What's in it for the players

November, 26, 2011
11/26/11
6:09
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
David Stern predicts owners will support this “tentative agreement” and it's not just because his side won almost all the important concessions.

It's also because he has done his homework, including years of gathering their opinions and, for good measure, two conference calls with the league's labor committee during Black Friday’s marathon bargaining session. Having talked to those 11, Stern is confident this tentative agreement will be recommended by the committee, approved by the board of governors and ultimately ratified by enough of the league’s owners to become official as the league’s next CBA.

Billy Hunter, on the other hand, was a tad vague about how players will react. The details of the deal remain unconfirmed precisely because Hunter wants to tell them to players before the public.

Common sense suggests players -- many of whom have not followed all that closely, and almost all of whom love playing NBA basketball -- will approve the deal.

But Hunter’s caution is not without reason. Compared to Stern, Hunter has a bigger, less predictable group that has surprised him more than once in this process with stridence.

There are more than 400 players, for one thing. For another, many of them are incredibly competitive and are sensitive to the idea Stern and the owners have walked on them.

And the players not only have real power -- some of them are plaintiffs in a case that must be dropped for the NBA to operate -- but they also have some bitter pills to swallow, including spending cuts that will affect several free agents in the years to come, a smaller mid-level exception, and less job security for many rank-and-file players.

There may be some salesmanship in how Hunter, Derek Fisher and the Players Association handle the next few days.

If I were doing the selling, these are some of the points I’d make:
  • NBA free agency -- the bedrock of every players’ market value -- is not everything it once was, but it’s alive and well. There is no hard cap, and every team will have at least some kind of mid-level exception every year.
  • The Bird exception has led to some of the league’s best-paid, winningest, happiest players, and is essentially untouched.
  • Minimum team payrolls will be climbing. The league instituted this in the name of competitive balance. But it will be in effect whether or not better players are available for stingy teams to sign, and whether or not owners know how to spend that money wisely. That’s a win for free agents. The Grizzlies reportedly signed Zach Randolph in part because they had to get their salaries up to the league minimum. There will be more deals like this in the future.
  • The best way to really make a lot of money as a non-superstar NBA player is to touch off a free-agent bidding war. Revenue sharing will help even the most tight-fisted teams to join these once in a while. If $3 million or so sounds like a decent salary to you, right now, for the first time have as many as 30 teams that both want you and can afford you.
  • Jerry Buss, Mark Cuban and Jim Dolan are still permitted to spend as much as they want. Even better, depending on how the revenue sharing program works, their largesse may now also come with luxury tax dollars to help low revenue teams spend as well.
  • Shorter contracts will hurt some players. But they’ll help one important group: Everyone who can really play. For the very productive, it simply means more frequent free agency -- the period of maximum leverage.

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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