No matter what the two sides say to each other and what the rhetoric might be on a day-to-day basis, both sides know a deal is near. There are hang ups to be sure, as the hard-line positions have dug in one last time. Well, hopefully, it is one last time.
Coming out of last week’s negotiations though, the main point might have been lost. Much of the collective bargaining agreement is solved.
Amnesty provisions, mid-level exception, escrow, contract lengths? They are all pretty much settled. All that is left really is the elephant in the room — BRI and how the owners and players divide that up. That is a big issue and not one that should be lightly pushed aside. The players and owners certainly are not doing that as it is THE issue that is holding things up and keeping basketball from starting on time … or in its entirety.
Believe it or not though, teams have been preparing for the start of the season whenever that is. And with more certainty than ever — plus the expected blitz and flurry of movement that will come immediately after the agreement is reached — general managers are actually beginning to plan out their offseason. Well, maybe not in great detail. But planning is being done because general managers and coaching staffs do not have much more to do.
The free agency scene is very difficult to predict because nobody knows the rules of the game yet.
With some certainty we can see these changes happening in the NBA for 2011-12:
Player contract lengths will be shortened from six to five-year maximums for players with Bird Rights (five or more years of service with the same team) and from five to four-year maximums for players with non-Bird Rights. There were more than a few owners pushing to get rid of Bird Rights altogether and limit contract lengths for all players to four years. Remember, the owners are fighting for cost certainty in player contracts. Keeping Bird Rights and minimally reducing contract length was a big victory for players. But this was a small issue and one that could easily be agreed to.
The Amnesty Clause is all but assured to happen. It was implemented in 2005 when the two sides agreed to extend the previous collective bargaining agreement. More than anything it is a tool to help teams get under the cap and get the new system kickstarted. Many are reporting this is a done deal. The player will still get his full salary, but it just will not count against the cap. It is supposed to give teams more freedom to add players under the new system while shedding dead weight from the cap. That could be handy if the cap is much more restrictive this time around.
The very contentious Luxury Tax is also more or less resolved. Amick reports that the league will adopt a sort of staggered penalty for heavy offenders of the luxury tax line on the salary cap. The dollar-for-dollar luxury tax is going to become more punitive. But largely, this system will resemble the old system. There is no hard cap per se. if a team wants to spend an unlimited amount, it still can. It would just have to pay a more punitive tax. Considering the owners wanted to place a hard cap at the beginning of negotiations and considering the players seemed dead set against a flex cap or staggered luxury tax like this one, it seems we had some compromise in this area to preserve a similar system.
The proposed Stretch Exception is an interesting idea and it will be intriguing to see how teams use it. The idea allows a team to waive a player on their roster and stretch the remaining amount owed to the player and his cap hit over twice the length remaining on the contract. So if you are a player with two years left on your contract, the cap hit could be stretched over the next four (some proposals would add a year to that). There are still some details to work out by all reports. But it appears some type of this provision will be available occasionally so teams can get out of bad contracts and retain some cap flexibility.
You will notice that all the contracts are still guaranteed. So while teams are freeing up cap space and keeping flexibility under the cap, the teams are still obligated to pay the entire salary owed under the contract. You can argue owners are actually increasing the amount they will be paying. That is an argument nobody hopes the owners realize if they are really close to a deal.
The players also seem to have retained many of the Cap Exceptions which they find valuable. Those exceptions ensure teams can go over the cap to bring in new players. More importantly, it allows the NBA’s middle class the chance at a very nice salary. No doubt, the mid-level exception has been the most hit or miss provision in the collective bargaining agreement. The players certainly like it because it allows middle-of-the-road players to make a nice salary. No doubt about that. While the amount of the mid-level exception will decrease to $5 million flat (by all reports), it will still exist. Another potential victory for the players.
These are all issues that will set the system up. The rules of the offseason game, if you will. There have been reports of a relaxing of trade restrictions so that there can be more trades with lopsided dollar amounts. General managers can begin, at least, the initial strategy and plans for the future.
But there are obviously still big question marks. Otherwise, we would have a deal done already.
Basketball-Related Income and the Length of the Actual Agreement are the big ones. It seems like the players have gotten a lot of what they wanted in the system issues and so the owners are trying to use that to exact what they really want — the upper hand in basketball related income. Both sides are spinning the issues their way (the players would say that they have given up a lot on BRI already and deserve the system “concessions” the owners believe they are making).
The other interesting issue, that Amick points out in his analysis of what the new deal will look like, is Annual Increases in contracts. Players with Bird Rights can currently receive 10.5 percent annual raises and non-Bird Right players could receive eight percent annual raises. The league obviously wants those decreased. There is still some disagreement there, as Amick details. This might be a minor issue, but the increases in compensation from year-to-year could be a big loss for the players.
You can see there is still a lot to negotiate and fight over. But, if there is any optimism in this, the league and the players are very close to a deal. There are big issues to solve and most of the time spent when the two sides get to negotiating again will be spent on those big, divisive issues.
Until then, we will just have to wait on the door step.