If you did a word cloud of David Stern's publicly available commentary on the NBA lockout, I bet the word "reset" would pop out from the page. That's what the league wants from players: a reset on how players are paid, ignoring all the deals that have come before. The NBA lockout is not about the owners copping to the fact that 57 percent is too high a share of revenue for players to earn given the increasing cost of presenting the game. This is about the owners deciding or realizing (choose your own verb) that survival depends on detaching the rate of growth in salaries from the rate of growth in revenue.
The players, on the other hand and totally understandably, want nothing to do with that decoupling idea. The league's latest plan would hit players with an 8 percent cut in total salaries for 2012-13, knocking players' salaries from $2.17 billion in 2010-11 to $2 billion. It would essentially be capped there, though the NBA's proposal allows for increases to that amount at certain levels of revenue growth. (What those increases or triggers are remains a mystery. The union doesn't seem to think much of them.) By the way, this is a 10-year deal.
The players' own most recent proposal calls for a contraction of the revenue split from 57 percent to 54.3 percent in 2012-13; that number would increase over six years and end up around 56 percent. (Again, the exact details remain a closely-guarded secret, but several sources have confirmed the general parameters of each deal.)
The players are willing to get a haircut to bring basketball back, but the owners are talking about the reinvention of hair. That's the first hurdle that needs to be beaten for us to get anywhere in this lockout mess: either players need to agree to look at options to completely restructure how salaries are decided, or owners need to drop the revolution attempt. Hopefully, progress on this matter will come from Wednesday's quasi-secret summit of the Most Important People In The Room.
I don't see one unreasonable person on the reported list of attendees -- Billy Hunter, David Stern, Derek Fisher, Adam Silver, Ron Klempner, Peter Holt. The union lawyer Stern has called out, Jeffrey Kessler, apparently won't attend; the two have been battling since the 1970s when they were on opposite sides of the Oscar Robertson lawsuit. (Kessler is essentially the main character of the NBA's federal lawsuit against the union, filed the day after the last time the two sides met. A good deal of the complaint focuses on how many times a Kessler-advised pro athletes' union has threatened decertification as a negotiating ploy.)
But as we've seen already, just because everyone is reasonable doesn't mean anything can get solved. This reset vs. adjustment battle is both a huge mountain to summit and a first, small step on the path to the rescue of the season. Let's hope miracles can be worked.
ANOTHER WAY TO SEE IT
Last week TrueHoop published a reader's prettied-up chart showing where the negotiations stand in terms of earmarks for players' salaries. Given my love for visual representation of data, this idea found its way straight into my heart.
But I have a tweak.
Instead of looking at the gross dollar amounts dedicated to player salary, let's look at the share of total revenue players would be entitled to under each proposal. Keep in mind that -- as is the case with the TrueHoop graph -- we don't actually know the full details of the NBPA and league proposals; my numbers replicate the work done back a few weeks ago in chart form, with a tweak to the NBPA proposal, which rises to 56 percent by the sixth year. The NBA's proposal allows for increased salary at certain levels of revenue growth, but the details of that have never been released, and I'd prefer not to guess. The base of the league's proposal decouples salary from revenue and sets it at a starting point of $2 billion, so that's what I've used here.
Here's how it comes out:
Things don't look as easy to solve, do they? This goes back to the reset vs. adjustment issue -- the union is proposing a haircut, the "break-even" proposal (where aggregate profits and losses would be minimal; I've pegged that at just about 50-50) is like getting your head shaved and the NBA's proposal is like getting rid of human heads altogether and sticking our brains in robot contraptions like Krang, the villain in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (That's not necessarily a bad thing, by the way. I can think of at least 14 reasons to prefer a Krang-like outcome to a shaved head. No offense to my bald brothers. The conveniences of cybernetic cohabitation are just overlooked, that's all.)
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