NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26: Former Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association Billy Hunter speaks to members of the press to announce a tentative labor agreement between the NBA and Players Representatives to end the 149-day lockout on November 26, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
The NBA lockout is over, but questions remain. In fact, there are 20 questions that we must answer right now, because failing to do so will leave holes in our hearts where Vince Carter used to live.
The NBA lockout is over with a tentative deal reached Saturday morning. But questions remain. Most will be answered in short order, and more will arise. But for now, here are the 20 most vexing queries for this recovering lockout addict, separated by topic.
THE CLOSING POLITICS
1. Will David Stern receive unanimous approval from owners? In the 3 a.m. Saturday news conference, Stern said he'd hoped he had found a deal that all 29 owners (plus New Orleans' league-appointed caretaker) could vote for. Based on the rhetoric of the past few months, that's in serious question. The deal will be approved -- there's no way 16 owners will reject Stern at this point, with the sounds of (mostly) full arenas so close. As such, there's no real point to voting against the deal ... except as a protest vote.
Owners have not been afraid to register protest votes in the past. (The rubber-stamp approval of the Seattle SuperSonics' relocation to Oklahoma City was approved 28-2.) As such, a couple of hardliners could push the narrative that the deal doesn't go far enough to even up the playing field. With one of the most hardline owners, San Antonio's Peter Holt, leading the group and calling the deal a good one on Saturday, the blowback could be tempered even more.
2. Is this the end of the David Stern era? This battle clearly took a chunk out of Stern's legacy and reflected a chunk of his power base has been lost. He always spent much of the lockout clearly grooming Adam Silver for a takeover. (Whether Silver instilled confidence in himself is another question, though I think he availed himself well based on my outside perspective.) Stern's also aging (69 years old) and has said he's closing in on the end of his career. With the next collective bargaining battle at least six years away, this could have been Stern's last rodeo.
Some owners, players and fans will be glad of it. Even more will be terrified. Stern remains one of a kind, and the change will be necessarily large.
3. Is this the end for Billy Hunter? I've long been skeptical of the opinion Hunter is a bad leader for the union; the deal he brokered in 1999 was obviously just fine for players, who have seen their salaries skyrocket. But no amount of preparation helped him keep the player ranks together enough to block the owners' historic (for the NBA) rollbacks and system changes. He is seen to have bungled the union's legal options, waiting to dissolve the players' association until November, and finding a deal that wasn't wholly different from the league's last proposal just a week later. Hunter would defend his strategy, noting that the league made the final concessions. But the last two weeks have featured little meaningful movement, and have cost players' six games worth of salary. Expect some uncertainty over Hunter's future in the next year or so.
4. Will any lessons from this lockout carry over to the inevitable next one? Let's not kid ourselves: the NBA isn't permanently out of the woods. This is not a deal that will quench owners' thirst for profits -- see the NFL, which has the system NBA owners dream about but still cut it razor-close with a lockout -- and each side has an opt-out in 2018. It's hard to tell what exactly led to the deal here; owners seemed to concede on the final major points after winning so much of what they desired, and these concessions came after the union blew itself up. Is decertification the path to the deal? Sixteen lost games, hundreds of millions in the toilets and we still don't know.
Next time, no matter who is running the show, expect early clamoring for antitrust litigation, consistent skepticism that antitrust litigation really mattered much in 2011 and a whole lot of handwringing about strategy. In the meantime, we might want to keep track of judicial appointments ... just in case.
THE SERPENT'S APPLE
5. Will 30 teams really have a chance to compete for a championship every season? If you answered "Yes," you need to put down that glass of Kool-Aid that Adam Silver handed you, and you need to get a ride to the nearest hospital.
6. OK, but will the small market teams be on an even playing field with the big market teams? Most of them already were, in terms of competition. The L.A. Lakers don't have a single player on their rosters acquired by virtue of being a big market. The Oklahoma City Thunder play in the smallest market, and have an incredibly young team fresh off of the Western Conference Finals. Big market teams have always won the profit game but don't necessarily have much of an advantage on the court due to what they are able to spend. The draft is the biggest factor is building a great team, and it will remain so in the new NBA. So yes, small market teams are on a rather similar playing field as big market teams. But it's not something the NBA introduced with this lockout.
7. Basically I just want to know if the Lakers will suck now. No, the Lakers never suck. Jerry Buss is a necromancer who manipulates the dead to do his bidding in the underworld lair where basketball results are determined, and as such, the Lakers never suck. The new CBA does not address this imbalance.
8. Will the new luxury tax rules prevent teams from spending like Real Housewives? Not until 2013 at the earliest. Consider this: the new repeater tax that increases tax penalties by 100 percent for serial taxpayers cannot be triggered until 2015 at the earliest. 2015! So don't expect that rule to help much in the short-term. Increased tax penalties and sign-and-trade restrictions go into effect in 2013; the restrictions on use of the mid-level exception do go down this season, which could shrink payrolls of the most spendthrift teams by, no joke, $2 million apiece. The new rules should eventually have an impact on teams like the Knicks and Mavericks, but it'll be a while.
9. Will the higher minimum payroll affect any teams? It could affect the Sacramento Kings this season if the Maloofs max out their Discover Card at the Ed Hardy outlet store, but it's unlikely to have a major impact going forward. Absurdly few teams flirt with the minimum payroll; even rebuilding teams take on contracts to score prized assets.
10. Which class of players is most hurt by the deal? The same players helped by the 1999 deal are hurt by this one: possibly average veterans. Before 1999, these players earned about $1-2 million per year. Over the last 5-6 years, most became the proud owners of contracts worth $4-8 million per season. With the drops in contract length, mid-level exception size and new luxury tax restrictions, the average salary for the average player -- not leaguewide, but for this class of players -- should drop. You'll find that this type of players tends to end up with teams in contention; you'll find that teams in contention tend to flirt with the tax. Ergo, the stiffer tax will make going over the threshold for mid-rung players less appetizing. That'll mean accepting smaller deals or signing with lesser teams.
11. Which class of players benefits most from the deal? Other than Derrick Rose, who now gets to make $17 million in 2012-13 instead of $14 million? No one. Going forward, players will have less to split and less freedom to move around as signing restrictions sunrise in. The rate of growth of salaries is going to be flat for two years, and crushed compared to the old deal's projection through 2018. This isn't a bad deal for players, but it's certainly a much worse deal than the one they had before.
12. Which class of teams is most hurt by the deal? The tip-top spenders will eventually have to rein it in or pay huge luxury tax bills. I would venture to say that never again will Mark Cuban be able to go an entire decade over the tax line. But this question could be resolved if we find out promised revenue sharing improvements are a collective sham. In that case, the lowest-revenue teams could remain toast in terms of profitability.
13. Which class of teams benefits most from the deal? Every team will have a lower payroll by virtue of this deal. For teams already making money, they will make more money under this deal. For teams on the cusp of making money, they will make money under this deal. For teams not making money, they will have the opportunity to make money under this deal.
THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES
14. What will be the biggest unintended consequence of this deal? That can't be known until everything comes into play and blends together. We should have an idea by 2016 or so. But my bet is that the benefit for young stars to sign with their own teams instead of seeking free agency -- the extra season -- will become more important in the new NBA, and will lead to fewer stars going the way of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony. Sure, LeBron and Bosh ended up getting sign-and-trades and 'Melo went extend-and-trade (which will still exist). But the CBA's move to shrink all contracts makes each season count for more. Getting that fifth year on the second and third contracts will mean more than the sixth year has meant in the past. We'll see the rising crop of young stars stay home.
I think. Hi Tyreke.
15. How u. That's not really question, as it lacks a question mark. But good, thank you for asking.
THE NEXT STOP
16. What will all of the people who don't care about the NBA do? It has been springtime for NBA haters, who have registered their apathy for the league and its players in record numbers on Twitter, Facebook and in comment sections webwide. Do they all just burrow back into the rotted wood now? Will they begin terrorizing pro lacrosse bloggers? Will they infiltrate the feedback channel for various global economics websites? Should we warn Nouriel? "The Euro crisis threatens to plunge the global economy into a Depression." "Who cares..."
17. Who will be remembered as the hero of the 2011 lockout? Other than ace reporters Ken Berger, Adrian Wojnarowski, Howard Beck, Sam Amick, Zach Lowe, Chris Broussard, Henry Abbott, Brian Mahoney, Alan Hahn, Chris Sheridan, Steve Aschburner and the extraordinary David Aldridge? I nominate Jim Quinn. The former union counsel swooped in over the past week, and voila. It's like magic. It should be bottled and sold at an exorbitant price, and NBA players should invest slices of their portfolios in it.
18. Will we miss the 2011 lockout? Not a chance. Are you high?
19. Will we at least look back on the 2011 lockout fondly, like a messed-up childhood friend who eventually found himself mixed up in a narco gang in Sinaloa but who you're sure still has a good heart? Not a chance. Are you high?
20. Will we forget about the lockout? Basketball has the ability to tie your heart up with strong, quick knots that force your brain to focus on that which you see and hear and smell and feel, and not that which you remember, and it is those moments that we as fans of basketball crave and seek and cherish, and it is those moments that watching the greatest players in the world can bring, and it is those moments that we will never forget. And in those moments, we will forget about the lockout, because we will not see it or hear it or smell it or feel it, because the game will consume us, and because we will be content. We are sick addicts, and our dealer is out of jail, and it's time to forget.
Forget with me, NBA fans.