I'm impressed with the NBPA.
Well, I'm sort of impressed, anyway.
I'm not impressed by how ill-prepared they appeared to be for the intransigence of the hard-line owners, nor am I impressed with how little the union as a whole did to get involved in these talks at an earlier stage, but that's all in the past.
What I'm impressed by right now is how much the union managed to squeeze out of the NBA in their latest proposal. Seriously.
Coming into this whole process, the league wanted a hard cap, a ridiculous BRI split, salary rollbacks and the first born son of every player. More than wanting those things, though, they had the power to get them (except maybe the sons). The owners had all of the leverage in talks, including a crucial ability to absorb multiple lost seasons that the bulk of the workforce could not afford. If they had wanted to just sit and silently stare at Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher until they accepted that deal, they could have done it.
Now, such a refusal to bargain would have gotten them into hot water with the NLRB at some point, but the point is that if the league wanted to really flex its muscle and destroy the union it probably could have. Instead, the union pushed and pushed, got a variation of the old soft cap back, a 50-50 split on BRI and zero salary rollbacks. In all honesty, it's more than I thought that they were going to get once the league went into lockout mode back in July, and they should be impressed with themselves for securing it.
However, the players are not impressed. I can sort of understand why, too. They have made all of the concessions in this latest deal. They are the ones paying for the mismanagement of several clubs. They are the ones paying for the fact that some teams are located in inhospitable markets. They are the ones paying for the fact that TV contracts are more lucrative in Los Angeles than they are in Minnesota. If there was a concession to be made from the last CBA, they're the ones that have made it. Still, I'm impressed with how little they had to concede considering how much the league wanted and how much power they had to extract it.
The problem is that the players are still too overly focused on that last CBA, the one that no longer exists and - fairly or not - doesn't really have any bearing in the current environment of negotiations. Like any contract between two parties, when it expires neither side is beholden to carry over any aspect of it into a new deal. As of today, there is no deal between the NBA and the NBPA. Neither side is rewriting the terms of an agreed to proposal. They are two separate entities looking to create a new set of rules that would allow them both to participate in concert for the next six-to-ten years. What came before, as luxurious as it now looks to the NBPA, is in the past, and it isn't coming back.
The players nonetheless insist that they've sacrificed too much. Unfortunately, that speaks to their refusal to accept their new realities. They haven't sacrificed anything, because there are no active terms that are being given or taken away. Yes, they wouldn't have things in this new CBA that they had in the old one, but technically speaking that isn't a sacrifice. Ownership, as the payers, are dictating the terms of what they are comfortable paying out to the union once a deal is ratified. On that score, empirically, I'm impressed with how much the union has coaxed them into paying.
Now, do I think that the owners have shown a certain lack of respect to the players in this process? Absolutely I do. Just because you can dictate extravagant terms doesn't mean that you are obliged to, especially not when the difference in the BRI split from the last CBA to this proposed new one more than covers the losses that the league insisted was the foundation of their initial demands. I think that the way that the owners have lorded their power over the union has been, at times, truly ugly, and their demand that this deal be ratified or a new, more punitive 'reset' proposal comes into play is an unnecessary pressure tactic. All that said, each and every move has been - technically - within their rights to execute, and the players need to understand how bad things could get for them if they do decide to turn down this current offer and play hardball with the owners.
If the players refuse to ratify this new proposal (and most indications suggest they will refuse), then they had better understand fully how much power the league has to make things a lot worse for them going forward. Sure, the players could attempt to gain leverage through decertification, but history is not on their side with regards to that being an effective power play and it could just as easily backfire and give the owners even MORE leverage over the union than they have today. Meanwhile, paycheques will continue to be missed, careers will continue to stall and it could all be just so that the NBA could essentially force the union to take a far worse deal than the one that they are deciding over next week.
It's humiliating to succumb to the bullying tactics of someone else. Sometimes, though, you don't have the strength to fight a bully off and you just have to hope they take your lunch money and not your iPhone. The players feel bullied, and it's not hard to see why, but they have to understand the risk they are running if they continue to square off against their aggressors past next week. They've gotten a lot out of the owners, even if it doesn't feel that way, and the owners are under zero obligation to juice their deal any further than they already have. To this point the owners have played along and negotiated with the union (so much so that several owners now feel they've given up far too much), but if the players want to risk what they've got today thinking that they can get more tomorrow, they have to be willing to lose it all - because the owners have the power take it and never look back.