The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that governs the relationship between the NBA's owners and players is set to expire in July 2011. That's a long time from now and yet the owners have taken the bold step of already making their first proposal so that initial talks can begin during next week's all-star festivities in Dallas.
The proposal from the owners is reported to include a radical change in the current structure which allows for the players to receive about 57% of the Basketball Related Income (BRI) generated by the league. If you think of the BRI as the giant pie of money (lots and lots of tasty money) than the percentage split dictates how the pie is shared between those young men who lace up their shoes and throw down the dunks and those older men who slip on their loafers and put up the capital investment to make it all happen.
Of course, it's more complicated than just sharing some pie. The two other big issues at stake are the length of contracts that players can sign and the portion of those contracts that are guaranteed. Guaranteed simply means that if the owner wants to waive a player they still owe them the remaining value of the contract which is unlike the NFL where players sign non-guaranteed contracts.
This first salvo fired by the owners has already elicited a sharp response from this anonymous agent as originally published at ESPN.com by Chris Sheridan, "The league has to be careful. If the top players are united against David (Sterm), that's going to make for a tough fight. It could get very ugly."
In a separate story by Ric Bucher we heard from the the players' union first vice president Adonal Foyle of the Orlando Magic who said the offer put forth last week by commissioner David Stern's office was "ludicrous."
All teams have one or two player representatives to the union. For the Suns that's Amare Stoudemire and Louis Amundson.
I talked to Lou after the Suns practice Sunday when Lou was done getting in some extra work with Jarron Collins and Robin Lopez on their post moves. I was curious where the "rank and file" were at with the current state of the negotiations.
I wasn't really sure how much Lou would know so early in the process and I certainly didn't give him any time to prepare for the topic as we talked at the top of the stairs near Robin's Door.
Lou however, was obviously fully briefed on matters and talked openly about where things stand from the players perspective, "I think the main thing, we don't want to see an NBA where there's no guaranteed contracts like the NFL and where they reduce the number of years for guaranteed contracts. Because then it just makes it so hard for the guys coming in and the draft pics. That's a situation I think we are going to stay firm on. But there's other issues that I think are a little more grayer that I think that the union is a little more willing to compromise on. So we'll see. It's early and there's still a whole lot of issues to cover."
The area where Lou felt there might be some room for movement is in the percentage of the BRI shared but he also made it clear that the Billy Hunter, the union's executive director, was standing firm as of today on that issue as well.
To the average fan this is an ugly fight between wealthy owners and highly paid players. Lou is keenly aware of how this could be taken by the people that ultimately pay the bills, "You don't want to turn off any of the fans and I think in this economy I think both sides ideally are going to have to compromise a bit with the dollar figures. We make a lot of money and so do they but it's a good business so there's a lot of money involved so that's part of it. That's part of the biz."
For the owners to pick this time when so much attention is on the league and when they would ideally want nothing more than to showcase their best players seems to be sending a message of how serious they are to pursue these changes.
The ironic part is that the current CBA provides for both a salary cap and luxury tax and does not force owners to sign players to max contracts. It's the owners who've not been able to control their own spending which has lead to a multi-tiered system where certain teams with either deeper pockets or in larger markets are able to absorb the cost of the luxury tax and pay more to get the best players. It is no coincidence that four of the five teams with the highest payrolls also are at the top of the league's standings.
It doesn't have to be this way but since the owners are clearly not able to police themselves the only solution they see is to impose stricter rules on their own spending which will ultimately limit what the players can earn and shift a lot of the risk to the players if the owners get their way.
Amundson didn't have much to say about the timing of this initial proposal other than to express that the earlier the talks can begin the better. He wouldn't place odds on the chances of a lockout in the 2011 season saying that it would be four or five months before they knew how things were really looking.
For now, it is clear that players are firmly opposed to giving back anything close to what the owners are asking for which means we are all in for a long drawn out fight over the next 16 months leading up to July 2011. It is hard for me to imagine that an agreement will be reached any time soon as neither side will be willing to move their position this far out from the deadline.
In the mean time, the union's board is made up of players from across the salary spectrum and Amundson feels they will remain united in their opposition to reducing the length of their guaranteed contracts.
Hopefully, someone can come up with a solution that provides a greater degree of parity within the league without taking too much away from the players who provide the entertainment that drives the business.
People are going to come down on both sides of this but there's no doubt that if another lockout comes the general public will quickly be disgusted that both sides were so greedy that they couldn't find some way to share their huge, lucrative pie.