The late reports out of Tuesday’s imploding NBA lockout talks, talks which cost the league its preseason due to their futility, suggest that David Stern’s real final offer came in just $80 million in player salary per year away from the union’s own last proposal. Various outlets report that Stern and crew pitched a 49-51 per cent range for the players’ revenue split; the union came back with a 51-53 per cent range, and those two percentage points — either the difference between a 49 per cent salary floor and one at 51 per cent, or a cap of 51 per cent vs. 53 — killed the deal.Some reporters also think the deal will now go through, if only Stern can get Billy Hunter and the union back to the table. Left unanswered is the question of why the players left the table in the first place.
Consider how close the union appears to be in terms of getting the owners down to a level acceptable to players. Leading up to these talks, players seemed stuck at 53 per cent — they were not going to go beyond that easily. The owners essentially came down to 51 per cent. Accepting that deal would, at best, represent $240 million per year in givebacks from players vs. the old deal. The owners claim to have lost $300 million last season. The players would be taking care of 80 per cent of the league’s losses on their own.
The players were willing to do that … with a catch. The owners’ cap — 51 per cent for players — was the same as the players’ floor. So players were willing to go there … but also wanted to maintain the ability to make as much as 53 per cent, which would represent $160 million per year in givebacks. If owners can control themselves, then they could get down to the 51 per cent split they are willing to accept. But players know as well as we do that owners can’t control themselves, and that salary will bump up against the top of the range wherever it lands.
Stern claimed loud and clear that he got his owners to agree on a 51 per cent share for players. That’s no small matter. But now he needs to either get them to 53 per cent or convince the union to come down some more. He’s in striking distance to clean up his league’s losses on the backs of players, to deliver what the owners and players can both accept. Can he finish? Can he yank one side hard enough to get it done?
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