Cap Backwards: Shots fired

Former Rocket Steve Novak was signed for the rest of the season by the Spurs last Friday, March the 4th, after two successive 10-day contracts.

But onto more interesting stuff…like unions and budgets.The NBA, led by its commissioner, David Stern, and the NBA Player’s Association, led by its executive director, Billy Hunter, are in the midst of ‘negotiating’ a new collective bargaining agreement to bridge the gap between owner demands and player interests.

‘Negotiating’ deserves the written equivalent of sarcastic, even cynical, quotes in this case because talks between the two sides are summed up best by Jennifer Coolidge’s character in Best in Show – “We could not talk or talk forever and still find things to not talk about.”

The current CBA expires June 30, 2011. The last exchange of proposals between the two sides – February 2010. That’s a whole lot of not talking. During last month’s All Star break, however, “progress” (double the sarcasm) was made.

Stern: “There’s no disagreement about the numbers.”

Hunter responded in a statement: “There has been ongoing debate and disagreement regarding the numbers.”

Stern: “There’s disagreement about the component of the numbers and whether they should be included.”

So, I guess that answers that? Obviously, there are numbers involving  components. I think we can agree that there is some sort of ambiguous agreement or disagreement going on with those.

Luckily, Derek Fisher, president of the Player’s Association, shed a bit more light earlier this week in an interview with the LA Times. Although, both sides had agreed to keep negotiations out of the press, Fisher circumvented that to an extent in what could be a masterful public relations move.

Fisher publicly embraced a willingness to sacrifice player salaries for the good of the game and the public: “Almost all players would understand if owners…asked for a 2% salary cut in exchange for lower ticket prices.”

Fisher has essentially co-opted one of the public’s largest grievances with the NBA, exorbitant ticket prices, into the player’s side of the negotiations. The NBAPA is now arguing on behalf of not only the players, but the public as well, through its willingness to sacrifice for the fans.

Forbes’ ranking of 2011 Team Values lists 17 teams with negative operating income. This is one of the many reasons Stern wants to reduce player salaries by 35% and institute a hard salary cap like the NFL employs. (“Probably one of the biggest impediments for getting a deal has been their demands for a hard salary cap, and we’ve indicated that we just don’t see any way possible for us to accept that,” Hunter said).

Fisher counters that owners are in control of whom they choose to pay and how much – “There isn’t anything in the collective bargaining agreement that says you have to pay all these guys this much money.”

Stern may be correct in asserting player salaries are unsustainable – “we have a model in place that was put in at an earlier time when the costs that were producing the revenue weren’t as high as they are now.” They may be too large a piece of the pie, but the public is the one serving the pie, and without remuneration, the public will not readily welcome back greedy owners and players fighting over the largest bite of the public’s spent money. Fisher has alleviated, to an extent, the public’s grievance with the players. And with sports team owners being painted into a corner like this, the forthcoming NBA PR war may have just had its Lexington and Concord moment.

Written by Connor Winn, ‘Cap Backwards’ is a discussion column on the NBA’s salary cap and its many intricacies.

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