The lockout came as no surprise to anyone who has been around the NBA. Players were made aware that it would be coming all season, with representatives from the union making visits to all 30 teams and encouraging its members to save and get ready for a long stretch without basketball. They have followed up those meetings with regular emails and mailings to keep players informed. I remember Andray Blatche walking out of one of those meetings after the season and telling a group of reporters passing by, “Oh, yeah, we’re having a lockout.”
There were plenty of reactions to the second professional sports league to shut down this year. ESPN.com’s Larry Coon offered precise FAQ, while Yahoo! Sports’ Adrain Wojnarowski explained the grim consequences of the league’s second lockout in the past 13 years. Former Wizard Gilbert Arenas perhaps offered one of the more insightful breakdowns on his Twitter account, @agentzeroshow. You can go to his page, or get the entire account over at SBNation.
On Thursday, I had a chance to speak with a few longtime NBA agents about the lockout and came away with a bleaker outlook for the proceedings, which threaten to wipe out the entire 2011-12 season. Bill Duffy, the head of BDA Sports, which represents Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Jennings, and Wizards first-round choice Chris Singleton, said he doesn’t expect much to get accomplished as it relates to negotiations in the next few weeks or months.
“I certainly don’t feel like there is any super urgency. I really don’t know what’s going to be accomplished between now and maybe three weeks to a month before training camp,” Duffy said. “It’s like the Democrats and Republicans trying to figure out the federal deficit, polar extreme opposites. It’s the power and the will of each party. It’s kind of an untenable situation, for both parties, it appears. Everyone’s perspective is at an extreme. I don’t think ours is extreme because we have a current model that’s kind of restrictive, if you can ask an agent. But league, obviously, is trying to impose their will.”
Mark Bartelstein, head of Priority Sports, whose client list includes Danny Granger, David Lee and Nick Young, also expects this to be a protracted process. “If you look at the proposals from the league, they’ve shown no motivation to make a deal, other than hitting the biggest home run of all time. That doesn’t give you a lot of thought that they are going in the right direction. It’s going in the wrong direction. I think it’s going to be a long time.”
This is usually the busy season for NBA agents, with them taking and making calls for their clients, negotiating deals and setting up arrangements for trades. But those conversations have been put on hold as the business of basketball has been put to a screeching halt. Duffy and Bartelstein both feel that the owners have taken an unreasonable stance, with regards to establishing a hard cap and asking players to give back more money to ensure financial sustainability.
“I really feel that there is a lack of accountability for individuals who are so highly successful at their respective, primary fields of business,” Duffy said. “I would be curious to see if they have any business they are involved with where they can ensure profitability, ensure cost certainty that’s not market oriented, so they have this one business vehicle that they want to completely control, where I don’t know if they are able to do that in any other industry that they are involved with. Everything is reactive to the market place. I find that very interesting.”
Duffy felt that it was unfair to ask players to take the fall for the bad business decisions of owners, when there are examples of teams in small market cities that have built contenders without expansive revenue streams. He used the Oklahoma City Thunder as an example. “It’s two things here. The larger market teams can basically profit by accident, by virtue of their market. Then you have to really commend the smaller market teams who are successful, keep their expenses under control and put a competitive product on the floor,” he said.
With owners unwilling to come together on revenue sharing, a system that has allowed NFL small market teams to be competitive and at times, more successful, than their big city counterparts, players are pushing for NBA owners to solve the problem amongst themselves. Right now, the NBA achieves something close to revenue sharing with the luxury tax, which forces teams that go over the salary cap to put the amount that they overspend into a pool that is spread amongst teams that stay under.
NBA owners have not been open to going that route -- though the league claims that 22 of its 30 teams have lost money -- and players don’t want to breakaway too far from the current agreement, which has contributed greatly to the divide.
“At the end of the day, it’s the owner’s decision if they are going to want to try to make a deal that makes sense for everyone, or if they are going to have a guaranteed profit system. I’d like to have a business where I’m guaranteed a profit every year, that would be tremendous. You don’t have to worry about the decisions you make. You don’t have to worry about bad business deals. That’s just not the way the world works. To expect that, is to be out of touch with reality.”
Bartelstein said he expects some players to look at options overseas but wasn’t certain if it would be a mass exodus. “I think it depends on the player, what his salary range is. There certainly will be a lot of players who might be a borderline NBA player that might not wait out the NBA and go to Europe. It depends on the opportunity that happens.”
Since the lockout has occurred during the offseason, Bartelstein doesn’t expect players to make many dramatic adjustments to what they normally do in the months leading up to training camps. “The players are still going to do what they’ve always done in the summer, work hard on their game, get themselves in shape,” he said. “They are also looking for other opportunities as they come up, whether it’s positions, marketing opportunities or tours, whatever they can to keep themselves busy.”
Bartelstein has encouraged his clients to save money and deal closely with their financial advisors in preparation for this moment. Duffy has been preparing his clients for a work stoppage for the past 2 ½ years and said he didn’t have to do much to explain the gravity of the situation. Now that the lockout has arrived, Duffy is ready for a resolution to take considerable time. “It’s like the Democrats and Republicans trying to figure out the federal deficit, polar extreme opposites. It’s the power and the will of each party. It’s kind of an untenable situation, for both parties, it appears,” he said. “Everyone’s perspective is at an extreme. I don’t think ours is extreme because we have a current model that’s kind of restrictive, if you can ask an agent. But league, obviously, is trying to impose their will.”
Said Bartelstein, “They were light years apart in ‘98, too. That’s why the lockout went for so long. We’ll just have to see.”