In Ken Berger of CBSSports.com's latest dispatch regarding labor negotiations between NBA owners and the National Basketball Players Association, some new details emerge about ownership's position on a potential work stoppage. Citing "a person who had wielded enormous clout in past NBA labor talks," Berger writes that the owners are considering a take-it-or-leave it posture.
In an intriguing if contradictory prediction, the person said that despite a steady stream of lockout rhetoric, he has come to believe that owners and players will reach an agreement and avoid a work stoppage at the 11th hour before the current CBA expires on July 1, 2011. However, if cooler heads do not prevail, the owners will be so entrenched and determined to make a work stoppage pay off that they will push to cancel the entire season to cripple the National Basketball Players Association and implement the drastic changes they are seeking.
Basically, if a lockout is the only way to get the players to cave, then the owners are really going to make them cave. If there's a lockout, the participant in past negotiations predicted, it will not simply be for show. It will be Armageddon.Before we get into the threat presented, let's applaud the fact that this source seems to be hold promise for a relatively quick resolution to the labor negotiations. That's some badly needed good news.
"After a year, the players will come back with $2.1 billion less in their pockets," the person said. "Who has more leverage now?"
As for the scenario outlined, a full season shutdown is the latest of many hammers that have been floated by NBA owners, which also include contraction of teams/jobs, salary rollbacks and a hard cap. The stance presented here runs perfectly counter to the tact currently being taken by the players association, which has assembled a war chest in the event of a work stoppage, has told its members to save money throughout this season and to prepare to live without guaranteed paychecks at the start of next season.
The situation described above attempts to torpedo that month-to-month cautious approach and remove the mental safety net created by the notion of a partial season work stoppage. Berger's source is saying, in effect: "Save your pennies all you want, it's only going to cost you more in the long run and you have no idea how long that run could be." This move certainly plays up the fear factor for the players, who, at some level, have to place faith and trust in their union to reach an agreement in an expedient manner. Saving extra seems like a reasonable plan if there is a payoff in the future. If there's not an extra payoff, saving money and passing up the opportunity to compromise can seem foolish, especially to players who have a limited career shelf life as it is.
Should the players be listening to this latest stance, or is it more posturing?
I'd argue that they should be listening. One, this just happened in the National Hockey League and it got really, really bad for the players there. Two, there's not much benefit to the owners to compromise once the work stoppage point has been reached. If they're forced to bite the public relations bullet and cancel games, angering their fans, losing season ticket holders and absorbing all the abuse and heckling from the media in the process, won't they be that much more likely to radically alter the financial structure of the game to protect themselves and their interests in the future?
Berger thinks so, and writes that the players will "get a worse deal after they've lost a year of income and owners have skipped a year of losing money." Resolve, in this case, seems like just another commodity that can be amassed in greater quantity by the super-wealthy.
The lesson to take from this is that the players have a vested interest in keeping negotiations amicable, because if they get protracted and ugly they'll be playing poker heads-up against an opponent whose chip stack is much, much greater. They clearly understand that fact, because their rhetoric has, generally, been blandly positive and focused on unity, rather than divisiveness.