In our never-ending quest to figure out why the 2011-12 NBA season might get canceled immediately after one of the best seasons in league history, we finally landed Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, on the BS Report for an hour-long interview about the lockout, last week’s furious flurry of negotiations, why those negotiations fell through, where those negotiations are headed, and, basically, whether we’re screwed or not. We talked about his relationship with David Stern, whether Billy feels like he beat Stern on the past two labor deals, if he believes the owners wanted to blow up this season all along, if he feels like the players have any leverage whatsoever right now, whether any ambitious big-picture solutions are being discussed, how committed the players are to sticking together, and what salaries could potentially look like this decade. We also talked about the dynamics in the room during the last round of negotiations, which owners were hotter to settle than others, and how the process works once there’s a creative idea in place that needs to be fleshed out.
My takeaway from the hour: Billy seems convinced that his players are absolutely sticking together (that’s his “leverage,” so to speak); he feels like the league is in a much better place than it’s pretending to be; he’s more than happy to work with the more thoughtful owners on ambitious big-picture solutions; he believes the owners’ side has a built-in advantage with the media and how events are spun; and he’s much more confident about the ebbs and flows of this process than I expected. If you notice, he compares it to how 1999 played out when everything broke at the 12th hour — it seems like he’s expecting that to happen here. Or maybe he’s just being overly optimistic. It certainly didn’t seem like things had blown up completely, or that there wasn’t room for them to keep talking. He seemed enthusiastic about Mark Cuban’s plan to create a better economic model — dubbed “The Game-changer” by Cuban, it eliminates the salary cap completely — and admitted that they had some quality brainstorming before some of the smaller-market owners derailed that momentum. Why didn’t this brainstorming happen this summer instead of last week? Hunter seemed to feel like the owners didn’t have any real urgency until last week. (You could easily say the same for the players.) Either way, this podcast downgraded me from “100 percent pessimistic about the season being saved” to “75 percent pessimistic about the season being saved.” Just know that 75 percent still sucks. Let’s make a deal already.
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Bill Simmons is the editor-in-chief of Grantland, the host of the BS Report and the author of the recent New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball. Follow him on Twitter and check out his new home on Facebook.
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