NEW YORK -- Progress is in the eye of the negotiator, but in this season of discontent in our sports world, this otherwise innocuous piece of news seemed like a game-changer.
David Stern and the NBA owners won't simply sit on the sideline and engage in knee-slapping hysterics while Billy Hunter and the NBA players cook up impractical plans to hold charity games and spend the 2011-12 basketball season in foreign lands. They will actually make -- get this -- a counterproposal in an apparent effort to reach a new labor deal before our second sports league shuts itself down.
|David Stern listens as deputy commissioner Adam Silver speaks at Friday's meeting of the NBA Board of Governors. (AP)|
"We received authorization to deliver, within next couple of weeks, a revised proposal to the players' association, to the union," Stern said.
This must be one hell of a proposal, as the owners haven't made one in 15 months -- and haven't formally countered the proposal put on the table by the players in late June 2010. But hey, in the NBA, this constitutes progress -- as does, apparently, a surprising appointment Stern announced in virtually his next breath.
As the Sacramento Kings, another of the low-revenue teams that apparently can't survive without players taking a $750-$800 million pay cut, teeter on the brink of Anaheim, extinction or both, Stern announced 1) that the Maloofs have been granted an extension of the deadline to apply for relocation until May 2, and 2) Clay Bennett, owner of the team formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics, has been appointed chairman of the relocation committee. This committee's job? To determine who's telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the Maloofs' plans for Anaheim and Sacramento's Hail Mary attempt to keep the team in northern California.
In other news, a fox has been hired to guard the henhouse, Kobe Bryant has been named chairman of the league's newly created diversity committee, Rasheed Wallace will begin filming an NBA TV documentary on sportsmanship and civility, and the Marlboro man has been appointed U.S. Surgeon General to determine whether any ill effects may result from smoking. (Posthumously, of course.)
In other words, it's business as usual in the NBA. Based on Stern's dismissive response to a surprise bid by supermarket magnate Ron Burkle to buy the Kings and keep the team in Sacramento, the Kings/Royals will be in Anaheim long before Stern levies his next $100,000 fine.
"That's not a high priority on our agenda," Stern said of Burkle's proposal, which would seem to be a high priority for those interested in keeping the team in Sacramento.
Either way, before the Kings' fate is resolved, we will have clarity on whether or not Stern and union chief Hunter will be able to agree on how to divide up the league's nearly $4 billion in revenues and, currently, its $2.1 billion in player salaries. The fact that the owners will be making a proposal at all is tantamount to progress.
"Certainly there's plenty of time, roughly 75 days before the completion of this deal, to strike a deal," deputy commissioner Adam Silver said. "The question is whether there will be movement between the parties between now and then. We'll see."
According to a person familiar with the owners' strategy, they are willing to budge on a key aspect of their January 2010 proposal by "transitioning" to some of the hard-cap elements they are seeking in a new system. In other words, if you're the Miami Heat (with three players alone scheduled to make more than the proposed $45 million hard cap next season) or the Knicks (with two players making nearly $40 million), you won't have to throw the Bosh or the Billups out with the bathwater to fit into this new model. There seems to be a realization that the owners won't be able to achieve their dream of NFL-like parity and nirvana in time for next season. This, I suppose, is movement.
The owners also want to deduct certain expenses off the top of gross revenues before calculating basketball-related income (BRI), of which the players receive 57 percent in the current deal. The players already have proposed allowing owners to deduct construction and debt expenses from new and renovated arenas, so there would appear to be at least a starting point from which to negotiate.
Yes, the owners still want player salaries and their share of this new, more owner-friendly BRI formula reduced, and they want the rules changed so payroll and talent are spread more evenly. They want their cake, and they want to eat it too. They also want to lick the icing off the birthday candles and date the girl who jumps out of the fake cake.
"The current system is broken and unsustainable," said Silver, who has taken over for Stern as the league's public spokesman on the most important labor negotiation in NBA history.
Some highlights of Stern's co-presentation with Silver on the financial state of the NBA, which pushed out a news release earlier in the day trumpeting its record TV ratings, a 1 percent increase in average attendance and a 20 percent rise in merchandise sales during the just-completed 2009-10 season:
• Based on current projections, the league will lose $300 million this season -- down from $340 million last season. "Nothing to be proud of," Silver chimed in.
• Gate receipts -- a far more important number than attendance because it's about the revenue, not the bodies -- is projected to be "up," according to Silver, who did not specify how much.
• Twenty-two teams are projected to lose money this season, while eight will be profitable.
The goal remains the same: to make the NBA more competitive and financially viable by stopping its wealthy teams in major markets from hoarding all the talent. The realization that there are ways to do this besides getting all the money from the players provides a glimmer of hope that there may actually be room for real negotiation.
"Our intention isn't to reduce player salaries," Silver said. "Our intention is to create a profitable league. So the goal is to create a system, a formula that will provide fair salaries and compensation to our players and a fair return to teams. ... There are other ways to reach the same goal."
Hunter and his spokesman, Dan Wasserman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the league's intention to come to the table with a counterproposal. Something tells me the proposal itself will not represent as much of a game-changer as the mere revelation that the owners will make one at all.
For one thing, Silver continues to hammer away at the notion that a reduction in negotiated salaries is irrelevant due to the fact that the league must pay the players the difference if salaries fall below the 57 percent guarantee. This hasn't happened in the five previous years under the current agreement, though sources said it could happen this year -- by less than 1 percent.
Silver went so far as to dismiss Hunter's offer to negotiate a reduction in the players' guarantee because it has only been expressed verbally, not included in the players' June 2010 proposal. Semantics, if you ask me. All of this is a sign that, unlike in the NFL talks, the owners and players are talking and getting somewhere.
"Talking is good," Stern admitted.
And also cheap. The time to turn the talk into an agreement has arrived, 75 days and counting.