At this time last week we were hearing that progress had been made in the NBA labor talks and that a deal was close; hope you didn't hold your breath. I didn't believe that they'd have a deal worked out by the weekend, but certainly it was an encouraging sign. Then, late night on Thursday, the owners pulled a power play and the talks fell apart. They reportedly told the players to take a 50/50 split on the BRI or they were done negotiating despite making progress. The players stood strong, at least temporarily, and all NBA fans let out a collective groan as the realization sunk in that we could be without NBA hoops until the calender turned to 2012.
But as I'm writing this, there are supposed to be talks today. So who gave in? Despite reports that owners have backed off the 50/50 split as a pre-condition to negotiation, don't take that as a sign the owners have given in. In my opinion the owners will still hold firm at 50/50, but they are willing to discuss a "flexible" BRI that can shrink or grow depending on the economy to get the players back at the negotiating table. They'll likely still get their way, but it's a good PR move and lets the players come back to the table without the appearance of caving. So is this a true sign of compromise? No, and I actually think the owners have already won. There are other issues to iron out still, but I believe the BRI will be a 50/50 split with possibly some flexibility, but the players won't get 53%.
There was a quote from NBAPA head Billy Hunter that led me to this conclusion. "We didn't ask them to move off of their number. We didn't ask them to come up. We said let's go and talk about all these other issues. Let's go and talk about all these other things. The system is maybe even more important to the players than the dollars, if the system is right." Look at that last sentence, "the system is maybe even more important." The players are either willing to take the 50/50 or just know that they can't win that fight. To me that sounds like, we're willing to give in on the BRI split, but give us something in return like keeping guaranteed contracts or a "soft" cap.
So basically the players said they wouldn't accept a 50/50 split...yet. Whether they actually mean that the other issues are more important or they just know they can't win that battle, they've tipped their hand to the fact that they're willing to give in on the BRI issue. So what's left for them to negotiate? They've got to make decisions on contract length, a soft or hard cap, guaranteed contracts, the luxury tax, and a few other details. If the owners give the players their wish on a couple of those issues, I believe the players will take that deal. The hardest part left for Billy Hunter will be selling his players on this deal being the one that they wanted and the one they fought and sacrificed for. How he does that, I'm not sure, but from the very beginning the owners have had the leverage and I think they'll use that leverage to end the lockout within the next couple weeks.
If that does happen, when will we have games? I'm still thinking Christmas, maybe a week earlier. If they're able to put the finishing touches a deal by Thanksgiving (and we remember how long that took in the NFL), then that'd leave a month to sign players and get a couple weeks of practice in before the start of the season. It'd be a rushed "off-season", but that's basically the same timeline that the NFL went by. If they can re-work the schedule so we still have a 60-70 game season, I think most fans will forgive both sides and just enjoy having games to watch again; just like in the NFL.