Well the NBA certainly knows how to give its fans a real Thanksgiving. While millions of Americans were fighting crowds to get a buy one, get one free deal on cappuccino machines, the NBA owners and players managed to reach a labor agreement that should have been done months ago.
A deal could have been done in time to save the full season, but neither side was ready to give until they were left with no choice. David Stern needed to prove to the owners that he would squeeze every last drop of money he could from the players. Billy Hunter needed to prove to the players (actually to their agents) that he wouldn’t get pushed around. One day this labor negotiation will make it in to a Harvard Business School case-study on how not to negotiate a labor dispute.
As poorly as Stern and Hunter handled the actual negotiations, this was more about their inability to manage the expectations of their constituents. Hunter didn’t prepare his players/agents for a nasty labor dispute, and didn’t manage their expectations accordingly. Because of the large number of new owners, Stern’s traditional base of support was weakened, and he was never quite sure he had the total support of ownership while he was negotiating.
For casual NBA fans this work stoppage won’t register all that much, and even for the more devoted ones, the frustration will fade once the season starts. The new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is for 10 years with the option to reopen it in six years. With a new television deal being signed by the owners in five years combined with the amount of money they were forced to give back you can virtually guarantee the players will try to reopen it. If the players are smart, as soon as the ink is dry on the new CBA they’ll send Billy Hunter off into the sunset with a nice gold watch and hire a real labor leader who can start game planning for the summer of 2017.
So what sort of environment will the Wizards be operating in with a new CBA? While a bunch of second-tier issues still need to be ironed out, once the CBA is finalized and approved by the owners and players (while the CBA is likely to be overwhelmingly approved I shudder to think what Billy Hunter’s vote-counting operation looks like, I imagine something like the telephone tree my Hebrew school used to use for snow cancellations) the Wizards will have some opportunities to improve their team.
It’s ironic that the amnesty clause included in the new CBA would have been of more use to the team three years ago (and $60 million worth of grotto-building by Gilbert Arenas). The clause allows teams to erase one contract from their salary cap once during the course of the CBA.
Common sense dictates that the $22 Million Dollar Man, Rashard Lewis, should be the first to go. But the new CBA has a salary floor which the Wizards could fall below if they used the clause on Lewis. With the underwhelming free agent market this year (David West, Nene, Tyson Chandler, etc.) it would be better to hold on to Lewis for another year and spend on the 2012 free agent class, which looks to be deeper (Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, Gerald Wallace). Waiting also gives the Wizards flexibility if they decide to try to buy-out part of Rashard’s contract next year (it’s only partially guaranteed for $10M) and use their amnesty on someone else’s problem contract. There are plenty of duds from the summer of LeBron that the Wizards could acquire or a pick or an asset to take off of someone’s books.
It will also be interesting to see which players end up as amnesty victims because they will essentially be free agents (albeit with a unique blind bidding system involved), deepening a very weak class. Possible amnesty candidates such as Baron Davis, Charlie Villanueva or Josh Childress aren’t going to turn the Wizards in to a winner, but they could fill a role-player position for the team at a reasonable price. If the Wizards are smart they’ll conserve as much money as possible for 2012 when they should be poised to take the next step.