We're still over a year away from the expiration of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, but the fireworks have already started.
In a nutshell, here's the problem: with declining attendance numbers, the bad economy and escalating player salaries, owners are losing a lot of money under the current model. To get some of that money back, they'll fight for a redistribution of what's known as "Basketball Related Income," i.e. whatever revenue comes in. They want a larger slice of the pie, to put it simply. They also want to roll back salaries and potentially change to a salary-cap system that more closely mirrors football's hard cap.
The players understand all of that, but while they'd likely accept a slight decline in player salaries, they'd like to keep the system pretty much the way it is. That means no fundamental changes, only minor ones.
They probably won't like the owners' first proposal, then, which will be presented to NBA player representatives during next week's All-Star weekend. Ric Bucher of ESPN reports:
The proposal, a source familiar with talks said, includes rollbacks that could reduce maximum guaranteed salaries, both for veterans such as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, as well as up-and-comers like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose, to almost a third of what they would have been eligible for under the current agreement.
Perhaps the biggest shocker: The owners' proposal includes a provision that would require any pre-existing deals to be revised to conform to the new deal's limits.
The value of a maximum contract would fall from $120 million plus to $60 million (and $50 million for those signing their first extensions of their rookie contracts). But that's not all. The owners are also pushing for the abolishment of all cap exceptions, which thereby creates a hard cap like we have in football. To make matters worse, the owners want less than half of every long-term deal to be guaranteed, which would allow teams to just cut players after a certain number of years if they like.
Jeez. Why not ban agents while you're at it?
Predictably, the players who have spoken out are less than thrilled. Adonal Foyle, who is the vice president of the Players Association, called the proposal "ludicrous," "rash" and "unfair."
"A system like [the new proposal] would be too restrictive, and it doesn't jibe with what we think the league is. We have been willing to negotiate a guarantee that we don't get over a certain threshold, and no other businesses do that. We hold back 9 percent of our income so that the owners can make sure they are covered on the back end. We have given up a lot of stuff, and they have given up a lot of stuff, so I think to start off a negotiation in this rash a term, I think it's unfair," Foyle said.
In an interview with SB Nation's Phoenix Suns blog Bright Side of the Sun, Louis Amundson, Phoenix's player representative, agreed, though he seemed a bit more willing to compromise.
"I think the main thing, we don't want to see an NBA where there's no guaranteed contracts like the NFL and where they reduce the number of years for guaranteed contracts. Because then it just makes it so hard for the guys coming in and the draft pics. That's a stiatuion I think we are going to stay firm on. But there's other issues that I think are a little more grayer that I think that the union is a little more willing to compromise on. So we'll see. It's early and there's still a whole lot of issues to cover."
Amundson also talked about the issue of public perception.
"You don't want to turn off any of the fans and I think in this economy I think both sides ideally are going to have to compromise a bit with the dollar figures. We make a lot of money and so do they but it's a good business so there's a lot of money involved so that's part of it. That's part of the biz."
That strikes me as the key issue here. During the last contentious CBA negotiations in 1999, the players were ultimately forced to make several concessions because they could not get the public on their side. They complained too much about being underpaid and "fighting for their survival," which isn't exactly what the average Joe making 1/20th of your salary wants to hear.
It'll be interesting to see how they approach things this year.The owners' initial proposal, which is so incredibly drastic, was put in place with that in mind. The owners likely feel they can lowball the players because they have superior public relations and know the players will suffer more if they strike. The key for the players this time is crafting a better PR strategy and making sure they can create leverage among the public.