Yesterday a colleague of mine asked me, "What are the NBA players getting out of this deal?" He noted all the concessions that the union has made and pointed out that the owners haven't conceded much of anything other than backing away from their onerous initial demands.
My answer: Even with union givebacks, NBA players will still be the best paid, best taken care of athletes in their peer group (all professional athletes). The new proposed deal still makes a ton of dollars and sense for NBA players, especially compared to the deal that was recently accepted by their NFL brethren.
In August, when NFL players agreed to reduce their share of revenues from 50 percent to between 47 percent and 48.5 percent and to lower the per team salary cap from $128 million to $120.4 million, I thought they set a horrible precedent for NBA players. NFL business has been booming and virtually all teams have been making money; yet, NFL players were willing to take less. How could NBA players expect to earn a greater share of their league's money than NFL players at a time when most NBA teams are losing money and many are absolutely hemorrhaging cash annually? Yet the deal on the table for NBA players, whether a 50/50 or 52/48 split in revenues, remains appreciably better than the NFL players' deal by all measures.
Start with the fact that NBA players will maintain their entitlement to fully guaranteed contracts. About 90 percent of all NBA contracts are fully guaranteed for payment on the day that they are signed by the player. That player simply needs to show up for work and he'll get paid. He can lose his skill, be out of shape or for whatever reason perform poorly, yet his contract is secure. By comparison, only a small portion of NFL contracts are guaranteed at signing, mostly for the star players, and many of those long-term deals can be modified in the outer years, and players can be cut.
NBA players will continue to enjoy some of the highest minimum wages in sports. NFL players celebrated the fact that their minimum salaries increased 10 percent to 12 percent in the new CBA (NFL rookies now earn $375,000 this season and 10-plus-year veterans earn $910,000). NBA players have had it much better for years, and last season NBA rookies made $474,000 and 10-plus-year vets earned $1.352 million. By contrast, the MLB minimum in 2011 was $414,000. The NBA players' union also has apparently preserved the essence of the "mid-level" exception that allows any team over the cap to sign an average player to a multiyear deal starting at $5 million per season.
But the collective bargaining agreement is not all about money; there are other basic lifestyle and workplace factors that play into every negotiation. For example, NFL players made huge gains in this last CBA negotiation by reducing their offseason practice sessions by five weeks and limiting the number of full-contact practices to only 14 all season with one full-pads practice per week. Compare that to the NBA, where players already enjoy zero mandatory offseason workouts and only five total days of "two-a-day" practices during the entire season. The NBA players' association over the past decade has quietly put a huge fence around the number and types of practices that teams can conduct and thereby created a very favorable work schedule that requires no tweaking in this CBA. We haven't heard one complaint from the union on a workplace, non-financial, non-system issue because there isn't anything left for NBA teams to give players in this regard.
No matter how you analyze the deal on the table, NBA players maintain their place as the No. 1 paid and No. 1 taken care of athletes in all of professional sports. And they should be. They are the most recognizable faces and most "core to the product" of any pro sport. NBA players are the most gifted and spectacular athletes in all of pro sports, especially when you consider their unique size and physical stature.
These graceful giants deserve to be the highest paid athletes in the world. And by all measures, they still will be under the deal offered by owners.
Tom Penn is an NBA analyst on ESPN and former vice president of basketball operations for the Portland Trail Blazers. Follow him on Twitter @1tompenn.