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Can We Dismiss Contraction From NBA Lockout Talks?

No matter how wacky the NBA lockout gets, remember that contraction is a bad, bad idea. Also in The Hook: Derek Fisher fires some shots at the owners and a writer makes the mistake of thinking he is omniscient. Want The Hook delivered to your Facebook News Feed daily? Like SB Nation NBA.

My brothers and sister on the NBA side of SB Nation took up the topic of contraction for a detailed, wide-ranging piece put together by Nate Timmons of Denver Stiffs. As the NBA lockout continues, contraction perks its deformed head up through a gopher hole occasionally, usually because some anonymous owner has heralded the concept or because David Stern has offered a vague threat that it will be considered. In my 95 Theses On The NBA Lockout, I wrote that contraction is an empty threat and will never happen and should be summarily dismissed because talking about it is a waste of time.

Apparently, some folks don't believe me.

What if I told you that contraction would actually make the issues driving the lockout worse? It's no panacea -- it actually aggravates financial concerns for all teams. Consider this: under the old system, players receive 57 percent of all basketball-related revenue the league sees. Last year, that was $2.17 billion. The escrow functions built into the last collective bargaining agreement true up the figures so that the entire population of NBA players in 2010-11 actually received $2.17 billion between them.

Contraction deletes two teams and essentially removes upwards of 26 players from the NBA pool. (This is why the players' union does not like and would be afraid of contraction.) But guess what: it doesn't do one damn thing to lower NBA payroll on its own. Payroll is still set as a percentage of league revenues. Fewer players would now share it ...

... and fewer teams would share it. Imagine the NBA lockout is settled with a 50-50 revenue split: players receive 50 percent of basketball-related income, and teams use the other 50 percent to pay expenses and line their owners' pockets. Let's assume 4 percent growth for next season, which would give the league $3.95 billion in revenue. The 50-50 split would give players $1.97 billion between. The average team would pay $65.8 million in salary.

Now contract two teams. That $1.97 billion would be spread between 28 teams. The average team would now pay $70.3 million in salary per year. That's an extra $4.5 million in annual salary per team going out to cover the absence of the contracted teams. Now consider that you have to buy out the teams you're booting from the league. The NBA paid George Shinn $300 million to go away. I don't see a single other team as cheap as $300 million in the league, save for the Charlotte Bobcats -- MJ ain't selling his team. But let's say that through the magical negotiating powers of David Stern, another team can be bought out for $300 million. That team and the Hornets -- or a team, like the Kings for example, whose ownership swaps in to take over the Hornets and relinquish their own club -- cost a combined $600 million, to be paid by the remaining 28 owners.

That'd be $21 million in contraction costs for each remaining owner. After 10 years, assuming a 50-50 revenue split (ambitious), the league's acquisition of a second team for $300 million (ambitious) and assuming 4 percent growth, each individual remaining owner will have spent roughly $70-75 million on contraction. Spending more money on failing franchises, spending more money on player salaries ... that seems to be the opposite of what owners want to do!

Now consider that to get the players' union to bite on this, the league will have to abandon some of its other negotiating points, like the cap structure. It would probably also cost a season, which means at least some teams will lose a good chunk of revenue, will upset their business partners (like AEG) and will piss off the fans. 

It's a lose-lose-lose situation. Why do we keep acting as if it has a fricassee's chance on Neptune of happening?

(Big ups to Nate for putting together the piece. It's reaffirming to hear so many passionate, erudite voices in one spot.)



I find Derek Fisher's letters to the players' union fascinating. I wish there were enough to compile for a book. Marc Stein posted the latest one on Monday. The whole thing is informative, but one passage caught my eye like a flash of lightning on clear day.

"The same way our max players sacrificed for the larger body of players in the last collective bargaining agreement, it's time for our large market teams to share some of the wealth with each other."

I mean, holy s--t.

Back in 1999, the players' union caved on maximum salaries after a revenue split was set. For owners, this meant no more Kevin Garnett contracts -- they could afford to have a superstar or two and still get some decent roleplayers. For players, this meant salary redistribution from the next Kevin Garnetts to the next ... Derek Fishers. Teams had to spend 57 percent of league revenue, and the tip-top tier of players had a ceiling on their pay. So that money went increasingly to mid-rung players. 

This wasn't exactly a sacrifice in 1999, insomuch as if you stab someone with a knife when they are not looking you cannot claim that they sacrificed. The players who expected to get Kevin Garnett contracts wanted to fight the league's maximum salary proposal; the bulk of the union wanted to get back to work. The union went ahead against the wishes of the star-laden leadership and got ready to approve a deal that included a player salary cap. That wasn't the deal that we ended up with, as Billy Hunter panicked and restarted talks with David Stern. They hammered out a deal to "save" the season. High-dollar players did not "sacrifice" in 1999. They were robbed by a mob of lesser players.

(An aside: ask Kobe Bryant if he sacrificed for the larger body of players. He was one of five players to vote against the deal that ended the 1998-99 lockout -- out of more than 400 -- because he was a year away from a Kevin Garnett contract. The deal cost him tens of millions of dollars in the long run.)

Fisher knows what happened in January 1999. He knows how fractures can rip open. So don't read Fisher's plea as a sincere sermon on wealth equity, or something. The guy is asking teams who don't have their own satellite offices of the U.S. Treasury in their gyms to rise up and beat down the Jerry Buss-James "J.D." "Jimmy" Dolan-Jerry Reinsdorf club. He is calling for insurrection ... among the owners. Bold move, D.



This isn't basketball, but is something that informs sportswriting and, as such, is germane. In June, Chris Jones wrote what he calls a "sympathetic" column about John Lackey, the beguiled bust of a Boston Red Sox pitcher who early this season announced to the world that his life sucks. Jones turned the narrative on its ear, essentially expressing empathy for Lackey's struggles and pleading for him to reach out to teammates for emotional support as he dealt with his wife's breast cancer diagnosis and his own professional struggles on the mound.

Over the weekend, news broke that Lackey has filed for divorce from his cancer-stricken wife. On Monday, Jones tweeted this:

My biggest journalistic failure was writing a sympathetic John Lackey piece earlier this season. Had no idea he's such a bad dude.

No, your biggest journalistic failure was thinking you had the power to discover, investigate and distill a player's essence through a brief series of clubhouse media sessions.

In the grand cornfield of writing, I'm just a small kernel and Jones is a full f--king cob. But his "admission" that he was too sympathetic to Lackey is just so ... bizarre. The type of sportswriting we do -- that is, that we write more frequently than once every six months, and we don't spend undistracted hours with our subjects -- does not allow us to find an athlete's true self. There is no possible way that Jones could be expected to, through a series of media scrums and maybe a private conversation or three, know everything there is to know about John Lackey. 

That's OK! No one can reasonably expect Jones to sniff out what a bad dude Lackey purportedly is in the course of an exploration of the pitcher's struggles at and away from the park. The problem is in the writer thinking he has actually done so. That's a red flag. That tells me, as a reader, that in June, Jones think he effectively touched the essence of Lackey and produced a piece of writing that distilled that for the reader. That's delusional. Jones is a master of his craft, but even the most talented writers can't do what Jones believes he had done.

This is why it's so important to read profiles of athletes with a sense of nuance. If an experienced writer like Jones can make such a gaffe as to believe he has the power to truly know a player in a short period of time -- Jones only joined the "beat" weeks before the Lackey story was published -- imagine what sort of "insight" lesser writers may be falsely providing. Reader beware.


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