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NBA and players union push back deadline for labor talks

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has proposed a hard salary cap system in ongoing labor talks with the National Basketball Players Association. (Jeff Chiu/AP)
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The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association will have until Feb. 8, 2023, to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement after the two sides agreed Wednesday to extend the deadline for their ongoing labor talks.

Per the original terms of the current collective bargaining agreement, which runs through the 2023-24 season, both sides had the right to opt out of the deal before Thursday. If either side had opted out, the current agreement would have ended on June 30, 2023. With their mutual agreement to push back the deadline by nearly two months, the NBA and players union can continue to negotiate a new agreement that would avert the possibility of a lockout next summer.

The NBA’s rapid financial growth, and the likelihood that its next round of media rights deals generate even greater profits, combine to give the owners and players ample motivation to reach a new labor deal before the new deadline.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in July that the league posted a record $10 billion in revenue for the 2021-22 season, and early reports indicate that the next media rights deals could more than double in size when the current deals expire in 2025. Tamika Tremaglio, the NBPA’s executive director, and New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum, the union president, have long maintained that revenue generation is one of their top priorities.

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In hopes of spurring greater competitive balance between big-market and small-market teams, people with knowledge of the talks said that the NBA is pursuing an “Upper Spending Limit” — a hard salary cap system that would prevent teams from spending above a certain threshold on player salaries.

There is no hard limit under the current collective bargaining agreement, but teams face escalating penalties when they vastly exceed the salary cap. In recent years, the Golden State Warriors, Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers have poured unprecedented amounts of money into their rosters, with the Warriors spending a record $346 million on salaries and luxury taxes last year.

After footing that bill, Warriors owner Joe Lacob said last summer that the luxury tax system was “incredibly penal” and “very unfair,” and he asserted that the “hardest part” of building a title team is “navigating this luxury tax.”

When the NBA has pursued a hard cap concept in past labor negotiations, the NBPA has been adamant in its opposition. In theory, a hard cap would limit the players’ collective earning power and make it more difficult for them to change teams in free agency or by trade.

The NBA and NBPA have also discussed altering the draft eligibility guidelines to allow players to enter the league immediately after they finish high school. Under the current rules, players must wait a year before gaining their eligibility.

“I think that [lowering the age limit] will be the right thing to do,” Silver said in July. “I’m hopeful that that’s a change we make in this next collective bargaining cycle.”

Silver added at the time that the league’s other priorities included curbing public trade requests and adding “additional incentives” that would encourage star players to play in as many games as possible. The NBA, which added a play-in tournament to its postseason format in 2020, is also expected to soon adopt an in-season tournament.

After an extended lockout that shortened the 2011-12 season, the NBA and the NBPA avoided a work stoppage by agreeing to the current collective bargaining agreement in December 2016. During the 2015-16 season, the NBA’s salary cap was $70 million. This year, that figure has risen to $123 million. Similarly, the NBA’s average franchise value has increased from $1.25 billion in 2016 to $2.86 billion in 2022, according to Forbes.

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