Posted on: September 19, 2011 1:04 pm

Your quality lockout solution of the week

By Matt Moore

There have been a lot of proposed plans from media and fans for a new CBA during the lockout. Ken Berger's plan from June had a strong set of balanced compromises on both sides. But with the negotiations progressing (kind of - baby steps), we get a clearer idea of what the new CBA will look like, barring a dramatic sequence of events. And with it, the proposals for an end to the lockout, which the two sides seem at times diametrically opposed to, become more refined as well. 

Tim Donahue is a writer for the Pacers blog 8 Points, 9 Seconds. He's written some of the most comprehensive works in regards to the CBA negotiations and the issues involved. On Monday, Donahue posted a revised proposal on 8 Points, 9 Seconds which factors in comments from both sides of the negotiation in pursuing what appears to be a decent compromise for both sides. The proposal includes a reduction in the players' split of the BRI to 53 percent (which the players have already agreed to, according to Jared Dudley), but more interesting, it provides a solution to the "blood issue" of a hard cap, while giving the players a measure of flexibility, and without the "flex cap."
The Cap System

The system will include both a soft cap – more accurately described as a “threshold” – and a hard cap. Structurally, it is similar to the “flex” cap system previously proposed by the owners, but it is not the same. The mechanics would be:

The “soft cap” or “threshold” would be set by reducing BRI by $100 million to cover benefits, then taking 47 percent of the remainder and dividing by 30 (or total number of teams). Teams may spend above the threshold using an exception system that will be largely the same as the previous system – with changes to be outlined below.

A hard cap – which no team will be allowed to exceed at any point during the season – will be established by reducing the BRI by $100 million, then taking 65 percent of the remainder and dividing by 30 (or total number of teams).

A salary “floor” will be established at 75 percent of the soft cap. Any team who fails to meet or exceed this baseline in payroll will be ineligible for participation in the supplemental revenue sharing program.*  (* This is assumed to be the new program, which is expected deal with currently unshared revenue streams. The team will still receive their share of the national revenues – including television – as they do now.)

The luxury tax will be abolished. It will be unnecessary with the hard cap, and it’s revenue sharing function will be replaced in any new revenue sharing program the league implements.
via CBA Talk: Splitting the Baby

The 65 percent the hard cap is set at under Donahue's proposal is actually taken from a Billy Hunter statement on what the players' BRI cut would need to be in order for the players to accept a hard cap. But the key to Donahue's proposal is this. The players' biggest (but not sole) complaint with a hard cap is the loss of guaranteed contracts. Players fought hard to obtain the ability (not the right- teams are welcome to sign players to either guaranteed or non-guaranteed contracts, the CBA simply allows for guaranteed contracts to exist) to sign guaranteed contracts, and to abandon it puts career earnings in jeopardy. But Donahue's proposal sets the hard cap so high, guaranteed contracts will most likely be held through at least the first four years of a contract. While the fifth and sixth years may become non-guaranteed, that isn't dramatically different from the current system in which many of the later years are only partially guaranteed.

Furthermore, players have acknowledged the need for owners to be able to get out of contracts. This system prevents the owners from making terrible deal upon terrible deal, while also managing the impact on flexibility for the players. In short, it's not perfect for either side. It presents the players compromising on a hard cap and their cut of the BRI. It's not a favorable deal to the players. But it's a deal that would get the season to start on time, salvage most of their goals, and work within the confines of the owners' demands to present a solution. On only a six-year (or seven-year, depending on when the system is implemented) deal, it allows for them to make another swing at adjustments once the economy recovers. The large market owners get some room to spend a significant amount as their current market allows, but only in the form of exceptions as to keep costs down for the small-market owners. 

It's not the last proposal that will come from the gallery, but it is one that satisfies the demands of both sides. As such, it's considerably better than what either side in the actual negotiation has to offer.  
Posted on: September 19, 2011 9:40 am
Edited on: September 19, 2011 10:19 am

Hunter: Stars ready to loan union lockout money

By Matt Moore

The whole point of the actual lockout is to pressure the players into submitting to the owners' demands, or at least to gain as much leverage as possible for the owners in the dispute. And as much as the players will talk about just wanting to play, the money is what matters here.

A phrase that's been used a lot in discussions is "the lockout doesn't start until the players miss a paycheck." The idea is that once the players start missing regular paychecks, no matter how much they say they've prepared for a long lockout, they'll start to get anxious, apply pressure to their union, and the result will be a deal even more amicable to the owners than what is expected (which is a pretty pro-owner deal to begin with).

But in an interview with the L.A. Times last week in Las Vegas, union head Billy Hunter mentioned something that could have a big impact on the players' ability to hold out through the financial siege. From the Times:
What role will NBA superstars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James play as this moves forward?"

"They've been deeply involved in the meetings we've had. I know Kobe is intimately involved in interfacing with colleagues and sharing in a pool of revenue to help the others get through this. Kobe has volunteered to do that in the event others need, he and others are prepared to loan money if necessary."
via Monday Q&A: NBA players union executive director Billy Hunter - latimes.com

There's been talk of a potential pool for a whle, but this is concrete talk from a union head on the matter. It's a sign of how deeply, at least on the surface, the players are in surviving this lockout to get at least some of what they want from the negotiations. Think of it this way. If you were involved in a labor dispute at your job, would you offer to give money so that workers who aren't as good at their job as you are can continue to live comfortably?

At the same time, Bryant has more than enough career earnings to survive the lockout, as most of the stars do. It's also a two-way street. In helping the lower-paid players, the stars decrease the chances that those players will circumvent what the star players want in order to get a deal. The role players watch the stars' backs in negotiations, the stars help out with the roleplayers' finances. It sounds pretty noble until you start to factor just how much moeny we're talking about in terms of "living comfortably." 

The players have also started receiving their escrow checks from multiple sources, and that's just icing on the cake. But this is still September. The union will have to show this resolve into November and potentially beyond in order to force the owners off the hard line, if the owners don't get their house in order and put the moderates back in charge of talks first. 

Posted on: September 15, 2011 12:03 pm

Lakers are in line with revenue sharing, hard cap

By Matt Moore

If you've been paying attention, it should be no surprise that the Lakers organization is fine with revenue sharing. While no team has better reaped the benefits of the NBA's abysmal revenue sharing system than the Lakers, with the expensive seats, massive merchandising, and absurd television deals it creats out of its market advantage, they've been on the front line of saying how a revamp of the distribution is vital for the health of the league. Maybe that's because they understand that there's no incentive for innovative, deep-pocketed people to invest in the league without a chance to compete. Maybe it's because they want to support the rest of the owners so they will in turn protect the Lakers from things like another team moving into their market. Whatever the reason, revenue sharing has been part of the Lakers' long-term plan for a while. 

But the hard cap? That's a whole different deal.

The Lakers have been in 31 of 63 Finals for a number of reasons. They drafted well. They have had good management. Their ownership is committed to winning. They have lovely beaches, a stylish lifestyle and great weather. But the biggest reason is that due to their market economics, they can spend exorbitant amounts on those players they target with all that brainpower. Lots of teams try to buy their way into championships. It took Mark Cuban ten years. The Lakers win because they find the absolute best players and they pay for them, however much it takes. That creates a winning atmosphere which then allows them to get deals (like Ron Artest for the Mid-Level Exception and Lamar Odom at a discount). The soft cap system works for them, as evidenced by five titles in ten years. So one could reasonably assume they would fight a hard cap to the death. Not so, says the Orange County Register. It reports Thursday that the Lakers are lock-step with the other owners in regards to the hard cap and revenue sharing. Why? Becaue owner Jerry Buss is such a sweetheart, supposedly.
As much as Buss loves his rum and Coke, he has held a Molotov cocktail with the NBA’s limited revenue sharing and soft salary cap. It has allowed Buss and his minority investors to make a lot of money and feel comfortable spending a ton of it on great players others can’t afford.

But dramatically increased revenue sharing will inhibit the Lakers’ spending. A hard cap will flat-out prevent the Lakers from spending. It’s lose-lose when Buss is 77 years old and determined to come from behind the Boston Celtics in total championships, 17-16.

Yet the Lakers have accepted it. Why?

For the greater good.
via Lakers accept hard salary cap, revenue sharing | lakers, buss, nba - Sports - The Orange County Register

The article goes on to say that the move is more in line with Buss protecting his own interests. He knows that the other owners are so united in wanting these changes that he stands more to gain by agreeing to the changes and championing them in order to make sure they favor the Lakers in as many ways as possible rather than fight for the old system and risk not having that pull. Plus, he's loyal to David Stern, which makes sense, again, considering the success of the Lakers under Stern's tenure. 

Buss' presence at the most recent negotiations was thought to be a possible source of the nearly three-hour huddle that took place with the owners during the meeting. It's possible that perception itself was the impetus for the leak of this stance to the Register. The Lakers clearly want to get the word out. They're sticking with the owners, the're not a dissenting party, and they welcome their new revenue sharing overlords. Now we'll just have to see how many games they're willing to lose with this still-championship-contending core to stand by the hard line rogues. 

Posted on: September 15, 2011 11:17 am

Turns out this isn't entirely about the money

By Matt Moore

Back in July when the lockout began, there were a number of standard phrases being tossed around. Chief among them is "this is all about the money." The idea was that the players and owners weren't really unmovable, it was just a matter of dollars and cents. Basically, if the BRI could be figured out, compromised on, all the rest of this would just work itself out. 

Not so much.

I was on a radio call shortly after the lockout began and expressed my concerns for everything I'd heard and read. Because what I'd gathered was that the dispute went far beyond both sides scrapping over dollars. It had turned ideological. The NBA and its owners wanted to reverse decades of precedence in guaranteed contracts, implement a hard cap, eliminate exceptions, limit player flexibility and control, and they wanted the increase in their cut of the BRI to a 50/50 split. Most people thought that was ridiculous. There was no way the owners expected all that. The thought was that while there may be games missed, if there are, it will be because the players refuse to give up enough in BRI. 

Again, not so much.

Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reported earlier this week:
Neither side would say how far the players moved economically, but a person with knowledge of the negotiations said they expressed a willingness to move lower than the 54.3 percent of basketball-related income they last proposed on June 30 as a starting point in a six-year deal. Stern disputed the players' contention that the owners haven't made an economic move since the day before the lockout was imposed. Nobody outside the room knows how many millions the two sides shaved off the gap, but it hardly matters since everyone seemed willing to concede that they've at least dipped their toes on common ground when it comes to dollars.
via Despite posturing, owners and players near resolving money issue - NBA - CBSSports.com Basketball.

That's extended by these comments from Jared Dudley to the Salt Lake City Tribune Wednesday:
How much was the NBPA willing to concede in basketball-related income during a collective bargaining agreement meeting Tuesday in New York: I think they offered 53, 54 [percent]. We're at 57. They're looking more in the 40s. That's a huge jump — that's over 10 percent. That's where $800 million becomes a big gap. I think we have offered $300 million and they wanted more than that.
via Suns' Jared Dudley says ball's in Billy Hunter's court as NBPA returns to square one during NBA lockout | Utah Jazz Notes | The Salt Lake Tribune.

More from Dudley:
I think [the NBPA] even went down, to be honest with you, to 53 [percent]. I talked to Roger Mason -- 53 percent. And you know what, let's say they went down to 52, 51. If that gets the season done, I guarantee you we would have the season if that's what it takes. But it's not just that, it's a lot. And right now, the owners want a lot and they're willing to sit out. Some are losing money, some are making money.

53 percent down from 57, and that's a starting point. Where the owners to respond with 51 or 52 percent, they could likely get somewhere within baby's breath of the 50/50 split. Probably not right at it, but no one gets everything that they want, right?

Not so much. The owners, understanding their considerable leverage, do want everything they want and expect to get it. Except that goes far beyond the 50/50 cut. This hasn't been offered, but the new standing feeling from multiple media sources is that the players could offer up the 50/50 and the owners would likely still be pursuing the hard cap.  If anything, the owners seem more entrenched the more the players seem to surrrender. It's only getting worse. 

If the concern is over the yearly losses the owners are taking in, and the players are offering to give back up to 4 percent of their take right now before negotiations even get serious, what is it that the owners do want? What's the target of all this hard-line insistence? What's the end point?

In short, it boils down to toddlers baby-proofing the house. The league's owners are looking to be able to remove themselves from the burden of bad contracts which they themselves provide. A bad contract sinks a franchise like nothing else. It's an albatross, an anchor, and a curse at the same time. It stands as a mark of their own impudence. There are exceptions of bad luck, where no one could have foreseen the injuries that would come. But for each of those there is a player who the franchise could not bear to see go, and paid despite reservations. The Blazers knew about Brandon Roy's knee condition when they offered him his extension. The Hawks were aware that Joe Johnson would be in his early-to-mid-30's when his final year of his contract is paying him over $20 million. It goes on and on, and even the smaller deals are ones they want to be able to remove themselves from.  Much of this is dictated by the market, and almost all of it is dictated not by the players, but by their agents. Consider what Rashard Lewis, one of the players under a contract that is considered dead weight, told ESPN earlier this week, and a point made by ESPN's J.A. Adande:
Just keep in mind how we got to this point: After the players agreed to a salary cap, a rookie wage scale, a maximum player salary and a luxury tax designed to slow the escalating contracts, can they really be expected to just say no to whatever money the owners kept offering?

Or, as Lewis puts it, "You sign me to a deal, you think I'm going to say, 'No, I deserve $50 [million] instead of $80 [million]?' I'm like, 'Hell, yeah.' I'm not going to turn it down. You can't blame the players. If anything, we don't negotiate the deal. We've got agents that negotiate the deals with the team. Y'all need to go talk to the teams and the agents."
via Rashard Lewis is what this lockout is all about - ESPN.

But the owners simply want to cut the agents' power off at the knees. Instead of bargaining better, they want to remove that hold. Now, in many ways, this is actually a very reasonable request. Even the players will tell you that. Dudley, once more (you really should read the entire interview with the Tribune, it's quite extensive, particularly regarding decertification):
I understand that the common thing is they don't want players that make a lot of money not playing. Look, if you were a business or you were a restaurant, you don't pay someone that you think's not [working]. We're not going to put it all on the owners. We're going to take some of the blame. But, hey, we're willing to work on it. We're just not willing to give up guaranteed contracts and $800 million.
 And yet that's what the owners are asking for. Both. Sports Illustrated's Zach Lowe reported Thursday morning that the players have said that if the owners were to theoretically turn the conversation to how much BRI the players would want to accept a hard cap, the players would want 65 percent, an eight percentage points increase from their current number of 57. That's a lot of dough. That's what it would take to get a deal for the season to start. Unfortunately, the owners would never accept that because while the systemic changes they want are extremely important to their belief in what is necessary for the league to profitable and to increase competitiveness (despite any number of challenges to the idea that a hard cap would result in such competitive balance), they still do want the money. It's not that they want one more than the other, it's that they want their cake, to eat it, too, and to have the players bring them as many slices as they want until they are full. And if that means it takes until January, or an entire season to force the players to accept both conditions, that's what they're willing to do at this moment. 

There's been a lot of talk since Tuesday's "sky is falling" meeting reaction about how things are actually progressing. And there's a certain element of that. The players gave ground, and still didn't get what they want, a resolution. So now the standard for negotiations has shifted. The new status quo is working off the assumption the players will surrender that percentage of the BRI, and the owners are now working to see what else they can get. If the hard liners on the owners' side of the table maintain control, it will be until they squeeze every drop they can from the players that we get a season. If the moderates manage to reclaim the gavel, a reasonable shift with a harder while not "hard" cap and the salary rollbacks could be agreed upon in time to start the season or shortly thereafter. 

And that's where we return to the fundamental psychology involved here. If this is a business negotiation, there's progress to be made, a system to create, a season to save. If this remains ideological from the owners' side, the only reasonable prediction is for an equally extremist reaction from the players. Talks broke down because the owners have kept to that ideological divide. And the only way this whole God forsaken thing ends is if the two sides are talking. 

Meanwhile, the agents wait in the forest like wolves waiting for the right time to attack, and if that happens and decertification is the plan, everything is thrown into the air as this enters the courts. Things only get worse from there. There's definitely a chance talks could resume and the two sides could find enough common ground to spearhead things into a blossoming agreement that gets things started in time for the season without a single game lost. But in reality?

Not so much. 
Posted on: September 14, 2011 9:52 am
Edited on: September 15, 2011 1:23 pm

Are agents organizing a decertification coup?

By Matt Moore

An ESPN report early Wednesday morning indicates that some of the NBA's most powerful agents are aggressively pushing their clients toward the nuclear option of decertification in the face of a lack of progress in the CBA talks. 
Arn Tellem, Bill Duffy, Mark Bartelstein, Jeff Schwartz and Dan Fegan -- who collectively represent nearly one-third of the league's players -- spoke Monday about the process of decertifying the union, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

The agents' view is that the owners currently have most, if not all, of the leverage in these talks and that something needs to be done to turn the tide. They believe decertification will do the trick, creating uncertainty and wresting control away from the owners.

The union has been negotiating with the league for a year and a half and the owners haven't changed their stance, so the conversation the agents had was about how to work with the union to enhance its strategy," a person close to the situation said on condition of anonymity. "The feeling is that decertification is the weapon that has to be pulled out of the arsenal, that it's the most effective way to change the dynamics of the negotiations."The agents have spoken with Billy Hunter, the executive director of the players association, about the need for decertification, but he has thus far resisted their plan. He said Tuesday that the players are not yet considering decertifying.
via Sources: NBA player agents angling to get players union to decertify - ESPN.

The more interesting element regarding those specific agents is their representation makes up the exact percentage necessary to force what's called an involuntary decertification, in which 30 percent of the union signs a petition saying it supports decertification. If that's the path they take, it's a contentious power move that could have serious implications for the union and the talks.

Union head Billy Hunter has been adamant about avoiding decertification. There are conflicting theories as to the reason why Hunter hasn't pursued the aggressive legal action. Hunter claims that the objective is to avoid a prolonged legal battle which will do nothing but embitter both sides to the cause. The longer a lockout is extended, it's believed the union loses more leverage. The alternative theory is that Hunter is concerned about the possible impact on his standing with the players, and the chance that when the decertification ends and the union reforms, Hunter would not be placed back at executive director. 

Multiple reports have placed players' representatives as frustrated with Hunter's approach, believing there isn't a cohesive strategy to "bust" the union.  The ESPN report also states that a signficant number of agents are against decertification, including Happy Walters and Rob Pelinka (who represents Kobe Bryant). The result could be an internal fracture within the players' union over whether to dissolve the union. This on the heels of a five-hour negotiation Tuesday in which the owners huddled amongst themselves for three hours, in what was believed to be a sign of internal strife in the owners contingent fully forms this as a four-sided issue. Players who want decertification (or at least players whose agents want to decertify) versus those who stand with Hunter versus owners who want a resolution to the lockout versus those who want to lose the season to get every single thing they want. 

David Stern said yesterday after the talks that the internal ownership conversation centered around revenue sharing

Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reports that yesterday's talks actually represent a move towards ending the lockout with the players agreeing to a lowered BRI split to 54.3 percent.  So now the question becomes whether the "dove" owners will be able to wrestle control from the "hawk" owners to broker a deal before the agent insurgency in the union moves towards involuntary decertification, or Hunter is forced to move there himself to consolidate his power. 

The lockout is complicated enough, with the issues and conflicting facts. And every day it becomes even more so as both sides divide amongst themselves.
Posted on: September 13, 2011 12:10 pm

Lockout talks not headed for progress, but nicer

This NBA Lockout has been an ugly affair as we would have expected. Both sides have taken extreme views, both sides have lobbed oil balloons at each other in the press, both sides have resorted to at times juvenile approaches in an ongoing effort to claim as much yardage as possible. But last week signaled a change in that process as both sides decided to cool it on the rhetoric. That led to a swell of optimism for a possible move towards compromise and a potential end in the foreseeable future. But that optimism faces reality this week. The next three days will essentially decide whether or not there is professional basketball before January. The process:

1. Owners are expected to provide the latest in a series of proposals based off of last week's talks to the players Tuesday. Reports vary on whether this will be a formal proposal or an outline.

2. Players, most of whom are in Vegas for the Impact Basketball Competitive Training Series, meet Thursday for an NBPA meeting. The owners meet in Dallas for an owners meeting.

3. If the owners have made any move towards compromise, the players could respond with a similar move towards progress. If the owners throw the same proposal they've tossed out in various forms for month, outside of the flex cap proposal (which the players think is the same proposal with window dressing), the players will stomp and spit and curse and we're right back where we started. Nowhere.

If there's any good news to be gleamed, it's that things aren't as bad as they could be. Howard Beck of the New York Times reports that people in the know are saying things aren't nearly as bad as they were in the last lockout:
As one person monitoring the talks said, “They’re not just sticking to one side and saying, ‘We’re not moving.’ ”

That is a vast improvement from August and puts these talks light-years ahead of where they were during the 1998 lockout. While the circumstances may differ, the comparison is worth noting.
via N.B.A. Players and Owners Are Talking, but That’s All - NYTimes.com.

But Beck also notes that the tone is what is different, not the actual negotiations. If the owners proposal Tuesday doesn't show any legitimate signs of advancement or give the players a reason to similarly soften their stance, all this niceness has been is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. 

Both sides have raised the hopes of media and fans in the last week. All of that can get wiped out if things don't fall exactly right in the next 72 hours. 

Posted on: September 12, 2011 1:01 pm
Edited on: September 12, 2011 1:02 pm

Fisher denies text regarding possible season

By Matt Moore

On Sunday, reports surfaced that Derek Fisher had texted certain players to advise them to be in shape for a possible season, signaling optimism regarding a resolution to the lockout talks. It wasn't a monumentous development but it was something positive. 

So much for that.

On Monday, Fisher took to Twitter to deny the reports regarding his texts. The you from ten years ago has no idea what we're talking about here. From Fisher's Twitter account:
While the reports of my texts are false, I will say that I have & will continue to urge our players to stay ready for a season.
via Twitter / @derekfisher: While the reports of my te ....

Fisher followed up by Tweeting that the players "want to go back to work." Which is true but missing a caveat. A more accurate statement might have been "We want to go back to work (provided we don't have to surrender any more money than we feel we should have to)." Perhaps an even better one would be "We want to go back to work (for the exact same percentage of total BRI we had under the last deal before the global economic collapse," or "We are willing to go back to work if the deal works out for us." 

It's no surprise that Fisher denied the report. Standing by it gives the owners more leverage and each side is scraping for every inch they can control at this point. It's a denial and should be treated as such. If the report was false, Fisher would deny it and if the report were accurate, Fisher would deny it. For now, pay attention to how much Fisher in particular is trying to slow the roll on the upswing of optimism in the past week. Every public indication is that Fisher does not believe the two sides are any closer to a deal. The only real indication of that trend will come on Tuesday, should the owners elect to provide the players with a proposal. A decision not to provide a counter-proposal indicates no movement from the owners' original position, a steadfast maintenance of the hard line that lead to the lockout. Likewise, a proposal that moves at all towards compromise likely means a move towards the inevitable conclusion of this saga, in which the owners get a massive retrieval in terms of revenue and the players avoid getting completely routed. 

The fact that so much of this is occurring on Twitter is kind of amusing, if admittedly also a sign of the times.
Posted on: September 9, 2011 2:28 pm

EOB Roundtable: Lockout Blues

By EOB Staff

The EOB Roundtable seeks to discuss the relevant issues of the day and entertain you. It's like a fountain of knowledge... with the water turned off. 

Matt Moore: Does anyone else keep feeling worn down by the lockout, only to remember we haven't missed anything? Not a game, not a practice, not a training session, not a media day? We've missed Summer League and some informal workouts. That's it. And yet it feels like pro basketball is this gigantic gaping hole in the good starship sports. I'm struggling to reconcile the fact that it feels like we're in such a no man's land only because we've lost free agency and whatever bad trade someone would have come up with by now.

In the same vein, I'm not able to come to any sort of optimistic approach about the meetings this week. Every time we've had a chance for some progress, for some optimism, for some good news, it turns back again and both sides dig their trench deeper. Am I caught in an August malaise or do you guys think this thing's still going nowhere?

Ben Golliver: First things first, let's clear one thing up. Free agency is better than any media day, training session, practice and most games. On the pecking order, it trails Finals, Draft, Playoffs and the All-Star game, but it's definitely in the top-5 best times of the NBA calendar, particularly for those of us who spend most of our lives online. Free agency and the trade deadline are like taking a syringe to the chest Pulp Fiction style for die-hards. I would say missing out on that rush is a totally reasonable explanation for why you're feeling worn down. Sure, we'll get a cut down version of free agency squashed together at some point -- and it could be even more insane depending on how the logistics play out -- but the natural rhythm has definitely been disrupted.

But it's not just the lack of free agency; it's the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over so many rosters. That uncertainty that prevents meaningful pre-preseason-analysis, which is usually the other half of the fun of the NBA summer. The Denver Nuggets are the perfect example. Do you have any idea how many wins they'll have next year? Can you really offer a prediction the win total number with any accuracy (within 10?) without knowing the future of Nene, J.R. Smith and the rest of their free agents? The result is killed hope for up-and-coming teams, a malaise for contenders and increased anxiety for the teams whose rosters need a lot of work.

As for the meetings? i have a sliver of cautious optimism because the two sides finally seem committed to meeting regularly. My frustration since the All-Star break was tied, first and foremost, to a lack of regularly scheduled meetings. That's a slap in the face to fans, a giant waste of time and just generally inefficient. That bugged me. As long as they're meeting, my spirits are buoyed, at least to a degree. I'm definitely still skeptical that things will get resolved in a clean manner but I will take any measure of progress I can get at this point.

Royce Young: Lucky for us though Ben, this year's free agency wasn't anywhere near as fascinating as the 2010's palooza of big names. If free agency were like that every year, it'd probably No. 3 or 4 in your pecking order.

And like you said, it's the fact that we KNOW that we're missing something. That's my only guess as to why we've all had a major case of the sads this summer. Because Matt's right: We haven't really missed anything that should upset us any. But with each day that ticks off the calendar, we get a whole lot closer to actually missing good stuff. Which is terrifying.

I'm an optimist though with not just the upcoming negotiations, but pretty much in everything. I'm that guy when his team is down 0-3 in a series that still thinks there's a good chance. So I don't know how much you should value my optimism. But right now, there's one thing -- and it's the most important thing, mind you -- working in everyone's favor: time. There has to be a sense of urgency now because it's September and training camps are set to start in three weeks. Now we're finally up against the timetable where media days, training camps, preseason games or even actual games could be missed. Which means money could be lost. Which means it's time to get serious.

But as quickly as we're all getting excited at the seemingly increasing momentum, it can be squashed immediately Wednesday if both sides don't make any progress.

MM: Part of it is I don't know what compromise could be had. Anything that could kickstart legitimate progress is a huge concession. Take Sheridan's report, for example. The owners moving off of a ten-year deal, cutting that down to four, is a huge deal. That's a ton of money that they're leaving up to chance if they don't secure the deal they want, even if the six-year deal is heavily in their favor. Furthermore, something that's been overlooked in terms of the length of the deal? This is David Stern's last CBA rodeo, and while we focus on his side of it, consider it from the owners. A softer commissioner, whoever that might be, could revert the deal in 2017. Are they willing to risk it in a shorter deal?

For the players, are they willing to cave on stuff that's going to give them more freedom of movement in order to get more in the BRI discussion, when they're assured to lose billions? It's just hard to see anyone moving here.

What are your percentage odds for starting the season on time? January 1st? February 15th?

BG: I look at the CBA negotiations like anything else in life. There's value in a favorable deal for the owners but there's also value in flexibility if they succeed in creating a new financial structure for the league. It wouldn't surprise me at all to find out that the easiest way to reach an agreement is to make it a medium-length deal because unforeseen byproducts of rule changes and as-yet-undiscovered loopholes are the name of the game any time you re-write the CBA. Locking your franchises into that unknown for a decade, at a time of record revenue and popularity for the league, is an indirect risk the owners simply don't need to take. Getting a great deal for five years and being able to negotiate again when it's up would be better than getting a good deal over 10 years if I was an owner, especially if the players were much more dug in against the longer deal.

I still definitely expect both sides to move from their current public positions. If neither planned to move they wouldn't be meeting. What will be interesting is to find out how much of the discussed movement leaks. Given the steps taken to keep negotiations quiet recently, I would imagine that there will be a growing disconnect between what's actually being discussed and what's being reported. 
  I would put the odds at a delayed start (before Jan.1) at 60 percent, starting on time at 20 percent and a delayed start after Jan. 1 or a cancelled season at 20 percent.

RY: Your point about the length of the deal might be one of the most underrated aspects of it. Nobody is talking about it, but you can be damn sure Stern has thought of it. And that the owners know it. The point on the players is true too.

Here's the thing though: At some point, someone has to move. It's not like the NBA is going to be locked out forever. It's not like the league is over. So whether the compromise happens next Wednesday, Thursday, January 1 or May of 2012, somebody's got to give in. So the question is -- and I think this is why there's some growing optimism -- why continue to posture and spit the rhetoric when we know that at some point, both sides are going to have to concede a little? At some point, both sides are going to have to take a step away from their ideal CBA and take one that covers the bullet points they feel like they need to check.

The million dollar question is just how hard each side is going to push for those checkmarks and if it's worth missing games and therefore, missing out on money to get it. Both sides will have to get to the brass tacks of it at some point because the NBA isn't going to sit in a state of limbo forever. So it's just a matter of finally getting past all the negotiating tactics and strong-arming and finally start seeing some legitimate offers. Which is supposedly what we're looking at now.

I'd say my odds of starting on time are at 40 percent. That's assuming next week's meeting(s) goes as everyone is projecting. Before January 1? That's a guarantee. I refuse to believe the league's going to miss out on that much money, momentum and everything else. Compromise will be had by then. That might be the eternal optimist in me talking, but I just don't buy all the talk of missing an entire season. 
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