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Lingering NBA lockout questions

10/21/2011 - NBA

After three days and 30 hours of discussions, NBA owners and players came away from mediation with little to show for themselves besides some emotional bruising from the barbs traded at Thursday night's news conferences.

So where do we go from here?

Our panel of five experts breaks down the fallout from the latest round of labor talks and predicts when we might be able to see some pro basketball again.

1. After Thursday, whose side are you on? To what degree?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: 75-25 players. I don't begrudge the owners' right to calibrate their business to achieve maximum profitability, but virtually every concession in the negotiations has been made by the players. Ownership in any industry comes with the risk you'll operate in the red. If the investment is failing you, perhaps you and your capital should be elsewhere.

Tim Donahue, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: 60-40 owners. I've long been a proponent of a hard cap, and I broadly agree with the owners' desire to change the system. However, this marks a cooling of my support, as demanding a 50-50 split of basketball-related income and a super-tax system is going too far.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: 75-25 players. The players have offered up 8 percent of their salaries from the previous collective bargaining agreement, which lasted 12 years while the league was less popular and lucrative than it is today; to me, the owners are the aggressors. Why not take the $200 million win, and revisit the deal in five years with a stabilized economy and that fat TV deal in hand?

David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: 98-2 players. It's a lockout, and only one side is in control of the lock. Sure, leadership on the players' side is lacking, but owners are proving this is all a hobby to them because they are risking everything that's been built these past few years over an annual amount of money that is not meaningful to them. And that does not include the benefits of owning a team that don't show up in the bottom line for the tax returns of the team, but do for other businesses in which the owners are involved.

Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: 50-50. It's important to realize the owners are already negotiating in "gain" territory, as they are assured of concessions/more cash. That's why it's hard for the players to justify further movement. With each percentage point the union gives, the loss deepens. None of us ever wants to be in this position, to be in concessionary bargaining. But it's happened to millions of Americans over the past three or four years. Because of this, it's so tempting to blame the owners.

However, in concessionary bargaining, you have to understand your leverage. The players have very little. They are losing money by the day that they will never earn back. They have to realize when to take the best deal they can get. That time might have passed. So they share the blame.


2. What's the biggest obstacle to a deal: dollars, system or emotion?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Emotion invariably plays a part -- it's one of the human species' worst traits -- but this is a battle over billions of dollars. It's precisely because the NBA is so profitable and potentially has such a stratospheric trajectory in the future that these two parties are fighting tooth and nail. The system issues and the emotions are real -- but they're both rooted in dollars.

Tim Donahue, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: The emotion bleeds through everything, but the emotion comes from system issues. Billy Hunter said Thursday the system was more important to the players than the numbers. That's true for both sides. Games were never going to be canceled over a gap in BRI, but they were never going to be played until the two sides settled on a system.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Dollars and system. The owners want to completely overhaul both in their favor and have nothing to offer the players in return. They have boldly reimagined the league but haven't convinced the players that it's in their interest -- because it probably isn't.

David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: I'd have to say intelligence. Owners just have no clue, in many cases, as to who is capable of minding their stores. They hire people who convince them to spend gobs of money for average players and who then ask for more money when that fails. And the owners are blaming the system? Remember when Jim Carrey's character in "Liar Liar" screamed to his client, "Quit breaking the law, #%@#**%!"? GMs, quit spending a fortune on average and below-average players!

Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: It has been dollars for three years. At its core, this always has been about the split. You can try to go around the split issue by haggling over the system. The midlevel exception, the hard cap, the competitive balance, the luxury tax -- all of them are side issues to the pie. Always follow the money.


3. Does the blame go to certain individuals or a broad bunch of people?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Everyone shares some blame. The leaders of each side should have done a better job unifying those they represent. Had owners exercised more discipline and managed their resources more competently, they'd probably be more flexible. The players haven't orchestrated the most sophisticated and crafty approach with regard to the issues and their message.

Tim Donahue, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: By training and trade, I don't have any use for blame. It doesn't get me anything. This all started in 1983 with the first salary cap, and the conflict will last until the owners get their hard cap or the players win an MLB-style legal victory. However, if the owners did make a take-it-or-leave-it offer at 50-50 with the tax, they're responsible for this latest round of talks breaking off.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Plenty of blame to go around, but I'm especially annoyed at the lack of financial information that's been made public. Not that we, as civilians, have a right to those figures, but then we'd at least know exactly how to feel about this absurd deadlock.

David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: I have to look at the individual owners who are hell bent on delaying or destroying the season. And to the league, for not being able to gently teach its owners how to smartly run their businesses. If we all decided to buy a Subway franchise tomorrow, would they just send us a manual with a good luck card? Lastly, a little blame to the superstars who show up on occasion but steal all the oxygen in the room when they do. They can't expect to be casual about the overall and specific on the details.

Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Both sides have picked guys from the other side to throw under the bus. The owners have targeted union attorney Jeffrey Kessler and Kevin Garnett. The players have thrown blame at David Stern and Dan Gilbert. You could write term papers supporting each side: the owners being out for blood, the players being out of touch. But the blame is on all of them for not respecting the fans more. It's their money they're fighting over.


4. Do you see any hope of an 82-game season?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: No. An additional batch of canceled games would likely render an 82-game season nearly impossible. NBA scheduler Matt Winick is a smart dude who has been scheduling the league for ages, but even he can't pull that one off.

Tim Donahue, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: It's foolish to hope for that at this point. There remains a slim window, but only if there is a sudden change of heart by the owners over the weekend. Right now, a 50-game season seems to be the best hope available.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: I have no hope. My soul is a cold, barren pit of limitless depth and darkness. A starving Sarlacc dwells there, devouring all light and any semblance of animal warmth. If you can't tell, I'm starting to freak out a bit about the real possibility of a lost season.

David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: No. That's all I have to say about that.

Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: At this point, it's nearly impossible.


5. Best guess: When's the next NBA game?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Feb. 5, 2012 -- the same day on the calendar the 1998-99 season opened.

Tim Donahue, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Feb. 1, 2012. I still think a deal is there to be made. I think it will happen just like it did in 1999, on the eve of the cancellation of the full season sometime around the first of the new year.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: I've been optimistic all along, but the past two weeks have hammered a steel-toed boot into the groin of that hopeful sentiment. Feb. 6, 2012, or Nov. 1, 2012. Buh.

David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: I'd say the range is Dec.1, 2011, to Nov.1, 2013. I'm so alarmed at the lack of leadership that my faith in a relatively quick resolution going forward is almost nil, although I know there is always a chance. Once we get past the zero hour, sometime in mid-January, with no end in sight, the snowball picks up a lot of steam and could easily wipe out 2011-12 altogether. The migration to Europe will be in full force, and the sense of urgency will be all but drained. The phenomenal draft of 2012 will be dead on arrival, setting up the best draft in history in 2013, for a league that could be on a standing eight-count at that point.

Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: November is gone. The sides might not speak for days. It's so tight now, Dec. 15 probably would be the earliest. With no talks scheduled, Stern might have been right about Christmas games being in jeopardy.

ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Kevin Arnovitz, Davide Thorpe and Brian Windhorst cover the NBA for ESPN.com. Tim Donahue and Beckley Mason contribute to the TrueHoop Network.

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