Depending on whether you believe the reports and as such buy into David Stern's words, the NBA lockout could cost us the entire season as of next week. Reports from both Marc Stein and Sam Amick suggest that when Stern, the NBA commissioner, said following Wednesday's talks that not reaching a deal this weekend would carry "enormous consequences," he meant it. We'll see. I'll understand if you're skeptical.
The great J.A. Adande had a surprisingly defeatist view of the development, saying that this is the time when players know they are going to lose.
One of the sticking points is that the owners want the players to roll back their salaries. Well, if games are missed and salaries are reduced on a pro-rated basis, what does that effectively constitute? A rollback.
Players will be missing out on money one way or another. So now the question becomes the same one Tupac once asked: How do you want it?
This is an interesting conceit. The league has theoretically already taken some money away from players; a report last week suggested that by cancelling 43 preseason games, teams have cut a combined $50 million in payroll. One might assume, based on the light TV broadcast action on preseason games and even more sparse attendance, that the lost revenue for those games is a smaller figure, but the owners have already come up.
There's one big elephant in the room when you start talking about this type of "rollback," one that comes in the form of a shortened season. That's the national TV contract, which pays out $900 million whether there's a season or not. In the NFL lockout, players tried to get that revoked from the league. The NBA's players' union hasn't made any similar move.
So teams will start getting their $30 million share from the national deals with ESPN, TNT and ABC in the near future. Forget that team owners are typically invested in other businesses, that $30 million per team itself is a nice buffer between the owners and pain. Chunks do get taken out of it, though Most teams are continuing to pay their coaches, front office staff and sales teams and most teams have big fat interest payments to make on account of financing the purchase or operation of their franchises. So the buffer is not great, but it exists.
That's why Stern's implicit threat carries so much steam: the league is offering a deal with a reported 5 percent 2012 rollback, 7.5 percent 2013 rollback and 10 percent 2014 rollback. If the union doesn't take it, the players will receive a 100 percent 2012 rollback. The league is trying to incite panic and uncertainty regarding the leadership of the union. Let me tell you: the union is not going to accept rollbacks right now. Accepting them by being strong and resisting the demands of Stern -- and losing game checks as a result -- is so much more politically acceptable for Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter than conceding on rollbacks in the next two weeks that it's not even worth discussing. Agents are already agitating that the union leadership has given up too much. If they include rollbacks of contracts already signed, it's over.
But the players aren't out of options.
It's been made clear that, as opposed to the 1998 version, fans are going to hold Stern responsible if games are missed. His owners have more invested in this league -- not the game, the league -- than any players. If a lockout costs regular season games, fan are going to be pissed. Pissed at Stern, pissed at the teams, pissed at there not being pro basketball to watch.
We don't know how much of the 1999, 2000, 2001 malaise had to do with sore feelings over the lockout vs. the end of the Bulls' reign and MJ's career. But I'm guessing the commissioner doesn't want to place that bet. He's not exactly a dice-roller. He calculates, he assesses ... he does get caught up in heated battles and loses his pitch, sure. In that way, he's actually a lot like Tupac. He's got the broader vision and understands what needs to be done ... but sometimes it's more important to lay down "Hit 'Em Up" and let everyone know who holds the gavel. (Not remotely safe for work.)
That's the Tupac moment from Wednesday: Stern pushing the other voices out of the way and telling the players to come at him.
It isn't the first time Stern escalated the fight, but this is the hottest that the fire's gotten. Let's pray for rain.
The Hook runs Monday through Friday. See the archives.