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Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Big Wednesday: A few CBA thoughts

By Brian Kamenetzky

For a while, we've known under a new CBA some of the historical advantages enjoyed by the Lakers -- namely the ability to generate revenues and spend at very high levels -- would be mitigated. They'll be sharing more other franchises, and will find spending at higher levels more onerous, whether because of an increased tax burden, restrictions placed on roster construction, or both.

Ideal? No. Inevitable? Yes, and still far better than the alternative, namely cancelling the season. Say whatever you'd like about tweaks to the mid-level exception or escrow accounts. The Lakers need to play, because the window on this team's title chances isn't getting any bigger.

With that in mind, here are a few thoughts about what could be a pivotal day in the lockout saga.

1. I don't believe it all blows up on Wednesday, even if there's no fruitful meeting and the NBA makes their next offer more punitive (and I'd be surprised if they didn't). It might get uglier and the rhetoric will rise with the stakes, but we're still weeks away from a point at which the 2011-12 campaign must go the way of the Betamax. Neither side will walk away from the season with that much time left on the table.

2. At their press conference Tuesday, the NBPA finally did a decent job turning attention away from the revenue split and towards the system, and their ability to exert a larger degree of control over where they play and the direction of their careers. Why it took so long to get here I'm not sure (maybe it's because they've effectively lost the B.R.I battle) but it's a far more sympathetic position. Nobody cares if these guys make, say, $3.2 million instead of $3.6. The hope of preserving mobility is more universal.

Plus, as fans we, or at least the "we's" who don't pull for teams like the Lakers, might always worry about losing our best players... but we simultaneously dream about poaching the ones from competing teams. Nobody (outside NBA front offices, at least) wants this to disappear under a new CBA.

3. If there was a good moment in the NBPA press conference Tuesday, it came when Billy Hunter said decertification was barely discussed. Not that it ends the discussion.

4. Regarding decertification, if players decide it could be effective as a negotiating tactic -- theoretically giving them a little more leverage in the intervening period between filing the petition to decertify and actually having the vote-- fine. It's risky, no doubt, but defensible. That said, I have no interest in hearing the game's biggest stars/earners grow militant, declaring on principle the need to give up the season. If members of the rank-and-file choose to adopt that stance, I would respect it. But in a league where the average player lasts maybe five years, who are the NBA's elite, guys who have already made their money, to say another member of the union should sacrifice such a substantial portion of his career?

5. For those rank-and-file guys, if ultimately they're willing to decertify before the NBA cancels the season, it would constitute either one of the larger acts of selflessness in modern sports labor history, or an incredible act of ignorance (whether because they don't completely understand the ramifications or from a misguided need to, as Stephen A. Smith has noted repeatedly on 710 ESPN, avoid getting "punked").

6. Maybe I'm wrong, but I get the feeling if David Stern and Derek Fisher were put in a room for an hour, they'd draw up a deal looking pretty reasonable to those of us outside the process. It might not even take that long.

7. Our times, in which titans of industry are even titan-ier and entitled athletes are even entitiled-ier, and everyone has an instant mouthpiece via Twitter or other media doesn't expedite this process.

8. That seemingly every star player, and some mid-level guys as well, rightly or not considers himself a serious and savvy businessman also adds complicating layers to the negotiations.

9. I understand why so many players and owners seem to be taking the negotiations personally. I'm sure I would, too, were I a participant. Hard-line owners (remember, it's not just the athletes who are highly competitive) resent the dog-and-pony show that was the LeBron James free agent summer, particularly since the result was apparently pre-determined, and the growing movement among star players to cluster together and basically rig the system to get where they want to go. Players surely take personally the idea they, the stars of the show, have to give back gains earned over years of collective bargaining talks. But in a business negotiation, going all Sonny Corleone and confusing what's business and what's personal serves the interests of nobody.

10. It's that emotional component, I believe, driving the need of some owners not simply to win the negotiations -- go ahead and check that box in their favor -- but to annihilate the NBPA in the process. Players have every right to be frustrated with the hardline owners. In a framework of fair vs. unfair, the NBPA is right -- the process hasn't been fair, in that they've given far more. Except it's a bad framework. This is about the possible vs. the impossible, and the deal some hardline players seem to want simply won't happen.

11. One more way the world of professional sports veers off from real life: In a normal negotiation between a union and management, labor can afford to absorb losses from a work stoppage because lost wages can be made up over decades, reaping the benefits of a better contract. (Even still, it's hardly uncommon these days to see benefits for yet-unhired workers cut in the name of labor peace.) NBA players have union protection, but the relatively short career arc completely changes the dynamic. It's a big reason Matt Barnes told us last week he thinks there are a host of players who would take 50/50 on the B.R.I., and want to get back to work. And why he wouldn't judge them.

Ultimately, this is why the players appear to be making clear a willingness to indeed go halfsies on revenue in exchange for better terms on the system. Enough of them recognize the math: Even if they gain a point or two back, it would take years to recoup the lost revenue of a missed season. Most of them don't have that long.

12. Please, please, please, can we stop with the union-as-"plantation workers"- meme? Shame on union attorney Jeffrey Kessler for throwing that grenade. Accuse Stern of many things if you'd like, but the NBA has long been the most progressive league in big pro sports, and he's long been the Commissioner. Everyone expects a certain level of rhetoric in this sort of thing, but using language that loaded is totally counterproductive.