NBA Lockout Analysis: How Did We Get Here?

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By Diego Quezada

“We’re on the two-yard line,” – National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter, Oct. 8.

“I think we’re within striking distance of getting a deal,” – Hunter, Oct. 28.

How did we end up to where we are now? The union formerly representing NBA players disbanded yesterday, effectively taking this lockout from boardrooms to courtrooms. The players will file an anti-trust lawsuit, seeking to receive a summary judgment that declares the lockout illegal. Although the two sides could still salvage the season, it’s highly likely the “2011” part of the 2011-12 season will have to be removed.

At the start of the lockout, I sympathized with the players. Most of that stance had to do with the fact that I am a Miami Heat fan, and the system issues the small-market owners sought would have made it increasingly difficult for Miami – with LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade owed $283 million over the next five years – to add depth. If I were a die-hard Milwaukee Bucks fan, perhaps I would feel that if my team drafts a superstar, incentives should exist to encourage him to stay. Who knows? Perhaps if Wade signed with the Chicago Bulls in 2010 I would have liked the idea of abolishing sign-and-trades and extend-and-trades.

My sympathy with the players changed yesterday, after I had taken a few hours to fully comprehend what disclaiming interest entails. Derek Fisher always called dissolving the union the “nuclear option,” believing that collective bargaining was a better option. Why disband the union after coming so close to a new deal?

According to NBA Commissioner David Stern, talks broke off Oct. 29 when Hunter said that he wasn’t willing to negotiate a Basketball-Related Income split below a 52/48 division in favor of the players. The union later backed off its stance a week ago, agreeing with the owners to a 50/50 split.

It is baffling that the union decided to disband after agreeing with the owners on a revenue split. In addition to the BRI, the two sides also reached agreement on the luxury tax rate, the mid-level exception (at least for non-taxpayers), contract length, raises, the amnesty clause and the “stretch” exception.

Why did the players risk losing an entire year’s worth of paychecks for the taxpayer mid-level exception and other system issues that are relatively minor compared to the BRI split? Instead of stopping the negotiations, why didn’t the players union agree to an amended version of the NBA proposal, which would have put the onus back on the owners? Stern said that the next offer would have been much worse, but I don’t see him moving negotiations farther apart with a 72-game season within reach.

I blame everybody in this lockout. The owners initial demands called for elimination of guaranteed contracts, a 37 percent BRI share for the players and a hard cap. They waited until October to start discussing a deal that could be semi-palatable to the players. The owners could have agreed to giving the players 53 or 52.5 percent of BRI, but they wanted to see how much they could squeeze out of the players. Remaining intransigent on the 50/50 split was the wrong move, and we could all be preparing for a season if each side gave up a little bit more.

But we’re not in a world of both sides giving up a little for the good of the game. We’re in a world of hubris and recklessness. A now we could see a long, protracted battle in court when the two sides were so close from preventing all of this "nuclear winter" from happening.

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