The first significant dent to the 2011-12 NBA season was delivered Friday when the league announced that training camps have been postponed and 43 preseason games were removed from the calendar.
All games from Oct. 9-15 are off, the league said. Camps were expected to open Oct. 3 but that seems likely to change too.
While the NFL players and owners were able to save football games this year, the NBA players and owners remain on opposite sides of the collective bargaining table and no new deal is on the horizon. Union president Derek Fisher and union chief Billy Hunter have already told players to prepare for a long work stoppage and some, including Reggie Williams (Caja Laboral/Spain), Wilson Chandler (Zhejiang/China) and J.R. Smith (Zhejiang/China), have already signed contracts overseas.
The last time the NBA faced this type of ordeal was in 1998-99 when the regular season was reduced to 50 games and the All-Star game was canceled. The difference this time around is the owners are prepared to go a step further by sacrificing the ENTIRE season to prove their point.
The major sticking points are: the owners are asking for a 50-50 split of league revenue while the players want it closer to the original 57-43 deal that heavily favors them; the owners want a hard salary cap while the players want a soft cap; the owners want to protect themselves from guaranteed contracts while the players want status quo.
Basically, the players believe the old system works just fine and do not want change. The majority of the owners claim more than half their peers are losing money and feel the system is broken and needs a major facelift. The rich teams, such as the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks, really don’t have an issue with the system, but aren’t opposed to tweaking it. The small market owners, such as Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert and Phoenix’s Robert Sarver, are more adamant in revising the league’s financial structure. The owners have made it crystal clear that unless ALL their demands are met they are determined to sit this season out.
The owners are more unified than ever before, and are banking on the belief that the players will soon crack once the paychecks stop coming. The players say they remain unified and are willing to stand up to the serious threat of losing millions. For how long? That’s the million-dollar question in this whole standoff.
Both sides still hope the entire regular season, scheduled to begin Nov. 1, can be saved. But unless the owners have a major change of heart, the only way the 2011-12 NBA season can be saved is the players must make major, major concessions.
The unfortunate thing about this whole bargaining session is only one side will win – the owners. Unless the players are willing to play elsewhere or have saved up so much money that it’ll last a lifetime, the owners will prevail because the owners hold all the chips. They can’t hang their hats on playing in Europe or Asia because the majority of them don’t want to move their families overseas. They can’t hang their hats on the regular season because the owners are not afraid to see that go down the drain.
Both sides said they hope to meet again next week. They probably need a deal by the middle of October to avoid canceling regular-season games. Asked if he thought things were far enough along to still believe that was possible, Commissioner David Stern said: “I don’t have any response to that. I just don’t. I don’t know the answer.”
So, can the season be saved? Yes, but it is up to the players to decide because the owners have already made up their minds.