Greed in its rawest form. That’s the National Football League’s lockout. Both sides were like two billionaire drug cartels splitting up a massive cocaine shipment who got pissed off and just started shooting each other. “You took too much! I saw that!!!” They will settle next week and slink into the sunset with their kilos. We’ll forgive them immediately because we love football and just want our Sundays back. The end.
Stubbornness in its rawest form. That’s the National Basketball Association’s lockout. The owners want to “fix” the system without actually fixing it. The players want everything to remain the same even if that “same” makes no sense. Both sides spent the past few weeks poking holes in each other’s arguments, leaking unflattering tidbits to trusted writers1 and excreting code-word spin control BS like “we’re unified” and “we’re in this for the long haul.” I never heard anyone say the words, “Hold on a second what’s really wrong here?”
1. I include myself: The last time I wrote about NBA labor stuff, I included a tidbit about Derek Fisher (head of the Players Association) skipping a labor meeting in Miami during the NBA Finals because of a family vacation. Hmmmm
which side do you think told me that one?
You know what it reminds me of, actually? That scene in Dave after Bill Mitchell impersonator Dave Kovic (played by Kevin Kline) secretly takes over Mitchell’s presidency, when Dave gets his nerdy accountant buddy (played by Charles Grodin) to balance the budget so they can save the First Lady’s homeless program. They meet with the Cabinet, and Dave starts laying out Grodin’s ideas. What if we slashed this by $47 million? What if we cut this program, that’s another $50 million? Every decision is totally logical. Dave ends up finding the extra money in about six minutes, followed by the Cabinet applauding in disbelief.2
2. I love Dave even though it’s one of the five most implausible movies ever made. With all the crappy pilots that networks turn out, it’s impossible to believe that nobody turned Dave into a TV series. Name me a better White House premise. You can’t. I also think he’s our most underrated Hollywood president ever, as evidenced by the fact that, when I asked “Best Hollywood president ever?” on Facebook poor Dave got trampled by Dennis Haysbert (24), Martin Sheen (West Wing) and others.
Totally improbable scene and yet, you feel like it’s totally probable as you’re watching it. Why? Because Dave threw out everyone’s agendas and said, “This is extremely important to me, we’re not leaving this room until we figure it out.” Then he did it.
With the NBA’s lockout, we’re hopelessly mired in the “he said/she said” phase of things only we’re stuck with David instead of Dave. If Dave’s owners lost $340 million last year, he wouldn’t say, “We need to get that money back from the players!” No, he’d say things like, “Wow, David did a terrible job, I can’t believe he left me this mess” and “How could a league that just enjoyed one of its best and most interesting seasons ever be losing money?” Then Dave would gather everyone in a room and figure it out. Maybe not in six minutes but he’d figure it out.
Let’s tackle the key issues and figure out how Dave (not David) would handle them.
Issue No. 1: The owners lost $340 million last season.
Or so they claim. In retrospect, making a huge deal about opening their books was the league’s smartest move of 2011, narrowly edging Stern’s forcing LeBron to throw the Finals so that Miami’s next season would be more compelling.3 I know it threw me off the scent. They opened their books? That’s enough for me! The Players Association examined all 30 teams and flagged some creative accounting, with Billy Hunter even telling ESPN.com’s Henry Abbott, “If you don’t count interest and depreciation, you already lop off $250 [million] of the 370 million dollars.”4
3. That was a joke.
4. Hunter said $370 million here before the correct number ($340 million) was released by the NBA.
I have no idea what this means, and frankly, I’m not sure Hunter does, either. But once the sports blogs started stirring things up, that led to (ESPN.com’s cap consigliore) Larry Coon’s concluding the NBA’s number was flimsy at best; Nate Silver’s writing a New York Times blog titled “Calling Foul on the NBA’s Claim of Financial Distress”; the NBA’s putting out a press release disputing Silver’s piece;5 and my spending 10 minutes trying to figure out what “amortization” meant (and failing). This was not how I wanted to spend my summer.
5. I thought it was funny that the league didn’t freak out until Silver got involved. “Shit, even the 538 guy is writing about this! We have to do something! TELL TIM FRANK TO CALL MIKE BASS!”
What Dave would tell the owners: “Can we please stop claiming that we lost $340 million? That number can be picked apart too easily. Instead, let’s bang home the point that our league stopped being profitable — which is 100 percent true — and we’re committed to making it profitable again. Let’s take a little responsibility, as well — after all, we just had one of the best seasons in league history and lost money. We should all be ashamed. And also, please remember — nobody is going to feel sorry for you guys because you’re all fucking rich. Well, except for you, George, Joe and Gavin. But from now on, scrap the ‘woe is us, we’re losing money, boo hoo’ routine. We’re just shining a neon spotlight on our own incompetence. Enough. Shut up.”
Issue No. 2: The players are currently getting too big of a revenue share.
The last labor deal guaranteed players 57 percent of basketball-related revenue (better known as “BRI”). If the league makes X.X billion dollars in a season, the owners HAVE to spend exactly 57 percent of that X.X billion on salaries.6 The owners believe that number is too high. And actually, they’re right. By including a luxury tax in the previous two labor deals, they assumed it would frighten teams from overpaying players. Nope. If anything, it’s turned into something of a Jedi mind trick. You can’t win unless you’re overpaying players. Open your wallets. Open them. Our past four champions were luxury tax teams. Not a coincidence. As deputy commissioner Adam Silver told the New York Times, “We had predicted the tax would be more of a drag on salaries than it’s turned out to be. It became business as usual to pay the tax, and therefore it created a league of haves and have-nots, where you have the Lakers at $110 million and Sacramento at $45 million.”
6. Eight percent of that BRI goes into an escrow account; at the end of every season, the owners get the escrow money if that salary number exceeded 57 percent (and the players get the money of it dipped below 57 percent). No, there’s not going to be a quiz at the end of the column.
What Dave would tell the owners: “Fifty-seven percent was too high, and the tax created more problems than it solved. I get that. But with all due respect to Real Adam, I’d argue the Lakers should spend 225 percent as much on salary as the Kings. After all, they play in Los Angeles, not Sacramento. They make more local TV money in one year than Sacramento makes in 12. They can charge three times as much for tickets. And their owner has enough money to pay his players without hawking his prized possessions like he’s on an special episode of Pawn Stars. We ARE a league of Haves and Have-Nots. Look at every great season we’ve ever had — when we’re top-heavy and bottom-heavy, that’s when we have the best teams and the best playoff games.
“Here’s a newsflash: We’re not the NFL. They have revenue sharing because it doesn’t matter who plays in the Super Bowl, or where Peyton Manning spends his career. All that matters is parity and television money. Our success hinges on star power and big-market teams; we could never survive one year without a team in Los Angeles, much less two decades and counting like the NFL just did. Our attendance numbers these past few years have told us — pretty convincingly — that small-market fans aren’t forking over money for professional basketball anymore unless their local team is good or great. And even then, they might not show up.
“We have to reinvent our league. We have to figure out which 25 to 30 cities can handle a professional basketball franchise instead of wasting our time protecting the ones that can’t. We have to accept that big-market teams have a better chance of succeeding than small-market teams, for a variety of reasons, but mainly because wealthier owners want to own big-market teams and talented players want to play for big-market teams. That’s the reality. That’s the big picture. But yes, the small picture says we need to knock down that BRI a little. A 50/50 split seems totally fair.”
Issue No. 3: Guaranteed contracts are too long
Even the Players Association seems to agree on this one.7 Long-term deals allow players to coast for years on end (how’s it going, Rashard Lewis?), mail in entire seasons (what’s happening, Charlie Villanueva?), or eat themselves out of the league (would you like another slice, Eddy Curry?). Any of those paths make the players look terrible as a whole. From the league’s perspective, you can’t have five- or six-year deals AND a salary cap, not when the wrong contract can singlehandedly submarine a team. Players also play their greedy butts off during contract years so by having more contract years and fewer Long-Term Deals Gone Wrong, the league’s quality of play would improve. At least that’s the hope.
7. Check out my NBA column from last month for the complete list of $300 million worth of 2009-2010 salaries that ranged from “violently overpaid” to “brazenly stole money and hasn’t been arrested yet.”
What Dave would tell the owners: “Fans can’t identify with overpaid players — especially if those guys aren’t trying as hard as they once did. They resent them, which means they resent our league. Why would we ever want that? Think of Clippers fans suffering through 2½ years of Baron Davis, and then losing their no. 1 overall pick because that was the only way their team could dump Davis. How can we expect them to enjoy our product after that? No NBA contract should last longer than four years except for rookie contracts. Period.”8
8. Rookie contracts last for five years, but the team is protected with outs after the second and fourth year.
Issue No. 4 (in 3 parts): NBA superstars should make more money than they do; it should be easier for NBA teams to keep those superstars; and too many nonsuperstars make too much money.
Tackling the superstar issue first: Ten baseball players will earn $20 million or more in 2011 (with Alex Rodriguez leading the way at $32 million); only four NBA players could potentially make $20 million or more in 2011-12. Twenty-nine baseball players earn $15 million or more; only 22 NBA players can say the same. That would make sense if baseball players were more marketable, but actually, it’s the opposite: The NBA has three times as many marketable stars (LeBron, Kobe, Howard, Durant, Wade, Amar’e, Carmelo, Duncan, Pierce, Griffin, Nash, Dirk, Garnett, Yao, Paul, Rose and at least one star I’m probably forgetting) as baseball (A-Rod, Jeter, Pujols, Howard and maybe Lincecum). Hell, you could argue Chris Bosh, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Pau Gasol are more famous worldwide than any baseball players except Jeter, A-Rod and Ichiro.
Baseball stars make more money only because there’s no salary cap in baseball. I get it. But given the NBA is such a star-driven league, why wouldn’t it reward its best players a little more smartly? Why not redistribute NBA salaries so they resemble more of a Hollywood star system? For instance, look at Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol: Cruise is the “superstar,” Jeremy Renner is the secondary star, and Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Josh Holloway were the supporting stars. If the NBA was funding that movie, Cruise would make $25 million, Renner would make $15 million (even though he would have done it for one-third that), Holloway would inexplicably make $9 million, then the other three would probably be overpaid something like $20 million combined. And that makes sense how?
Try to follow me here
a. Twenty-two players are scheduled to make more than $15 million for the 2011-12 season: Kobe Bryant ($25.5m), Tim Duncan ($21.4m), Rashard Lewis ($21.4m), Kevin Garnett ($21.2m), Gilbert Arenas ($19.1m), Dirk Nowitzki ($19.1m), Pau Gasol ($18.7m), Dwight Howard ($18.1m), Carmelo Anthony ($18.4m), Amar’e Stoudemire ($18.2m), Joe Johnson ($18m), Elton Brand ($17.1m), Chris Paul ($16.4m), Deron Williams ($16.3m), LeBron James ($16.0m), Chris Bosh ($16.0m), Dwyane Wade (15.7m), Paul Pierce ($15.3m), Zach Randolph ($15.2m), Antawn Jamison ($15.1m), Brandon Roy ($15m), Rudy Gay ($15m). Only Lewis, Arenas, Brand, Jamison and Roy don’t belong on that list and if our “four-year max” rule was in place, Lewis’ deal would be done; Arenas, Brand and Jamison would be in their final year, and Roy would have two years left. Either way, we’re batting 78 percent on big-ass deals. Not bad.
b. Forty-six NBA players are scheduled to make between $8 million and $14.9 million for the 2011-12 season (not counting free agents or restricted free agents). We’ll separate them into four groups and throw them into a massive footnote to save space: “Comically overpaid,” “Overpaid,” “Fairly Paid” and “Underpaid.”9 You’ll see in the footnote — 27 of the 46 players were “overpaid” or “comically overpaid,” which means we went from batting 78 percent to 38 percent and that’s not counting another $75 million worth of dumb deals10 from the $6.5 million to $7.9 million group, or whichever team stupidly overpays Marc Gasol, Jamal Crawford, J.R. Smith, Kris Humphries, Caron Butler and (gulp) Greg Oden. 11
9. COMICALLY OVERPAID (13): B. Davis ($14.9m), Billups ($14.2m), Boozer ($13.5m), Hamilton ($12.5m), Gordon ($11.6m), Turkoglu ($11m), Okur ($10.9m), Maggette ($10.2m), Calderon ($9.7m), Jefferson ($9.2m), Biedrins ($9m), Diaw ($9m), M. Williams ($8.1m)
OVERPAID (14): Bynum ($14.9m), Jefferson ($14m), Igoudala ($13.4m), Deng ($13.3m), Camby ($12.9m), Kaman ($12.7m), Okafor ($12.4m), K. Martin ($11.5m), D. Harris ($9.3m), Bargnani ($9.2m), S. Jackson ($9.2m), M. Williams ($8.5m), Salmons ($8.5m), Hinrich ($8.1m)
FAIRLY PAID (13): Ginobili ($12.9m), Parker ($12.5m), J. Smith ($12.5m), Horford ($12.5m), Noah ($12m), Bogut ($12.m), Granger ($12m), D. Lee ($11.6m), M. Ellis ($11m), Terry ($10.8m), G. Wallace ($10.5m), R. Allen ($10.5m), L. Odom ($8.9m)
UNDERPAID (6): Durant ($13.3m), Aldridge ($12.8m), Nash ($11.6m), Rondo ($10m), Scola ($8.5m), Millsap ($8.1m).
10. Josh Childress, Ron Artest, Beno Udrih,Travis Outlaw, Leandro Barbosa, Charlie Villanueva, Andres Nocioni, James Posey, Ty Thomas, DeSagana Diop and Brendan Haywood.
11. It killed me to put Gasol on that list, but he’s a $9 million to $10 million player who’s going to be making $14 million to $15 million per year on his next team. As for Oden, what’s really frightening is that someone will offer him $50 million over four years, followed by Portland taking a deep gulp and matching it, and the general reaction might be something other than, “WAIT A SECOND, WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED?”
See, that’s what is really killing the NBA: overpaying the Jeremy Renners and TOTALLY overpaying the Josh Holloways. But how do you fix it?
What Dave would tell the owners: “Fellas, this couldn’t be an easier fix. We keep the rookie contracts intact and get a four-year cap on contracts. We abolish the midlevel exception; in return, we back off our 50/50 request on the BRI and give them a 52/48 split. That guarantees them between $1.8 billion and $1.9 billion in salaries, depending on how we’re doing. We want to reward our best players more than we do. We want to make it easier for teams to keep franchise players so LeBron/Cleveland or Carmelo/Denver doesn’t happen every year. And we want to keep our hard cap relatively low so teams don’t overpay role players (a.k.a. Travis Outlaw for $35 million), frustrating our fans and make them think we’re idiots.
“So here’s my radical suggestion in seven parts. Call it the Dave Plan. If you don’t like it, stick with your old system and keep bitching about your $340 million in losses 12
- “1. We settle on a $52 million hard cap but promise players we’ll spend 52 percent of the BRI on salaries, which should average out to $56 million to $58 million per season, depending on how we’re doing. All extra wiggle room from $52 million to that $56 million to $58 million that we DON’T spend goes into an escrow fund. If we’re over, we get the extra money. If we’re under, the players get it. But we’re going to spend that money. Watch.
- “2. Going forward, we define an ‘All-Star’ as someone who’s played four consecutive years with one team and made two All-Star teams OR an All-NBA team during that time. Any ‘All-Star’ automatically gets a $12 million cap figure, but his original team can pay him up to 25 percent more than the cap figure (max: $60 million for four years). A new team can only pay him that cap figure (max: $48 million for four years).
- “3. We define a ‘Franchise Player’ as someone who’s played at least four consecutive years with one team and made three All-Star teams OR two first or second All-NBA teams during that time. Any ‘Franchise Player’ automatically gets a $17 million cap figure, but can be paid $500,000 per years of service beyond that number without it counting on the cap. For instance, if Dwight Howard wants to sign with the Lakers next summer, they could offer only his franchise cap number ($68 million over four years). Orlando gets the benefit of that $500k bump — eight Howard/Orlando seasons multiplied by $500,000 — so they can offer him a four-year deal worth $87 million.13 The longer he stays in Orlando and keeps playing at a ‘Franchise’ level, the more money Howard can earn.
- “4. Anyone who graduates from ‘All-Star’ to ‘Franchise Player’ during his four-year deal gets an automatic salary bump to ‘Franchise’ status. For instance, Russell Westbrook’s second-team All-NBA would make him eligible for an “All-Star” extension right now ($15 million per year for four years, but with a $12 million per year cap figure). Let’s say he makes second-team All-NBA again this season. Boom! He jumps to “Franchise” status; his cap figure bumps to $17 million, along with the corresponding $500k bumps for each year in Oklahoma City.14 In other words, he’s incentivized to keep kicking ass even after he gets paid.
- “5. If you can’t maintain ‘All-Star’ or ‘Franchise’ status during your deal, you lose those privileges for the next deal.15
- “6. Any All-Star who gets traded keeps his salary/cap figure disparity for his new team. Franchise players can veto any trade — if they accept the deal, they lose their accumulated $500k bumps and revert back to the $17 million cap figure.
- “7. Nobody else can sign for more than $10 million per year unless he made an All-NBA team OR two All-Star teams within the past three years, giving him a 33 percent bump (and enabling him a deal or extension for $13.3 million per year, with the salary doubling as the cap number). Yes, we’re calling this the Zach Randolph Exception.
12. This is about to get technical for about 650 words. Feel free to skip to Issue No. 5. I won’t be offended.
13. The math: $21 million for Year 1, then $21.5m,, $22m and $22.5m
only his cap number stays at $17 million the entire time.
14. In this scenario, Westbrook’s last three seasons would pay him $19.5m, $20m and $20.5m
with his cap number remaining at $17m.
15. I tried to leave the door open as wide as possible here for a snarky blogger to pick that entire section apart without trying to come up with a better alternative.
“Did you follow that? All we did was redistribute our salary output a little: we pulled money from the middle class (where most salary mistakes are made, anyway) and gave it to the upper class; we made it harder for franchises to kill themselves with long-term deals; we made it easier for franchises to keep signature players; and we rewarded stars for sticking with their original teams. That doesn’t make sense why?”16
16. Six owners or ownership groups paid top dollar last decade: Boston, New Jersey, Washington, Golden State, Phoenix and Cleveland.
Issue No. 5: Nobody is putting a gun to the owners’ heads and telling them to overpay players.
This is the no. 1 argument from every agent and Players Association head, none of whom seem to care that they sound like the parent of an obese child saying, “It’s not my fault the boy is fat, I’m not forcing him to eat.” Let’s skip this one because the lack of accountability is disgusting.
What Dave would tell the owners: “We can’t win here. If you made a conscious commitment to collectively rein in spending, that would be collusion. When you’re left to your own devices, more times than not, you’ll screw up. My only idea: Maybe any NBA franchise that allows an ex-player, a coach, a former scout, or basically anyone without genuine business and/or legal training to negotiate with some of the smartest legal/business minds in the entire world should be fined $10 million by the commissioner’s office. Do you realize that agents laugh about this behind closed doors? They can’t believe they were allowed to negotiate deals with the likes of Mike Dunleavy, Joe Dumars, Kevin McHale, David Kahn, Isiah Thomas, Danny Ferry and the Paxson brothers over the years. It makes them giggle and giggle. Maybe we DO deserve to lose $340 million every year.”
Issue No. 6: The NBA owners need to figure out revenue sharing before they can figure out a labor deal.
The Players Association keeps pointing out the 22 of 30 NBA teams are losing money because the eight teams that make money aren’t sharing it. The owners’ response (pretty weak): It doesn’t matter how we lose $340 million, just that we’re losing $340 million. The players’ response to the response (just as weak): It’s not $340 million, that’s creative accounting! It’s really like $90 million! The owners’ response to the response to the response: No it’s not! My response to the response to the response to the response: Can someone turn on an oven? I want to stick my head inside it.
What Dave would tell the owners: “Let’s spend our energies on making sure the next season doesn’t get compromised or canceled. Once that’s settled, we’ll try to figure out revenue sharing and fail miserably, because the odds of James Dolan, the black sheep Buss brothers and Jerry Reinsdorf forking over hard-earned profits to make sure basketball can keep limping along in Sacramento, Milwaukee, Philly, Detroit, New Orleans, Charlotte and Indiana are between 0.0 and 0.00000001 percent. We’re going to have a 30-owner Battle Royal over that issue; that’s the last thing we need right now. Besides, you can’t create a revenue sharing plan before you know what you’re getting with a new labor deal. Makes no sense.”
Issue No. 7: The NBA owners need to get their house in order before they can figure out a labor deal.
Here’s where the owners, Real Dave and Real Adam have totally blown it. They keep intimating that they’d sacrifice an entire season to “fix” the league, which is code for, “Our newer owners paid top dollar for their teams and haven’t seen a profit yet — scaring every other prospective new owner off, and in turn, scaring the shit out of us because nobody wants to sell a sports team for less than they paid for it — so we’d rather shut things down, break the players and create a more favorable system over considering any other ambitious alternative.”17
17. I get the reasons for having the WNBA — my 6-year-old daughter loves basketball and is begging me to take her to a Sparks game (putting us squarely in the demo). But it was always a noble luxury. I’m not sure the league can afford noble luxuries any more.
Really, fellas, you’re breaking out a nuclear bomb before trying a few air strikes and naval hits? Who does that? This isn’t anything like skyrocketing salaries nearly sinking the NHL in 2004, when teams suddenly had to charge white-collar ticket prices for blue-collar fan bases just to break even (and failed). Again, we’re coming off one of the most entertaining NBA seasons ever! We really need to bring out Dr. Oppenheimer to solve this one? The league would never admit this publicly, but its long-range concern isn’t about the now-infamous 340 number as much as unpredictable fan behavior the rest of this decade. Secondary ticket markets, the internet, HD televisions, DirecTV’s season pass, the Broadband Pass, short attention spans, DVRs, video games, iPads, a struggling economy all of these forces have slowly pushed many basketball fans towards the same two conclusions:
“Why should I spend a huge chunk of money upfront on season tickets when I can just cherry-pick seven or eight games online?”
“Why should I pay for mediocre or crappy tickets, drive all the way to a game, pay for parking, pay for food and drink, then spend 150 minutes watching a regular-season NBA game when I could just stay home and watch that same game in HD while doing nine other things?”
People who love basketball will keep coming but what about everyone else? That’s the fear. And that’s where the players have been totally disingenuous: They want to roll over the current setup, and they want to keep bitching about the owners’ rigging that $340 million number, but have you heard Billy Hunter, Derek Fisher or anyone else even acknowledge the (legitimate) uncertainty with fan behavior going forward? Why do you think rich dudes weren’t exactly lining up to purchase the Hornets, Kings, Pistons, Bucks or Sixers?
Of course, that doesn’t mean the owners should drop a nuclear bomb, either. But the league needs to decide — fundamentally, right now, this month — where it’s going these next 10 years before figuring out anything else. Mention contraction to any league official and they shudder. We can’t do that, we can’t lose those jobs. BUT YOU CAN CANCEL A SEASON??? What???? How does that make sense? You don’t think we’re going to lose jobs during a one-year lockout not to mention fan interest and TV ratings? How dense can you be?
The NBA’s unwillingness to experiment with anything beyond its digital and international presence has been its Achilles’ heel. Not to step on Dave’s toes, but why haven’t we heard the following ideas or strategies even discussed?:
- Pulling a page out of the Premier League’s book and getting sponsors for every team’s jerseys and every team’s half-court logo. Let’s say the NBA is leaving $80-100 million on the table every season. (This Forbes.com blog indicates that it would be less. I find that hard to believe, especially after the rating for the 2011 playoffs.) Given they’re bitching about $370 million like it’s $10 billion, isn’t $80 million to $100 million a significant chunk of change? Why aren’t they investigating this? Give me sponsored jerseys over a canceled season every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
- Canceling the WNBA after this season. You can’t complain about losing money with the NBA after you just spent 15 years funding a women’s league that proved pretty emphatically by about Year 8 that it can’t make money. That’s like saying, “We need to sell our house and move into a cheaper one but I’m keeping the yacht I never should have bought!”18
- If anyone other than Donald Sterling owned the Clippers, the franchise would be worth twice as much money.19 He’s squatting on a billion-dollar property the same way he squats on his Malibu lots — he’s like a wealthy version of somebody on Hoarders. Hasn’t the man done enough harm to warrant a legal intervention? How many times has he fired an employee, then refused to pay him and forced that person to chase the money in court? How many times have the Clippers made damaging trades just to save money? How many times has Sterling been accused of insulting minorities or even his own players? Bud Selig sucked it up and went after Frank McCourt’s team, legal consequences be damned; why couldn’t Stern do the same with Sterling? He’s a dreadful owner, a disgrace to the league, and someone who knocks down the value of his franchise in half just by being alive. That’s not enough grounds?
- The Charlotte Bobcats never should have happened. You know how I know this? Because Michael Jordan spent about 20 bucks in actual cash to buy them two years ago, that’s how. If the Bobcats break their stadium lease and move somewhere else, they’d have to pay the city of Charlotte $150 million. So it would make no sense to move them, unless you know Jordan moves them to Chicago (where he still lives), plays in the United Center (where he has a giant statue), ropes Oprah into being a minority owner, then quickly becomes a well-run version of the Clippers to the Bulls’ version of the Lakers.20 Not only would they cover the $150 million pretty quickly, but that would give the league six teams in the three biggest TV markets. And that’s a bad thing why?21
- You know what got lost in the Maloofs’ pathetic attempt to sell out Sacramento for Anaheim last spring? Billionaire Henry Samueli pulled out every stop to get them. The Mighty Ducks owners pulled off a $75 million city-funded bond deal to modernize Anaheim’s Honda Center (which he manages), pledged another $25 million of his own money for more repairs (including new locker rooms and a new practice center), and even pledged another $50 million to help the Maloofs pay off their relocation fee. Call me crazy, but that sounds like someone we need in the league. If Sacramento can’t build a new stadium (and it deserves one more year to figure it out), the league needs to force the Maloofs to sell the Kings to Samueli. Or, sell the Hornets to him. But Orange County could and should have an NBA team.22
- The league can’t own the Hornets for another season, regardless of how this lockout turns out. Not only does it raise legitimate ethical issues, it makes the league look shaky as a whole: You can’t have one of your franchises basically sitting on Craigslist hoping for a buyer. If they can’t find an owner soon, the franchise needs to move to Vancouver (a market that deserves a second chance and has a building ready to go) or Anaheim
or it needs to be contracted.
18. Just last summer, David Geffen tried to buy a majority share from him as part of a LeBron/Geffen/Maverick power play that would have sent LeBron to the Clippers and made them the league’s most marketable franchise. Sterling squashed it.
19. If you’re wondering why the Bulls would agree to this, here’s my response: Has having a second NBA team in town hurt the Lakers these past 30 years?
20. Jerry Reinsdorf just collapsed in front of his computer.
21. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 8½ years — Anaheim’s NBA team wouldn’t affect the Clippers or Lakers at all. Anaheim is like its own little universe — it takes forever for L.A. people to get there thanks to the always-clogged I-5, and once they get there, they want to leave as fast as they can because, again, it’s Anaheim. The area has enough local die-hards and rich Orange County-ers to succeed (the Ducks and Angels do fine). And for those 10 to 12 home games when the Knicks, Celtics, Lakers, LeBron, Durant, etc., come to town, it would actually be a tough ticket.
22. The empty KC arena says everything: There’s a chance for a new small-market NBA team that anyone could own, with the stadium already built, and literally, NOBODY wants it. What does that tell you?
Look, we all love New Orleans. But some cities aren’t meant to have professional basketball in 2011. It happens. There’s a reason Kansas City’s state-of-the-art arena has been sitting empty for four years; there’s a reason the Nets are leaving New Jersey; and there’s a reason nobody wants to buy the Hornets.23 As Bill Parcells always said, “You are who you are.” And the NBA is a place that, in 2011, can’t generate enough revenue from small markets unless someone like Kevin Durant is playing there. Fan behavior has turned against the smaller-market franchises; it’s time to recognize that and adjust accordingly. The NBA’s destiny might be 26 teams, 28 teams, or maybe even 30 teams (but with four or five moving to different markets). But to say we can just keep going with the same 29 cities is bad business, and really, part of the reason we landed in this mess. Jerry Buss, James Dolan and Jerry Reinsdorf shouldn’t have to support flawed businesses in flawed markets. And if believing that makes me an NBA Republican, so be it.
- I’m re-pitching my 2007 idea for the Entertaining As Hell Tournament with a couple of minor tweaks
23. A better bet for an ending: Reservoir Dogs, with everyone pointing guns at each other, screaming incoherently and eventually just opening fire.
Let’s say we cut down the regular season to 78 games, lock down the top seven seeds in each conference, then stage a week-long, single elimination, 16-team tournament between the nonplayoff teams for the 8-seeds. (No conferences, just no. 15 through no. 30 seeded in order.) The higher seeds would host the first two rounds (eight games in all) from Sunday through Wednesday; the last two rounds (The Final FourGotten) would rotate every year in New York or Los Angeles on Friday night and Sunday afternoon, becoming something of a Fun Sports Weekend along the lines of All-Star Weekend. Friday night’s winners would clinch playoff berths. Sunday’s winner gets two carrots: the chance to pick their playoff conference (you can go East or West), as well as the no. 10 pick in the upcoming draft (that’s a supplemental pick; they’d get their own first-rounder as well).
I’ll flip this around: Why WOULDN’T we do this? Lottery teams couldn’t tank down the stretch or shut down starters for nefarious reasons; not with a possible playoff berth and an extra first-rounder at stake. Fans would remain invested no matter how poorly their team was playing down the stretch (knowing the tournament was coming up). Sponsors would pony up extra money to be involved. We’d get a fun basketball weekend in New York or Los Angeles out of it. The 14 playoff teams would get 10 days off as their bonus. And given that the Grizzlies just topped the Spurs in Round 1, nobody could say the 8-seed is meaningless, right?
If you’re still not sold, allow me to fall back on a question that never fails: “Would you watch it?”
Imagine if we did it last year and landed a Friday Final Four of the Grizzlies, Clippers, Pacers and (in a feel-good story) the upstart Cavaliers. Would you have watched that night? Of course you would have! You definitely would have watched the Entertaining As Hell Tournament presented by Klondike. Why won’t the NBA take a chance like this? I have no idea.
What Dave would tell the owners: “What he said.”
Bringing this full circle: Why does the NBA’s brain trust steadfastly refuse to brainstorm radical ideas on par with the ones I just mentioned, or consider contraction, or really, do anything beyond whining about the $340 million? Because that’s what this lockout is about: stubbornness in its rawest form. The league is too proud to change. The players are too proud to admit that they’re a huge part of the problem, and that we wouldn’t be in this mess if more of them took pride in the deals they signed. Both sides would rather point fingers instead of figuring out how to improve their product going forward.
As for us? We might lose a season because of their obstinance, which means we’ll miss out on Year 2 of “Yes We Did!”, Boston’s last run with Garnett, Pierce and Allen, Duncan’s last decent Spurs season, Kobe’s trying to stay on top (and doing anything to do so), Durant and Westbrook continuing their Stringer/Avon plot, another year of Blake dunks (counting his missed rookie season, that means we’d have gone 1-for-3 during this jumping-out-of-the-building apex), contract seasons from Howard/Paul/Williams, our last David Kahn season before he gets fired and becomes my BS Report co-host, our first full Carmelo/Amar’e season, a year of Jimmer, Tyreke, Salmons and DeMarcus impersonating a giant black hole in Sacramento, Dirk’s defending his Mavs title, a year of Love/Rubio outlets and Wall/Vesely alley-oops, the remote possibility of LeBrondown III I mean, have you really thought about what’s at stake here?
Sadly, this mess won’t end like the movie Dave did, with Dave Kovic fixing the country, turning things over to the vice-president and walking off into the sunset.24 Team Stern will play chicken with Team Hunter, heeding the lessons of the 1999 Lockout, when we realized more NBA players live paycheck-to-paycheck than you’d ever imagine. It will stretch into November, then December, with the players panicking a little more each day. By the end of January, the players will cave: You’ll see a 50/50 BRI split, four-year deals (none longer), a slightly harder cap (thanks to the abolition of midlevel exceptions and Larry Bird rights), the end of the luxury tax and a 50-game season that blows just as much as the last lockout season did. Team Stern’s concession will be a five-year deal through 2016, right when the NBA’s television deal expires, preventing it from getting screwed if the league rakes in more TV money than anyone expects.
24. Late Addition: In the 90 minutes after we posted the column, multiple readers pointed out that, for this All-Star/Franchise Player idea to work, we’d probably have to dump the All-Star voting system and come up with a smarter way to pick starting teams. I couldn’t be more fine with this. Popularity contests fall into Adam Carolla’s “more harm than good” realm, anyway. If you don’t agree with me, you will when China makes Yi Jianlian an All-Star next season. Or whenever we have a season.
The owners will claim they “fixed” the system, but really, they just swung the numbers more in their favor and kept Stern’s “I never lost a franchise while I was in charge” streak alive, which rings just as hollow as Wilt’s “I never fouled out of a game!” streak. Will anything actually get fixed? Where is this league going?
Look, David Stern will always be my favorite commissioner ever, but his lack of resourcefulness during these past few years has been somewhat appalling. He’s starting to resemble Larry O’Brien, who famously blessed the inspired concept of All-Star Weekend by gruffly demanding that it couldn’t cost even a nickel and by the way, that wasn’t a compliment. The league can’t fix its small-picture issues unless it’s addressing the big-picture ones, too. Can Stern even see that anymore? If he’s really banking on revenue sharing as his long-term solution, that scares me more than anything. I don’t trust wealthy businessmen to act magnanimously. Their track record as a whole is pretty poor. To say the least.
For the past 12 months, every Stern defender claimed that he would never allow a canceled season or a prolonged lockout to become the final chapter of his legacy. I believed that as well. That belief is wavering. Please, start thinking outside the box again, David. You used to live there.
Bill Simmons is the Editor in Chief of Grantland and the author of the recent New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball, now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. Follow him on Twitter and check out his new home on Facebook.