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The concessions that matter

David Stern opened his Tuesday evening press conference with an impressive list of concessions:

  • "The owners moved off the hard cap, and we were negotiating with the players about a substitute for that."

  • "We had previously agreed that guaranteed contracts would be authorized."

  • "Over the weekend we had agreed there would be no rollbacks of existing salaries."

  • "Today on the basis of a 10-year proposal, we actually proposed that the players be authorized to opt out after seven years."

  • "We asked the question of the players’ small group and they of us, would each side entertain the notion of a 50-50 deal, and, if so, we would each go back? And in order to ascertain that, we'd go back to talk to our owners today, and they'd go back to talk to their players. While we were in the process of doing that with our owners, we were asked to step out, and we were advised by the players that that would not be acceptable to them. That they were at a higher number. At that point, it didn't seem to make a lot of sense to continue today by either side."

Remember when this negotiation started and it was about a radical restructuring of the league, with owners sticking it to players so hard they'd never know what hit them?

That's all gone. No hard cap. Guaranteed deals. No rollbacks. An option to get out after seven years. Half of the old BRI, instead of a little more than a third ... that's all worth a fortune! Billions, over a 10-year deal.

The only normal response is to say, well holy moly players, can you do a little something for them? Can you meet the league in the middle, please? Can you just come down a percentage point or two and we can all go home happy?

But worth noting: You know how much the NBA has conceded compared to the old CBA?

Not one darned thing.

The concessions compared to the old CBA have come entirely from the players, who used to make 57 percent of BRI and will now make 53 percent or less.

It's a fair question to ask where this debate starts. Does it start with the old CBA, or does it start from zero, as the league now has no agreement with players at all, and both sides are entitled to start one from scratch?

I respect owners' rights to seek profit, and the league's right to tweak the system to meet the current market. But let's not get things twisted in a hail of David Stern rhetoric. That the league has conceded anything at all is rooted in the debatable assumption that the conversation started back there in negotiating crazy town.

I could walk into a car dealership today and say true things -- that we Abbotts have little saved for a car purchase, that gas is expensive, that the market for gas guzzlers is softening -- so why don't they hand over a brand new $300,000 Bentley for twenty-five cold hard American dollars?

Assuming they're still bringing me free tiny coffees an hour later, I may have raised my offer to $25,000. And I can then stamp my foot on the floor say what the hell! I've raised my offer a thousand fold! At that point are you going to meet me in the middle?

And it's true. I would have made the big move in the negotiation. But concessions from crazy town aren't concessions at all.

I'm not accusing the NBA of operating a big ruse here. Stern really is holding together a coalition of tough-minded owners with leverage, many of whom really do want to stick it to the players. Instead, I'm accusing Stern of being masterful in how he has handled the process publicly. His side has been making very tough demands for so incredibly long that now that they've tip-toed to the edge of reality it can be a little overwhelming how far they've come.

But that vast distance ... it's more a question of where they started, not so much where they have arrived.