The Brewing NBA Lockout Owners' Civil War That May Never Happen

Do all owners really want to play on a level field? The NBA lockout is all about crushing salary, but owners like Dallas' Mark Cuban almost certainly want to preserve their competitive advantage, one created by a willingness to spend anything to win. Also in The Hook, the Euroleague trickle picks up the pace.


One of the ideas David Stern presented in his podcast with Bill Simmons was that bad contracts be spread over more years to lessen the cap hit in any given year. This is hilarious. The reason you'd want to lessen the cap hit for a bad contract is so that a team can sign another player under the cap, or have more maneuverability under the cap to acquire replacement help. Basically, if you lower the cap hit without lowering the salary itself, you're allowing a team to pay more actual salary out. You're increasing the salary potential of a team.

This NBA lockout is all about crushing salary.

David Stern, as you will be told 100 more times this week, works for the owners. But "the owners" is a group almost without common definition beyond "owns an NBA team." These guys -- yes, they're all men -- have different ideas about the costs of winning, the benefits of ownership, the role of the commissioner. Don't tell me that Mark Cuban and the Kroenke family have the same ideas about how to win, and what's worthy to give up to win.

That's why, in the soft-capped NBA with a luxury tax penalty that acts to the ultra-rich like Cuban as more of a funny joke than an actual deterrent, there's all-out financial civil war between teams every offseason, every trade deadline

I have no question that Mark Cuban would like to see his payroll shrink. He'd love to be able to actually make money in basketball. But I don't think he wants to be on a level playing field. He doesn't want to give himself the same chance to win as owners who already refuse to commit to spend whatever it takes to get that championship. Why should he have to hold his fire -- his millions in disposable cashflow -- to save Herb Simon from shelling out a few more bucks from his warchest? In the current system, Cuban can spend to win. He can ensure his team is competitive by spending at levels no one else will (James Dolan excepted).

Stern's elongated cap hit for the Eddy Currys of the league is just like that: it feeds the monster of more players, more championship potential, more salary. There's no limiting a player's passion on the court; if a guy like Jason Terry gives 100 percent, it shows, and he is heralded. But a hard salary cap would limit an owner's passion in the sense that he could no longer go above and beyond to give his team a title. Cuban did that for Dallas, and Dallas will love him forever. Is he ready to give that up? I don't think so.

There may not be a rift among owners -- those who want to preserve the system but cut the payroll, and those who want to "crush the union" outright -- but there are the conditions for a rift. Maybe this is why Stern has insisted on keeping revenue sharing on a disconnected timeline, to preserve the appearance of unity. NBA owners don't have a ton in common, and while Stern has held the group together it's easy to see how it eventually falls apart.



If you're keeping track at home, two more players under NBA contract joined Euroleague teams: Omri Casspi, who will return to Maccabi Tel Aviv, and Ty Lawson, who will join BC Zalgiris in Lithuania. They join Jordan Farmar (Maccabi Tel Aviv), Ersan Ilyasova (Anadolu Efes), Nicolas Batum (SLUC Nancy), Timofey Mozgov (BC Khimki) and David Andersen (Montepaschi Siena). That's seven players under NBA contract agreed or reported to be on the verge of agreeing to contracts with Euroleague teams. (This is just Euroleague, the top competition in Europe. Players like Deron Williams have joined teams competing in domestic leagues and Eurocup, a lower-level competition.)

Here's what Euroleague president Jordi Bertomeu told Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen last week:

"Our clubs need to have stable rosters," Bertomeu said via a translator. "They need to know how long they will be able to employ the player. No team will sign a player for only two or three months, or for an uncertain period of time. This is our forecast."

Uhh ...

In that piece, Bertomeu also alleges that FIBA and the NBA coordinated the lockout policy now in place, in which players under NBA contract must include in their European contracts opt-out clauses sending them back to the NBA should the lockout end; the NBA insists FIBA thought that one up all by itself. Beyond that, Bertomeu's whole position seems to be similar to that of Chinese authorities, one that says "we're too good to need to loan NBA stars."

To which I say: no, you aren't.

Six Euroleague teams have now agreed to borrow some help from legit NBA players. Guess what? NBA players are good! I dare say that having Ty Lawson for three months is better than not having Ty Lawson for three months. The same could be said about any number of NBA players looking for part-time work. And I guarantee that purchases of an online Euroleague package would shoot upward from the United States and Canada if more players jump the pond. If Tyreke Evans signed in Europe, you can guarantee I'd want to watch every broadcast I could. Bertomeu underrates how thirsty potential American fans are for pro basketball. Unless he's afraid of angering David Stern, why be so anxious about getting a shot in the arm?


The Hook runs Monday through Friday. See the archives.

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