For two years, David Stern and Billy Hunter have done what can be called negotiating in name only. They went through the motions of discussing percentages of Basketball Related Income (BRI), hard and soft caps, etc., but there appeared to be neither urgency nor consequences without a deal.
Now, though, the time has come when every day matters, although there is still time. The meeting Tuesday that was billed as a "make or break" meeting to allow the NBA to play this season certainly wasn't encouraging, but the parties have met again since.
I disagreed with the NFL doomsayers in the early part of their lockout, and I have never chosen to believe the gloom about missing an NBA season. Will there be games missed? Possibly, but there are many reasons for both sides to get a deal done, even if a small part of the season is claimed. Among them are the following:
The decertification option is not viable
Although agents have been advocating this course of action from the NFLPA's handbook, time alone forecloses this option. The NFLPA decertified before players were even locked out. The NBPA has chosen the course of negotiation over litigation, much to the dismay of the agents.
Pursuing legal action now -- beyond the existing National Labor Relations Board claim -- seems misguided. Even if a lower court judge lifts the lockout, the NBA will appeal and it will take months before an appellate court would rule (and, if the NFL is a guide, it would rule for the owners). By that point, the season would be past its drop-dead date and the players would have lost roughly $2 billion.
The players could bring a viable antitrust suit that could produce hundreds of millions in treble damages, but they would have to lose at least one and probably two seasons to get to that point. Even the wealthiest players would not advocate that. Time is not on the players' side here.
Even half a season missed is money forgone
If players wait until early January to get a deal done, they will have lost 32 games worth of income, or more than $750 million. Let's assume -- as has been reported -- that the two sides are negotiating over roughly 3 percent of the $4 billion annual revenues, or roughly $120 million a year, in their percentage requests. Over a six- or seven-year deal, that's about the same amount as the players would lose by not signing until January. If they can get any more out of the owners, they're better off playing now. But that assumes that
The deal to come will be the same or worse than the deal now
Lockout history teaches us that the deals get worse, not better, for players as games are missed. And the NBPA is dealing with a commissioner used to getting his way, comfortable with lockouts and intent on a "reset." This deal might get better in the coming week but worse after that.
The owners also want to have a (nearly) full season
I don't buy the propaganda that owners are better off not playing than playing. I understand that there are some NBA owners who were able to change the system or "reset" in hockey, but I can't see them carrying the room. Both the NBA lockout in 1999 and the recent NHL labor war laid waste to the value of their media deals and were a reason attendance stagnated for nearly a decade. No one wants this in the NBA, especially with the uptick in TV rights deals we have seen from the Olympics and the NFL.
The two sides are closer than they have been
The players offered 53 percent of BRI, and owners countered with the "concept of 50/50" which translates to mean that they will offer an even split of revenues. We do not know the extent of the exceptions to the cap -- or lack thereof -- but there is room for compromise there on both sides. As mentioned above, that is $120 million a year -- a significant amount, but not enough to lose a season over.
As I always say, deadlines spur action and create movement, and we're just heading toward the deadline now. NBA players have moved from "playing goalie" -- preserving their 57 percent share -- to requesting 53 percent; owners have moved from offering players a 46 percent share to 50 percent. There's a deal to be made and sufficient incentives to make sure it gets done. It might take a few more weeks, but the sides are closer than it seems.
When NFL talks broke off on March 11, my suspicion was that the deal discussed that day would not look very different at all from the deal agreed to, which happened in late July. I get the same sense here: The deal discussed on Oct. 4 will not look dramatically different from the deal agreed to on whatever date.
Hope still floats for an eleventh-hour breakthrough between the two sides. Economic harm is ahead for both; that alone might spur a deadline deal. We are closer to a deal than we have been for two years.
Andrew Brandt, a former NFL executive and agent, is a sports business analyst for ESPN.
Follow him on Twitter @adbrandt.