The 2011-2012 NBA season is in serious jeopardy after Commissioner David Stern cancelled the first two weeks of the regular season last week. There has been no movement in the negotiations as the two sides have been unable to agree on the major sticking points, most notably how to split the league-wide $4 billion revenue between the owners and players.
Under the expired collective bargaining agreement, the players’ share was 57%, which lead to over-spending on players’ salaries and financial losses for 22 out of the league’s 30 teams. Most experts agree that this provision of the old CBA has lead to many owners drastically overpaying for marginal talent, a mistake the owners are seeking to rectify during these negotiations. The owners are seeking to lower the players’ number to between 47% and 50%.
There appears to be no end to the lockout in sight after further meetings this past week bore no fruit for either side. Commissioner Stern announced at the end of the week that unless substantial progress is made at their last scheduled meeting on Tuesday the 18th, he will very likely be forced to cancel the rest of the season. He sees no benefit in continuing to pay for meetings simply to hear both sides repeating the same arguments over and over again. There also appears to be dissension amongst the players, most notably from Washington Wizards’ center JaVale McGee, who told the press that he thinks some players seemed “ready to fold” after leaving a recent players’ union meeting.
Two issues regarding the lockout remain in the background despite their sizable impact on the future of the league. First, there has been much speculation that if the league is forced to miss a season, at least two teams in smaller markets might be forced to fold their operations. While that sounds bad, it might be a good thing for the league in the long run. Many experts, most notably Bill Simmons of ESPN, believe that the NBA has too many teams without enough elite talent to fill those teams. Simmons has been lobbying for a contraction of the league to 28 or even 26 teams from the current 30-team structure to boost fan interest and promote more efficient spending on player salaries. Another major problem is that the players’ agents are backing and advising the players in the negotiations, but are looking after their own interests rather than the players’. The agents are interested in this collective bargaining not to get their current clients the best deals and the most money they can; they are worried about the landscape of the NBA for the next 25-30 years, long after their current clients are retired. They will continue to push the players to not waver on their current demands of 53%, when it would make the most sense for the players to compromise with a 50-50 split.
Unfortunately, there are too many problems with the negotiations and too little progress to think there will be a 2011-2012 NBA season. Assuming no progress is made on Tuesday and David Stern makes good on his threat, that end could come sooner rather than later.