Commentary

Should've seen this one coming

With a deal now not in either side's best interest, not surprising NBA still locked out

Originally Published: October 20, 2011
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

The NBA lockout wasn't going to end this week.

There was a better chance Linus would finally see the Great Pumpkin than that the owners and the players' union would reach an accord on a new collective bargaining agreement, despite the presence of a federal mediator who kept both sides holed up in negotiations virtually around the clock.

Here are Thursday's developments in a nutshell ...

Deputy commissioner Adam Silver: We're ready to do a deal if the players just go to 50 percent of basketball-related income, but they're not willing to.

Union president Derek Fisher: You lie! *Rep. Joe Wilson voice *

Federal mediator George Cohen: I'm outta here.

Simply put, it's in neither side's best interest to do a deal right now.

[+] EnlargeAdam Silver
Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesAdam Silver and the Spurs' Peter Holt said the owners don't intend to budge on a 50/50 BRI split.

The players won't start missing paychecks until next month, and they have almost $200 million returned to them from escrow to tide them over for a bit. As Spurs owner Peter Holt reportedly said during negotiations, the players haven't felt enough pain yet.

It makes sense for the owners to wait to see what the players have to say when their bank accounts start dwindling. It's the difference between offering someone dessert after a full meal or offering a fruit roll-up after a cross-country flight.

The players have to hold on to the hope that they'll get a favorable ruling in November from the National Labor Relations Board, which could ultimately impose an injunction that lifts the lockout, at least temporarily. It's a long shot, but it's the only hope for leverage that they have.

You know a deal is nowhere close when the owners' side has Dan Gilbert telling the players to trust him. Yeah, that'll work. It's the same Dan Gilbert who went from sweet-talking LeBron James and offering him $125 million to shooting arrows at his back after he left. Put it this way: How seriously would the owners take it if LeBron came into the room and told the Cavs' owner to take the players' proposal and trust him on it?

For now, the only thing the players have to say that will get the owners' attention is lowering their share of the basketball-related income. They've already come down from the 57 percent in the old collective bargaining agreement to a proposed 53 percent. They have offered another idea of a "band" ranging from 50 percent to 53 percent, depending on the league's annual revenues, but probably would average more than 52 percent by their calculations.

So, if only briefly, they said the magic 50 percent the owners want to hear.

But they're not guaranteeing 50 percent. And that's what the owners are holding out for.

"We did make clear to them [Wednesday] that we were willing to go to 50 percent in an effort to compromise," Silver said. "We were trying to look over the impact of a long-term deal and we could see our way in a 50 percent deal. They made a slight move from 53 to 52.5 percent. That's where we broke off.

"They made it clear: If our position was we were unwilling to move beyond 50 percent, there was nothing to talk about."

That set Fisher off. The normally unflappable player president lost his cool for one of the few times since he unloaded on Luis Scola in the 2009 playoffs.

"I want to make it clear that you guys were lied to earlier," Fisher told a roomful of sleep-deprived reporters who have been waiting out the meetings. "It's that simple. We spent the last few days making our best effort to try to find resolution. It wouldn't be a win for us, it wouldn't be a win for them, but one that we felt would get our game started, get our guys back on the court, get the vendors back to work, get the arenas opened, get these communities revitalized. And in our opinion, that's not what the NBA and the league is interested in at this point. They're interested in telling you one-sided stories that are not true."

I want to make it clear that you guys were lied to earlier. It's that simple.

-- Union president Derek Fisher to reporters

Union executive director Billy Hunter maintained this lockout was "pre-planned, pre-ordained, pre-destined."

OK, so the union ramped up the rhetoric. It still doesn't mean the players are ready to make a deal. They're holding on to whatever they can. Remember, their goal going into these negotiations wasn't to gain anything; it was simply to minimize the losses. All they've got is their share of the BRI, so if they give it all away now and drop to 50 percent, they have no shot at maintaining anything else.

The union side claims Holt told the players: "Take it or leave it."

That leaves both sides where they've been since July 1. It's where they'll continue to be for the near future. It will take a drastic change for them to move off their sides, and again, the economic damage hasn't been dramatic enough for them to give in. The players haven't lost a month's worth of salary. The league hasn't missed any of its games on the ABC portion of the TV contract.

The smart move by the owners is to fixate on 50-50, knowing how easy that is for the public to process. But that's just the beginning, for the people actually involved in the negotiations. If they could split the revenues evenly and preserve the old system that made it easy for teams to go over the salary cap with various exceptions, the players would go for that. That's not the offer that's on the table.

"We're not prepared to let them impose a system on us that eliminates guarantees, reduces contract lengths, diminishes annual increases, eliminates other exceptions, severely restricts [the Larry Bird exception]," Hunter said. "That's the kind of system we want. We're saying, 'No way.'"

In other words, no way they'll get a deal done soon, no way they'll play a full 82-game season. If you've been paying attention, there's no way you should have expected anything else.