Friday Donuts: 12 NBA Lockout Observations

The players were in Vegas. The owners were in Dallas. And the upcoming season? It's in limbo. Friday Morning Mavs Donuts: 12 Things We've Learned About The NBA Lockout ...

DONUT 1: The players are far too concerned about "putting on a show,'' "appearances'' and "what people think.'' Traditional judgment of human behavior tells us that the Las Vegas demonstration from NBA Players Association president Derek Fisher and executive director Billy Hunter – complete with 35 players wearing matching "STAND'' t-shirts – is an accidental admission of weakness.

They care far too much about what outsiders think. So they staged a performance.


I would've enjoyed it more had they replaced the 30 t-shirt guys with a chorus line and Wayne Newton.

DONUT 2: Which side is "fractured''? And ultimately, who cares? I know which side is fractured. It's the side trying to get 450 men to think together … a more difficult task than trying to get 30 men to think together.

"There is not the fracture and the separation amongst our group that in some ways has been reported," said Fisher. "We just want to continue to reiterate that point."

Meanwhile, Fisher is the guy who sent out the letter (obviously intentionally leaked to Sports Illustrated) that accused the owners side of being close to collapse. … and that owners' in-fighting is the reason negotiations are moving so slowly.

Fisher's letter blames the negotiation process on "a fundamental divide between the owners internally."

It's a ridiculous contention. Are there some owners taking more hard-line positions than others? Certainly. But it's good business for the owners to implement a hard salary cap. And while there might be some owners who are driven by anger (Cleveland's Dan Gilbert?) and others who are driven by frugality (Phoenix's Robert Sarver?), there is no owner who views the players as being underpaid.

Said Chancellor Stern after the owners meeting here in Dallas on Thursday: "Some people might say they want a hard cap with this wrinkle and someone says I want a hard cap with that wrinkle. But I would say there is unanimity in favoring a hard cap, period."

No, it's the players side that is scattershooting with anger at their own partners, the powerful agents, who are pushing for decertification, a vote of no-confidence in Hunter. It's the players side that is allowing to "obtain'' Derek Fisher's players-only letter that misspells the name of union member Luke Babbitt. (Ooops!) And it's worth noting that our own Brian Cardinal raises a provocative question in this tweet:

"Interesting.. I just received the letter from D.Fish.. 7-10 hrs after the media got it.. I would've rather got the link to the online version.''

In other words (my interpretation), why is Fisher sneaking updates to before he issues them to his own players?

DONUT 3: Some media members have dogs in this hunt. Sports Illustrated is a primary example. On Wednesday came the leaked letter, complete with this powerful and rosy headline: "Union president Fisher sets record straight in letter to players.'' On Thursday, Fisher conducted a one-on-one interview with a certain media outlet. Guess which media outlet it was?

As Dan Gilbert tweeted, "Some of these NBA 'bloggissists' flat-out make stuff up and then try to dupe readers into believing their fiction is real. Sad & pathetic.''

"Bloggissists''? Gilbert is apparently taking spelling lessons from Derek Fisher. Nevertheless, his point is made. Agendas are everywhere.

DONUT 4: Another example, innocent as it might be: Former ESPN writer Chris Sheridan broke out on his own last week with an independent website. Having done the same thing 11 years ago, I'm rooting for him. But his very first article on the new site touting the "scoop'' that the players and owners were close to a deal.

Wrote Chris:

Here's the dirty little secret about the NBA lockout, despite what both sides — the owners and the players — would have you believe:

They are a lot closer to a settlement than most people realize.

I know this because I talk regularly with a bunch of important people who tell me important things, and I am going to explain why I believe a settlement will be reached that will not only save the season, but also enable the NBA to have an "all is forgiven" honeymoon period (similar to what the NFL just experienced following its labor settlement) in which the frenzy of free agents signings, trades, training camps and exhibition games will make everyone forget all of the doomsday talk they've been hearing all summer.'s Chuck Perry noted at the time, "No disrespect to Mr. Sheridan. But it's important to be aware of the possible motivations of this story. He just launched his own site, and this piece will generate traffic because it tells his audience essentially what they (we) want to hear: There will be basketball soon! Further, it does it in a deep-but-accessible way so readers will feel they're getting insider info.''

Chris' piece was written on Sept. 5. Eleven days later, it doesn't yet seem accurate.

DONUT 5: Ultimately, though, fans don't care which side gives in. Just that one side does. And right now, the "side'' unwilling to cave is the third side, the most muscular agents. The power grab by those agents is on the horizon. If they get their wish for union decertification, Hunter is dead … and both sides will go tell it to a judge. I'm not buying the potential benefits here, though. That'll mean a more drawn-out process (surely the season will be lost). And history tells us that the players will still not get their way.

Hunter says decertification is not a consideration – at least not until after the National Labor Relations Board issues a ruling on the union's complaint against the NBA.

"Any decisions made in the future will be made by the players standing behind me and their colleagues," Hunter said. Translation: Hunter is ready to fight the agents.

And which side is it that has "solidarity,'' again?

DONUT 6: Is there a compromise point? The players are apparently willing to concede on the basketball-related income, maybe moving down from 57 percent to 53 percent. But that doesn't alter the landscape of the hard-cap argument. The report from ESPN that some of the men in the ownership boardroom find the 57-to-53 movement important is one thing. That doesn't tie it directly to any arguments about a cap.

So it volleyballs back to the players' side.

"We're going to continue to make the effort,'' Fisher said, "but we're not going to continue to concede.''

I will take that bet.

DONUT 7: Around here, to a great degree, it's business as usual. I don't just mean The Mavs Store is open with its new Jason Kidd BBIQ stuff or that I've got a 7-Day FREE trial for you to Go Mavs and Go Premium! or you really ought to go car-shopping at Classic of Carrollton. I mean that this week, submitted its credential requests to the Dallas Mavericks. The whole 75-Member Staff! Credentials and photos and plans being made for me to do TV with Fox Sports Southwest and some groundwork put down to staff road games in San Antonio, Houston and OKC … and I feel like I'm the dork in a tuxedo telling the violinists to keep playing while Kate and Leo DiCaprio go sliding by on the deck of the Titanic.

DONUT 8: There are two lessons to be learned from the lost NHL season. The NHL killed its 2004-05 season under very similar circumstances. Lesson One to be learned from this: Four of the NBA's owners are also NHL owners. (Dolan in New York, Leonsis in Washington, Kroenke in Denver and Tannenbaum in Toronto.) I believe they are comfortable with the sacrifice made because that lockout got the NHL's financial house in order and put in place a salary cap.

If those guys were willing to do it then, they would be willing to do it now.

DONUT 9: And Lesson Two: What do you remember about that lockout? About that lost season? In 2005-06, did you go scrambling down to the AAC to buy season tickets, giddy that the NHL was back? Did you embrace hockey as you had before? Did you have such hunger for it that you embraced it even more than before?

I am concerned that the people in charge of these negotiations are too close to the situation, too embroiled in the talks, to understand the big-picture damage that could result in a lost season. The NFL is an institution, a pop-culture phenomenon. It's as big as movie-going, almost as big as church-going.

I believe there are NBA leaders that believe the same thing about their game. They are wrong. As much as I love it, as much as you love it, the truth about the NBA is that as an American cultural staple, it is closer to hockey than it is to football. Lose a season and it will slip nearer the former.

DONUT 10: Where are the superstars? Peer into the photo below of Hunter and Fisher. Who are those other guys? Where are Kobe and 'Melo and LeBron and Amare and Dirk and Nash and Dwight? Did the union not print enough t-shirts? Or are the big boys not truly "unified'' with the rank-and-file?


DONUT 11: Let me ask it again: Where are the superstars in all of this?
Are the superstars wearing those STAND t-shirts, too? But just doing so in the privacy of their own mansions? How is it that the players who are truly the face of the game and could truly be the face of a settlement, one way or another, are suddenly invisible? They couldn't (wouldn't?) take their private jets to Vegas? The Kobes and the LeBrons travel the world like you and I travel to Kroger's ... but they couldn't take a day to demonstrate that true "solidarity'' is something more than a Derek Fisher buzzword?

DONUT 12: We're going to lose at least part of this season. That seems clear now. Training camps would normally start around Oct. 1. It simply becomes difficult, logistically, to time-crunch all that must be accomplished in a short time. Says Hunter: "We've advised (players) they may have to sit out half the season before we get a deal.''

Except …

"The clock is ticking, but it hasn't struck midnight yet," Stern said. "We have time to do what has to be done, and we'd like to do it."

So Hunter is saying "good night.'' And Stern is saying "good morning.'' That's how far apart the two sides are.

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