April 6, 2016

DENSON | Beware, the NBA Lockout Is Near

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Five years ago the NBA players union dissolved, the owners lost millions and the league had its first lockout of the millennium.

As David Stern’s hair was graying by the hour, dozens of players went overseas to play in foreign basketball leagues. The NBA’s television providers lost about one billion dollars, and fans had to turn to other ways to get nightly entertainment — like cooking elaborate meals with cultural delicacies, finishing the world’s biggest Lego model or watching the humdrum NHL drag through another season. With the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement set for an opt-out clause in 2016 — effective by June 2017 — we could see this again.

The pessimist in me sees most signs leading to another lockout if the league stays true to its mission of achieving a competitive balance. In the ultra-competitively lopsided association, we’ve seen a clear concentration of championships — something commissioner Adam Silver wants to change. And something that fans and small market team owners alike are hoping for — as with so much young talent maturing by the game we’ll see a dynamic change in the league.

Back in 2014 the league got a $24 billion dollar TV contract from ESPN and Turner (TBS and TNT), and the deal kicks in next season. This increases the salary cap by an unexpected $20 million. That is 20 million more dollars to sign ring-hungry Kevin Durant and another $20 million for Carmelo Anthony to share a locker room with LeBron and hold hands with him while riding on his coattails.

Going through every roster move, juicy trade rumors and never-ending speculation, I just can’t find a way where small-market teams don’t get screwed over in this scenario. The league’s best talent will gravitate towards big market teams as any team will make cap space for one of the NBA’s perennial MVP candidates. With players like LeBron hinting at wanting a new “Big Three” in the near future, what is to stop players going wherever they want if teams will pay them to do so? The crux of the argument is that the players will opt for attractive big markets teams like New York, Boston or LA. We will see yet another continued concentration of talent and competition within the association. The players union won’t want to give up all the new money, and,alas, we’ll have a labor dispute.

This is the logical reason for the lockout, in 2011, the owners clobbered the players, so why wouldn’t they flex their muscles and do it again? The players gave up their share of the league revenue from 57 percent to about 50 percent. The owners also want a hard salary cap, like the NHL and the NFL, compared to the current “soft” cap, along with non-guaranteed contracts and a 20-year-old age minimum. With Adam Silver as the new face of the owners it behooves them to at least try to fight for some of these issues.

A new matchup is getting ready for the negotiation table: Union leader Chris Paul vs. Commissioner Adam Silver. They both carry so much hope for whom they represent. With these two scenarios it seems as if the likely outcome is a lockout, and the two combined are plenty of reason to worry. You heard it here first: There is a lockout on the horizon. Every few years I love watching millionaires fight billionaires in the world’s most publicized pissing contests.

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