As the two major pro sports labor disputes trudge forward, participants on both sides of NBA bargaining are keeping a close eye on developments in the NFL talks. And in view of the NFL players' success at scoring a key piece of leverage by challenging the deferral of TV revenue as illegal lockout insurance, the NBA union is taking a fresh look at whether it can make a similar claim.
Lawyers for the National Basketball Players Association previously looked into challenging the NBA's broadcast rights agreement in the event of a work stoppage, a maneuver that resulted in legal momentum for the NFL players in their efforts to fight the owners' lockout. Initially, the NBPA attorneys "did not think there was a basis for a challenge," the union's executive director, Billy Hunter, told CBSSports.com. But the lawyers are reviewing whether the NFL case left them any openings for a similar lawsuit.
"What we've done is, we're now reviewing it in view of the decision that happened with football," Hunter said.
|The union's executive director, Bill Hunter, is reviewing his position in light of what happened in the NFL. (Getty Images)|
"Positions could be affected either way based on how the court rules in the NFL," Hunter said.
While the NBA's broadcast rights agreements call for the networks to pay the league during a lockout and recoup the money, with interest, for any games lost, there is a key difference that makes an NBA legal victory less likely. When the NFL renegotiated its TV deals, it decided to forego potential revenues during the past two seasons in return for assurances that it would be able to keep a portion of rights payments during a work stoppage. There is no such provision in the NBA's broadcast contracts, sources say.
"But under our agreement, the league also has an obligation to maximize revenue," Hunter said. "And so we're just going to have to have a little greater expectation in view of their decision and review it."
Another legal challenge NBPA lawyers have considered is a collusion case based on doomsday predictions from the league two years ago that the economic recession was going to wreak havoc on revenues, possibly resulting in a dramatically lower salary cap. Union officials were rankled when revenues and the cap went up for the 2010-11 season, leaving an opening to make a case that the dire predictions from the league were made in bad faith and had a chilling effect on player spending, sources say.
Hunter also told CBSSports.com that the possibility of a collusion case has been examined and essentially dismissed as an option, though it hasn't been 100 percent ruled out.
"After further review and analysis, we decided that it was ineffective," Hunter said. "We didn't think it was viable."
The caveat is that NBA officials still have not furnished complete financial data from the 2009-10 season to the NBPA -- though Hunter said the union has been informed that the financials will be turned over eventually. Based on the increased salary cap for the 2010-11 season -- which is based on the previous season's revenues -- coupled with a decline in the average player salary, the NBPA fully expects those figures to further bolster its case that the league isn't struggling as much as the owners contend it is.
"Things aren't as dire as they predict or as they want us to believe," Hunter said. "I can only be hopeful that revenue generation continues to grow. I think the league, from my perception anyway, is performing quite well. They may disagree."
With three months to go before the CBA expires, it isn't clear when the two sides will meet next. There have been no formal bargaining sessions since All-Star weekend, and even that session was more for show than for negotiation. Sources say there has been discussion of a possible face-to-face meeting involving Hunter, his top legal deputies, commissioner David Stern, and deputy commissioner Adam Silver sometime around the next scheduled Board of Governors meeting in mid-April in New York. A league spokesman, however, said no such meeting has been scheduled.
Though the owners' labor relations committee, chaired by Spurs owner Peter Holt, met last week in New York, there are no indications as to when -- or even if -- the owners will ever submit a second formal proposal before the current deal expires June 30. The only offer on the table from the NBA came in January 2010, when owners proposed a $45 million hard cap and $750 million to $800 million in salary rollbacks for the players. The union countered July 1 by offering to negotiate a reduction in the players' 57 percent share of basketball-related income (BRI). But Hunter said if owners don't submit another proposal, they shouldn't hold their breath for him to counter his own.
"We're not inclined to negotiate against ourselves," Hunter said.
On that grim note, and with all eyes on a Minnesota courtroom April 6, on to the rest of this week's Post-Ups:
• The way the Knicks have struggled with Chauncey Billups running Mike D'Antoni's offense has rival executives wondering whether one of them -- or both -- won't be back next season. D'Antoni's situation is far more complicated, having to do with the uncertain future of another member of the Knicks' hierarchy, team president Donnie Walsh. As unrealistic expectations for D'Antoni continue to mount, the more pressing matter is whether Billups, 34, will be able to pilot D'Antoni's offense -- or any offense involving Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire -- beyond this season. Internally, the Knicks have given serious consideration to renegotiating Billups' contract, which is due to pay him $14.2 million next season. Since only $3.7 million is guaranteed, this would be preferable to Billups, who would make the difference up on the back end by extending the deal. The dilemma for the Knicks is that a renegotiation -- rare under the current CBA -- would reduce the amount of cap space devoted to Billups next season but eat up valuable space in 2012-13, when the Knicks are planning to once again be major players in free agency. What makes the decision even more difficult is that Walsh -- whose own contract expires June 30 -- will in all likelihood need to make this decision A) before he knows what the new CBA holds, and B) before he knows whether he will be back next season.
• Dwight Howard, perhaps the most coveted 2012 free agent, is taking great pains to avoid the kind of endless speculation and distractions that shadowed LeBron James and Anthony during their "decision" extravaganzas. (The mere potential for such distractions prompted Utah to trade Williams to the Nets at the deadline, thus ending the D-Will-a-thon before it began.) Though Howard has publicly stated he is only focused on staying in Orlando, it has become widely known in NBA circles that he has his eyes on the bright lights of Los Angeles (as in the Lakers) and New York if he decides that the Magic's championship window has closed. But on a trip to Madison Square Garden last week, Howard swatted away free-agent questions as though he were blocking a shot into the fifth row. "I'm not focused on that," Howard said. "I have a whole other season left before I can decide what to do, so there's no reason for me to be talking about it right now. ... It's not fun for me, it's not fun for my teammates and it's not fun for the fans in Orlando who have to hear about what my decision's going to be in two years." Coach Stan Van Gundy said Howard has "handled it great, and because of that, it hasn't been an issue for our team."
• It remains to be seen whether the Cavaliers will revisit their attempt to take on Rip Hamilton's contract for a first-round pick around the draft, though multiple sources are skeptical such an arrangement would be palatable to the Pistons given the lockout concerns. Through a combination of games lost to a work stoppage and possible salary rollbacks, Detroit may wind up owing Hamilton far less than the $21.5 million Hamilton is guaranteed over the next two seasons. This is why, perhaps, Hamilton shouldn't have been so averse to accepting a low-percentage buyout from the Cavs; his refusal ultimately killed the trade that would've sent him to Cleveland for a future first-rounder. For the record, the Bulls would've had interest in exploring a Hamilton signing after he was bought out by Cleveland, though the scenario never got to the point of conversations between Chicago, Cleveland, and Hamilton's agent, Leon Rose.
• The NBA plans to investigate contact between Nets part-owner Jay-Z and members of the Kentucky basketball team after the Wildcats beat North Carolina Sunday to advance to the Final Four, a person with knowledge of the situation told CBSSports.com. The hip-hop mogul's visit was documented in photos and video showing him congratulating players in the Kentucky locker room, which happened to have been occupied by two potential lottery picks -- Brandon Knight and Terrance Jones. As noted here, this offense would seem to be comparable to Celtics GM Danny Ainge sitting with Kevin Durant's mother during the 2007 Big 12 tournament. Ainge was fined $30,000, a slap on the wrist in exchange for the opportunity to schmooze a top prospect's mom. But given that standard, Jay-Z should be docked $30K for each college player who was in the locker room.
• Word in league circles is that negotiations to sell the Pistons to billionaire Tom Gores are far enough along to expect the matter to come to a vote by the Board of Governors April 14-15 in New York. League approval will be a welcome development for the organization, whose basketball operations department was paralyzed by the proposed sale. The Pistons are one of a handful of teams not to complete a single roster transaction this season.
• Stan Van Gundy offers muted opinions, if any, these day after commissioner David Stern came down on him for likening Stern's iron-fisted rule to that of a brutal dictator. But the Orlando coach did have his usual interesting take on the obsession with the Knicks' struggles. "You guys think that's our overwhelming focus, what's going on in Miami and New York," Van Gundy said. "Quite honestly, we don't give a damn. It's not all Miami and New York. I know it is to ESPN, but the rest of us think some of the other teams matter, too."
• With Deron Williams eyeing a return to the Nets' lineup Wednesday night against the Knicks, it will frame the trade-deadline fortunes of both New York-area teams in an interesting light. On some level, Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan was so obsessed with acquiring Carmelo Anthony that he may have missed out on the even better opportunity of getting Williams -- a natural point guard capable of dominating offensively but who would've been a better fit with Stoudemire. Knowing Williams was angling for New York as a free agent in 2012, Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor hatched a plan to get quality assets for him well in advance -- and that plan centered on enticing whichever team lost out on Anthony. But what if the Knicks hadn't been so hellbent on getting Anthony at all costs? To some degree, the Knicks should be "kicking themselves in the head," a rival executive said. It's not clear whether team president Donnie Walsh was presented with the choice of Melo or D-Will, but it may not have mattered anyway. "The owner would've taken Carmelo," the executive said, "and the rest of the universe would've taken Deron Williams."
• The Celtics' late-season slide has raised concerns about whether trading Kendrick Perkins at the deadline may come back to bite them in the playoffs. After a five-game winning streak ended March 9, the Celtics are 5-7 including losses to the Clippers, Nets, Bobcats, and Pacers. Though the addition of Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic has made Boston more versatile, the team defensive concepts that made the Celtics so impenetrable have suffered since the trade. "Most of the guys we got are willing defenders," coach Doc Rivers said. "But they're used to defending their guy. We try to preach that you defend all five."
1. Derrick Rose, Bulls: Something else to think about with regard to Rose's candidacy: Of the top five candidates, Rose and Howard are the only ones without an All-Star teammate. (Last week: 1)
2. Kobe Bryant, Lakers: It might be too late to catch the Spurs, but Bryant has the Lakers peaking at the right time. They're 15-1 since the All-Star break. (Last week: 2)
3. Dwight Howard, Magic: If you're accusing me of being influenced by Van Gundy, guilty as charged. Van Gundy isn't weighing in on much these days after his run-in with Stern, but his annual spring endorsement of Howard holds water. Whatever his faults, Howard still affects the game at both ends more than any player in the league. (Last week: 4)
4. Kevin Durant, Thunder: It's tough not to have Dirk Nowitzki in the top five, but it's even more difficult to ignore the fact that Durant has the Thunder ready for a deep playoff run with the youngest starting lineup in the NBA. (Last week: 3)
5. LeBron James, Heat: Statistically, James remains the most impactful player in the game. Also, don't look now, but the Heat may be starting to figure this thing out. They've won seven of eight after their much publicized five-game losing streak. (Last week: 5)
Quote of the week: "That's what happens in life, man. The second guy always gets caught." -- Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, on Jason Richardson getting whistled for a foul for tripping Anthony in retaliation for Anthony tripping him. The call nullified a tying 3-pointer by Hedo Turkoglu in overtime of the Knicks' 113-106 victory over Orlando on Monday night.
Tweet of the week: "As effective as anyone the Knicks have to guard Dwight Howard." -- @CardboardGerald, in response to my tweet that the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, was sitting courtside at the Magic-Knicks game on March 23.
Email of the week: "An anniversary is the annual recurrence of a date marking a notable event. Note the word annual. Thus, it makes no sense to say the one-month anniversary as you did in writing about Carmelo Anthony today. He's probably too arrogant to feel humbled. But you should." -- Debtor Dave
This entry has been added to the CBSSports.com style guide, and Debtor Dave to the reader feedback Hall of Fame.