salary would rise from $5.5 million to $7 million ... which happens to represent 4 percent growth. He gives the listener no credit at all. Imagine sitting in a negotiation room with him.
If I hear the comparison between the L.A. Lakers' payroll and the Sacramento Kings' payroll one more time, I'm going to kick a Maloof. (Note to Adrienne Maloof's personal security detail: not your Maloof. One of the others. Probably George.) The Lakers-Kings comparison is cherry-picked, non-representative of history and reality, and completely irrelevant. The Kings were not trying to compete last year! They were trying to rebuild! When you rebuild, you don't sign available free agents to contracts that damage the flexibility you are trying to gain!
Imagine the comparison three years ago: the Memphis Grizzlies had a $50 million payroll, and, including taxes, the Dallas Mavericks were at something like $130 million. You just can't have that, right? As it turns out, the Grizzlies were stockpiling cap space and flexibility, which they'd use to get Zach Randolph and lock up Rudy Gay. And now they are knocking on the door. I imagine that in three years we will all look back on the Kings' grand culling as a proper step in their rebuilding, not a terrible thing that made Sacramento fans sad. This is how teams rebuild. It's not as if teams in the glorious NFL don't rebuild by scrapping everyone, hitting rock bottom and bouncing back up. As noted in Thursday's Hook, eight of the NFL's 32 teams have missed the playoffs in each of the past five years. That number is three in the NBA.
Stern continues to act as if dropping the owners' request for the abolition of guaranteed contracts was a real concession, but disses any proposal that the players have made. Consider that of all the many, many proposals, concepts and ideas thrown around by both sides, every single one has a net negative affect on players compared to the last collective bargaining agreement. Not one of the concepts asks owners for anything more than what they did in the last CBA. The entire lockout debate in that room has been about magnitude and type of sacrifice from the players. (Remember, the owners are doing revenue sharing themselves, without player input.)
I mean, how audacious that the players' proposal would include 10 percent raises! ... when the last CBA had 10.5 percent raises. The NBA thinks it's appropriate -- in addition to slashing the players' revenue share and hardening the cap in some way -- to cut the maximum length of contracts down to three years for free agents, four years for Bird rights players and five years for a Super Bird player. The old cap on length -- first instituted in 1999 at seven years -- was decreased to five for non-Bird, six for Bird players in 2005. Players have offered to decrease each a year, while owners want to go down two. Why does anyone think the bigger concession is the more fair one? Why does Stern paint the players as greedy for not consenting to his demands? At what point have the players asked for something they don't already have?
At his worst, Stern fuels his fans' paranoia. A major narrative of the post-Decision has been the terrible plight of small-market teams like Cleveland, cities without glamour or riches that watch their homegrown stars leave for the bright lights of Hollywood, of Manhattan, of South Beach. Stern's got plenty to say to those fans, like, "If you live in a market where you have a perception as a fan that it's only open to the rich teams to have the best players, then you're starting out in a bad way."
Of the 15 players who made an All-NBA team in 2010-11 -- the top 15 players in the NBA, really -- six play in top-10 media markets (L.A., Dallas, New York, Chicago and Atlanta -- no one from Philly, S.F., Boston, D.C. or Houston made All-NBA), two play in Miami (No. 16 market, but wealthy), and the remaining seven play in what we would call small markets: Orlando, Oklahoma CIty (2), New Orleans, San Antonio, Portland and Memphis. About half of the league's All-NBA team played in small markets. If fans have a perception that it's only open to the rich teams to have the best players, then those fans are wrong. If the commissioner is using that inaccurate perception as a talking point to make his lockout case, he is being disingenuous at best and baldly dishonest at worst.
The only problem is this: every time David Stern opens his mouth with a microphone in front of it, he is using inaccurate perceptions as talking points to make his lockout case. It's getting really old really fast. It's only funny until you start thinking about the damage he's doing to the NBA brand every second he keeps this lockout alive.
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