Late last week, David Stern fired the first shot across the NBA Players' Union bow in what promises to be a contentious 18-month (minimum) negotiation over the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement. After the jump we'll take a look at some of the proposed changes and what they could mean to the Sixers in the long term.
Let me start by saying I'm 100% convinced there will be a lockout at the beginning of the 2011 season, if not sooner. Depending on how things progress between now and then, I think the players' union could even try to walk out prior to the playoffs in the 2010-2011 season, although that may be technically illegal.
The owners are trying to seize control of the purse strings from the players, and to me the number one goal of the changes proposed seems to be saving the owners from themselves. Here's a quick look at some of the issues they're trying to tackle:
- Lower salary cap (larger portion of BRI to the owners).
- Lower max salaries. Rumored to be as low as $60M max.
- Restriction on what portion of contracts can be guaranteed.
Some form of a hard salary cap, meaning no mid-level exceptions, no Bird Rights, no luxury tax. You're either under the cap, or you get fined.
- Shorter contracts
I realize this is the opening proposal, and the owners pretty much had to ask for the moon, but pretty much every point on there is a dealbreaker as it currently stands. Let me amend that. Everything on the list is a dealbreaker if the players believe they can afford to lose a year's pay, or six months pay. Ultimately, the question is going to be whether the players can afford a work stoppage more than the owners. Considering a certain number of owners are losing money as it is, I don't see the owners giving too much ground.
How does this apply to the Sixers? That's an interesting question. I doubt the owners will have the ability to renegotiate deals. That just seems completely out of the realm of reason. A compromise may be to handle grandfathered salaries on a percentage scale against the cap, until they all expire. Meaning, if you have a guy signed for $15M, and the cap is $57M, he accounts for 26% of the cap. If, in the new CBA, the cap is dropped to $45M, the player would still be paid $15M, but the ratio would stay at 26%, meaning he would only count as $11.7M against the cap.
The long and skinny of that kind of tinkering is the Sixers would be screwed if Brand and Iguodala were both on the books. Together, they're probably going to account for over 50% of the cap. If you take away bird rights, and you take away the mid-level exception, you're left with very, very little space to even re-sign your own players, let alone bring in a free agent.
This is all projection on my part, that's really all anyone can do at this point. Like I said above, the only thing I'm fairly sure of is that this is not going to end quickly, and I do believe there will be a lockout unless the players completely cave. The owners have deep pockets and with at least a portion of them legitimately taking losses when the games are actually being played, I see a resolute bunch putting up a united front.
There are a couple of other things to consider. The last time the CBA was restructured, the owners got a one-time get-out-of-jail-free card. It was ironically called the "Allan Houston provision." Each team was given the opportunity to cut one player from their roster in order to get his salary off the luxury tax books. The ironic part is the Knicks were too dumb to cut Houston's $20M+ salary out of some kind of loyalty on their owner's part, and instead cut the much cheaper Jerome Williams. I could see something like this being worked into the next version of the CBA, but with more teeth. Like maybe each team will be able to cut one salary from their books and his salary number won't count against the cap. If that's the case, Elton Brand may not handcuff the Sixers under the new rules. In fact, they'd be in pretty good shape heading into 2011-2012, assuming no more mistakes have been made between now and then.
On a larger scale, a boatload of players have player options for the upcoming season. Some, like Amare, probably won't be able to top the money they'd be turning down for this season if they opt out in a new deal, but the writing is on the wall now. If a guy can play, I believe he will either demand an extension this summer, or opt out. If salaries are going to drop precipitously, this is their last chance to get a long-term deal on the pay scale that was created by the last CBA. So Amare may turn down $17M for 2010-2011 in order to get a 4-year, $60M deal that simply won't be there the following season.
What does all of this mean for the Sixers in the short term? It's very, very hard to say. On the one hand, if things are as bleak as they seem, they should probably be doing everything and anything to get rid of Elton Brand's contract before the end of next season. It's a burden under the current CBA, but you have the means to work around it. If a hard cap is imposed, and the league doesn't do something to help teams get out from under the mistakes they've made, it's going to be an absolute death sentence going forward.
Does all of this change how I feel about trading Andre Iguodala in the next 9 days? No, not really. If they can get someone to take Brand along with Iguodala, they simply have to consider it, but trading away Iguodala with Sam, or anyone else on the roster does absolutely nothing to set them up better heading into the potential lockout. All it means is the centerpiece of their team would be a 32-year-old power forward eating up almost 30% of their cap space. If you're making moves to avoid a calamity in 2011, Brand is the one that has to go, no one else really matters (except maybe Lou).
I've spent a lot of time thinking about what these negotiations and their eventual outcome could mean for the Sixers. As you can tell, I'm not optimistic, but things can always change.