Lockout Update: 'Big Guns' Are Pop Guns

"If somebody wants to point a gun at my head, I'm going to point one back at him," NBPA executive director Billy Hunter said of NBA commissioner David Stern's assertion that the lockout could go on and on. Big guns. Pointed guns. Pop guns. An evaluation of where the NBA lockout stands today ...

The big guns came in. The union talked of having a gun to its head, and of turning that gun

Last week the NBA and its union called in the big gun to try to resolve their differences. Super-mediator George Cohen, widely regarded as one of the federal government's best, held meetings with each side on Monday, and then with both sides together beginning on Tuesday to try to help. After three long intense days of back-and-forth with reported progress here and there, the talks came to a crashing end Thursday accompanied by acrimony and finger-pointing from each side at the other. No future talks are currently being planned.

As they went their separate ways, the details of the differences that ended the discussions sounded incredibly familiar. Indeed, the stopping point seemed almost identical to the last few times the talks had crashed to a halt: each side wants 53% of the revenues (BRI), with the owners willing to compromise in the 50-50 area while the players aren't, and the owners want to change the NBA's player-acquisition system in ways that encourage a leveling of payrolls on each of the competing franchises for "competitive balance" purposes while the players don't.

What Next?

Is there any hope of seeing the Defending Champion Dallas Mavericks back in action anytime soon?

It depends on who you ask. Our take on the matter is that the negotiations are hopelessly stuck in a war of competing egos, with the sides at such cross-purposes that there's no middle ground to be found. If we're right, the work stoppage is doomed to end in ugly ways by some combination of nasty bullying (by the owners with more staying power financially), financial discomfort (by the players in lost paychecks and the owners in lost business opportunity), competing NLRB complaints changing the landscape (with a disposition to the one by the players said to be not far ahead), a massive altering of the status quo by the players declaiming the union (which means they vote to disband their union, followed by the formal and sometimes-marathon-length process of getting approval, which is called decertification), and lawsuits by the league (the one currently in the courts challenging the union's right to decertify and asserting a voiding of contracts if they do) and possibly the players (over claims for damages based on labor law, antitrust issues, and who knows what). None of that is pretty, some of those alternatives could last years, and none of them will make fans very fond of the league. While they fiddle, they'll also be burning over $4 billion a year in lost revenue.

And more bothersome to me personally is the fact that I'm feeling robbed of seeing the Mavs get their fair chance to defend their hard-won and well-deserved title. It took a long time, but now they're on top of the NBA mountain. Deep and cohesive already, they could potentially bring essentially everyone back, or they might have options to even upgrade a position here or there. With Dirk as unstoppable as he's ever been, they were so fun to watch and so dominant as they came together in the post-season that I'm bullish on their chances to repeat. (Or maybe I'm Maverickish?!)

One Solution

Instead the NBA landscape has us so dismayed and frustrated that we're contemplating doing something we swore we wouldn't: offering an open-letter solution to the league and its players to help with their stalemate.

That article hasn't been written yet, and it might never happen because our hope is they can solve things without our help. But it's looking more and more like these guys badly need a new perspective on their league and its needs. That doesn't mean an outsider telling them what BRI split is fair or how much to tax and what to do with Bird Rights and so on, but ideas that will get them pushing for the same things. We already have some thoughts fleshed out. If you have ideas - outside-the-box game-changers that you think might help us get Dirk back on the AAC floor sooner - use your account on DB.com Boards message system and send them to DLordOfBasketball via Private Message, and we'll consider including them.

Is There Anything to Be Positive About?

But we're not the only observers out there. How is the rest of the NBA world feeling about all this?

The owners' thoughts are unknown. Except for what we hear in mass media interviews by David Stern or Adam Silver, none of the ownership group are talking to us media types about these matters, even behind the scenes. Stern has put a tight clamp on the entire group.

As for the players, we have access to them or their surrogates as "sources" for articles, as well as via social media, and they are in doom-and-gloom mode: pessimistic and frustrated. Their frustration, as the only basis for our forecasts these days, eventually makes us the same way. Count me in this group, as exhibited in my overview above: I don't see anything positive ahead.

But there remain a few who are swimming the other way with alternative insights. We'll offer some when we find them, and here's one to help you start your day with a ray or two of sunshine and humor.

Dave D'Alessandro, who writes for the NJ Star-Ledger on the Nets and things NBA-related, thinks what we've been seeing is merely a charade of sorts, with Stern and union president Billy Hunter already knowing the final deal but having to let their respective hard-liners get frustrated and give in before they can settle things. If you recall, this is the same thing we wrote prior to the first cancellation of games, saying that they were posturing for their entrenched constituencies but would soon shake on a deal so they wouldn't lose any games. While we've since decided that the rock-throwing between the two sides (including both Stern and Hunter) means they are truly in a fight, D'Alessandro still thinks that they're merely waiting until the hard-liners have been frustrated enough to settle, with the deadline for really losing games still a distance down the line.

In an interesting take on the lockout as it stands, he writes: "Amid the acrimony and coercion and castigation and crocodile tears…David Stern and Billy Hunter…knew exactly where the deal-point existed months ago, but have privately agreed to remain referees in this marathon pie fight — just to let the combatants get so punch-weary they'll ultimately settle for anything resembling the sensible center. They just can't let us in on it — yet. It doesn't work that way in "collective" bargaining….

"They are the reasonable ones. The guys on the periphery may perform their little acts to entertain the rest of us. Our favorite routine was delivered by Dan Gilbert, the Cavaliers owner, who did his frog-and-scorpion bit by telling the players to "trust my gut." Our second favorite was when Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James charged into the discussion with muscles flexed, dazzling their adversaries with an expertise they gleaned from their 11th grade economics class.

Smile

"These are the kind of people Stern and Hunter have to serve, and pacify, and endure. Each sympathizes with the other. So they choreographed every step of this lockout, like a fight scene in a bad western, until the time comes for them to contrive an agreement that will spit-shine both their legacies."

Let's hope D'Alessandro is right, that the guns – another feature of those Old West movies – get put away, and that reason will eventually rule the day. Soon.


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