We all saw this coming; at least, all of us who follow the inner workings of the NBA saw this coming.
The real concerns about possibly missing the entire 2011-12 NBA season went into full force in February, when we were all gathered in Los Angeles for the 2011 All-Star Game. To outsiders it all seemed like business as usual, but insiders were talking about what wasn’t being said. Namely, the massive marketing effort surrounding the next All-Star game was completely missing. Not one sign, not a logo to be found, and never a mention of Orlando, where the 2012 game is scheduled to be held.
To understand the significance of this you have to understand that the NBA goes out of its way to kick off the hype machine for the next All-Star game at the same time that it’s holding the current one. Yes, a full year in advance. You see, the All-Star festivities include a number of housekeeping events for the NBA, and is far more than just a chance to show off the game’s biggest stars. Commissioner David Stern delivers his State Of the Game address at All-Star Weekend, announcements are made regarding NBA Cares, Green Week, and the many other social initiatives that will take place over the next year.
This time . . .bupkiss!
That was when we started to fully understand just how far the NBA owners were willing to go to bring about a complete revamping of the league’s economic structure.
Since then, there have been many other signs that the 2011-12 season was in serious jeopardy. Summer league was canceled months before the collective bargaining agreement expired on July 1st, and while the NBA did announce a preseason and regular season schedule for 2011-12, that schedule didn’t start regular season play until November 1st. In recent years the start of the NBA season has been inching earlier and earlier into October, and last season began on October 24th.
Could it be a coincidence that the start of the new season was pushed back a full week, thus allowing more time for pretend negotiations and a nice, clean deadline for CBA talks? Perhaps, but unlikely.
In his column for HoopsHype today, Mark Heisler suggests that this entire “phony war” was programmed from the start, that the NBA never had any intention of bargaining in good faith with the players. The plan all along was to take a hard line stance and simply wait out the players, who can ill afford to hold out for a prolonged period of time. After all, some 22 owners are said to be better off if the season doesn’t happen at all due to the current imbalance of the NBA economy.
As Heisler aptly points out, all of the so-called negotiations between the owners and players to this point have been completely useless, little more than photo ops for each side to posture and dig their heels in even further than before. Both sides walk out of the meetings calling the demands from the their opponents unreasonable, saying they can’t possibly bargain with such unreasonable people.
There are more meetings scheduled, of course, but rest assured that nothing will come of any meetings that happen before November 1st. Neither the players nor the owners are particularly concerned about preseason; in fact, most players would just as soon skip the entire exercise. Why play games that don’t count in arenas where fans aren’t paying to see players who won’t play during the regular season? What’s more, players who have their salary split up into 12 equal checks are still getting paid in October.
November 1st is the first meeting that will hold any real repercussions for the players. If a resolution is reached on November 1st the majority of the 2011-12 season can still be salvaged, with just a month of games missed. Truth be told, that’s exactly what the vast majority of NBA players would like to do. They’d like to take a deal that doesn’t cut them too deeply, but one that gets the money flowing again without delay. Unfortunately, the richest 20% of the league’s players will never go for such a resolution, as it will involve taking a great deal of money from them to make the NBA’s economy sustainable.
There will be a lot of talk on November 1st, both sides will say some progress was made, but at the end both sides will agree that there is still far too much distance between the sides to actually come to terms on a new CBA. The lockout will continue.
When the lockout might actually end is, of course, anyone’s guess. Every analyst in the field has their own date in mind with reasoning to support their conclusion. This analyst’s firm belief is that the players will cave right around the first of December, when the entire 2011-12 season is really at stake for the first time.
The vast majority of players live paycheck to paycheck, as ridiculous as that sounds, and by December 1st those players will be getting antsy for that next check. The pressure on Billy Hunter to get a deal done will increase exponentially, which is exactly what the owners are counting on. It’s not the owners who make their living playing basketball . . .and the owners have plenty of other revenue streams to milk while waiting for the outcome of the lockout. It’s possible that the players could hold out until the first week of January, when a failure to reach agreement would mean the cancellation of the entire season, but my gut tells me that last-ditch meeting won’t be necessary.
It will be ugly . . .really ugly. There will be bitter, hurt feelings between the players and owners for years to come. But business is business, and most players would be in a world of financial hurt if the entire season was lost. They will step to the plate and deliver the owners the vast majority of what they’re currently asking for, all in the name of resuming the billion-dollar revenue flow.
This is what the owners have counted on all along, what they knew would be the inevitable conclusion. It’s why they knew in February that there would be no need to plan for All-Star 2012 in Orlando, why they knew it was fine to delay plans for a lost summer league. It’s why the league pushed back the schedule for a week, and it’s why all of the negotiations to date have been fruitless.
Call is a phony war or a conspiracy theory . . .either way, the NBA and its owners have been planning for a long, cold autumn, one that features absolutely no NBA basketball.