Maurice Evans will be in New York as the NBA and the players union meet for one last time before the current collective bargaining agreement expires at 12:01 a.m. on Friday. A lockout appears unavoidable, with the sides nowhere close to a deal but Evans is hopeful that they can narrow the gap some.
“I don’t think significant progress can be made in one day,” said Evans, the Wizards free agent forward and vice president of the National Basketball Players Association. “I expect to be in there as long as it takes. We’re going to continue to negotiate until we reach an impasse. We’re prepared to go as long as we need to go into the summer to get a deal.”
The NBA hasn’t locked out its players since the 1998-99 season was reduced to just 50 games. This current labor dispute is expected to be protracted. The league claims that 22 out of its 30 teams lost money last season, is pushing for a hard salary cap and urging the players to make major salary concessions. The union is unwilling to relent on much of the progress and salary exceptions earned by previous generations.
“I’m not fearful. Disappointed is the word,” Evans said, when asked about the possibility of lengthy lockout. “Players are prepared for a lockout [but] we want to play. The fans want us to play. The excitement that’s been generated from the success of the league, we want to continue to celebrate that.”
Ted Leonsis spent nearly $310 million to purchase the Wizards from the Pollin family last summer and told Comcast SportsNet on Monday that the team lost money last year. He was fined $100,000 last September for expressing his support of a financial model similar to the NHL, which wasn’t achieved without the loss of the 2004-05 season.
NBA Commissioner David Stern has stated that he would like to make the league profitable for owners, a charge that perhaps has more impetus with the NBA experiencing 12 ownership changes in the past 11 years. But Evans doesn’t believe that it is up to the players to subsidize the owners with their investments, and he questions the math provided by the league.
“It’s hard to believe that the league is losing money and is the fundamental loser of money every year, with the type of success that we’ve had -- that we’ve shared, players, league, owners -- under this current collective bargaining agreement that we have in place,” Evans said. “It really hasn’t been a lot of posturing. They firmly believe, what they want to believe and I feel like we firmly believe what it is we believe – that the system isn’t broken and if we are going to negotiate, we need to negotiate from the current system.”
The players have proposed a reduction of income by $100 million a year over the next five years, but Evans is disappointed that many of the concessions from the owners -- such as a guarantee of $2 billion a year in salary each year – are worse than what the players already have. Dozens of players were in New York last week, wearing T-shirts with the word, “Stand” on the front as a show of solidarity.
“I think it was a huge statement, because it showed that players are unified and conscious of what we are about to face and we’re ready to make a stand. Not a stand against the owners, but a stand for what’s right,” he said.
Evans said that during the meeting, Memphis forward Shane Battier asked NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter if he was willing to follow NFL union leader, DeMaurice Smith, and agree to take $1 in salary for the length of the lockout. He said many of the dozens of players in attendance immediately came to the defense of Hunter. “This is the time that we pay him for, so that he can represent us in times like this, to help us get a deal and do his job. We all came to his defense, because it would be no reason for anyone to take a pay cut. That’s why we’re all in this together, so that we won’t have to take a pay cut and lose benefits that we’ve earned.”
Evans said that in spite of the rhetoric coming from both sides, the negotiations have been cordial. He was optimistic that some progress could be made with the deadline approaching. “Our expectation is go in and move closer to a deal. And, if not get a deal, at least find out where everybody’s position really is. Because we’re on the eve of what could be a lockout,” Evans said. “It can be avoided if we’re actually trying to get a deal and coming with the mind frame of trying to get a deal.”