Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wild Speculation and Outlandish Guesses: Lockout Edition

Be honest: do you care about the lockout? Why or why not?

Joe Bernardo: Absolutely I care. The NBA is more popular now that it has been since before the last lockout. A work stoppage will slow some of the momentum the league has gained the past 3-4 years. Though Jacob is right (in his last blog entry) that true NBA fans will always stay loyal and the cadre of current young stars will keep the league fairly popular, I'm more concerned the lockout might lose those casual fans (like my wife who only watched basketball this season because of the drama surrounding Miami's Superteam and because of how hot Dwight Howard is). Let's face it, the Decision made Lebron a household name. But with a lockout coming, those casual fans will quickly forget what has been an unforgettable season. Sure, it won't be as bad as the drop off after the 1998-99 shortened season, but any work stoppage is not good for the league. Lastly, and more importantly, if the lockout becomes so bad that the season is canceled, I might as well shoot myself in the head because it will kill any chance of my Lakers (who I believe have one, maybe two God willing, years of contention left) from winning another ring and tying those !#@$! Celtics in total championships!

Alex Maki: Yes, I care about the lockout. The real reason? I want to see Rubio play. I want to watch him transform into the NBA fast break maestro we all know he can be. I want to watch an (gasp!) athletic Timberwolves team getting easy dunks in transition and cutting through the lane for delicious Rubio dimes. I want flash. I don’t even care about victories next year.

I am even interested in seeing Rubio doing the crash and burn, or perhaps just performing on par for an NBA point guard. But I need to see what he is capable of, and to finally determine if David Kahn is a crazy genius like Nikola Tesla or a mad scientist in the tradition of Dr. Frankenstein. This roster is just something else…

Franklin Mieuli: It is pretty ridiculous for the writer of an NBA blog to not care about the lockout, but no, I do not. I love basketball, analyzing basketball statistics and talking about transactions, but the business side of it is boring. I know what Bird Rights are, the formula for calculating whether two players can be traded for each other, how much owners make from TV rights and all the other business minutiae of the NBA, but I wish I didn't. I just want to watch basketball.

Jordan Durlester: Sure I care. I care for all the RIGHT reasons, unlike Maki who just wants to see Rubio ball in The Association (Spoiler Alert: Skinny pass-first guard greatly underachieves.)

Jacob Greenberg: I care a lot about the lockout. Besides the fact that I am a rabid fan of the NBA, and that I stupidly started an NBA blog on the eve of a work stoppage, this is a crucial time for the labor movement in America. Unions and worker's rights are under attack all across the country. Collective bargaining is no longer legal in the state of Wisconsin, and similar attacks are being waged by other state governments against unions. Even if this is a squabble between rich men, it doesn't take away from the fact that it is a struggle between labor (the players) and management (the owners). This struggle, like every labor struggle across the country, is crucial for the longterm survival of unionism in a time when unions are in danger of losing their power to effectively represent their workers.

Assess the validity of this statement: Given that 22 (out of 30) franchises in the NBA lost money last season, and that small market teams are struggling to compete with their big market counterparts, both on the court, and in the box office, the owners must achieve a significant victory at the bargaining table.

Joe Bernardo: Small market teams do have it tougher than their big market counterparts, but it's not as bad as many people make it seem. San Antonio won 4 rings in their small market. Utah and Portland have always historically competed. Memphis has a great run this year and are looking to continue their success. Sactown sold out their arena every night, until the Maloof douchebags came into their own financial troubles with their Vegas investments. Miami, often portrayed as a large market, is really a smaller one, just slightly larger than Cleveland. And who can forget, Oklahoma City. Yes, teams such as New Orleans and Milwaukee need more help and teams like New Jersey are better off in Brooklyn, but I say bad business decisions rather than geography are more to blame for this financial mess. Nobody told Orlando to give Rashard Lewis his insane contract AND trade him to take on Gilbert Arenas' contract. Nobody told James Dolan to become bed buddies with Isaiah Thomas and break the heart of every NY Knick fan year after year. Nobody told Golden State (who have the 6th largest market ALL TO THEMSELVES!) to trade away almost every potential franchise player they drafted since the 1980s only to stick to .500 (at best) Nellie-ball. All in all, the only significant victory the owners want to win is to create a system in which they won't suffer any consequences for the asinine business mistakes they make.

Alex Maki: I think it is a fairly valid point. Without thinking it through too much, I believe that the bigger slice of the pie that the players have, the more the system works in the favor of large market teams. Players can demand more money, longer contracts, etc., and the rich teams can afford to bring in more of the overpaid basketball players. And the hierarchy of basketball teams will continue. But the owners need to have a victory, and also make some decisions that will level the playing field, such as a hard salary cap.

Franklin Mieuli: Not only are multiple parts of this statement false, but the entire thing is. The owners claim that 22 franchises lost money last season, while the players claim 9. Surely the true number is somewhere in the middle, and surely the number depends upon how you calculate "lost money."

Secondly, small market teams are not struggling to compete with big market teams. "Small market" San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Portland, Memphis, Orlando, and to an extent teams like Milwaukee and Indiana, are doing just fine. "Big market" teams like LA (Clippers), Golden State, New York are all struggling. The factor that determines whether teams struggle or not is the competency of their owner and front office, not how large of a market they play in.

Jordan Durlester: I agree fairly strongly kinda-sorta. I'm no legal expert but I have looked over the numbers and it seems as if the owners are getting a pretty raw deal. There has to be a better way to write the CBA to keep both the owners and players happy - thus creating a happy fan base.

Jacob Greenberg: Well, maybe. Sorta. Not really. Yeah, some contracts are ridiculously long and expensive. The economy sucks, especially in cities like New Orleans, Memphis, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and so on. But at the same time, the owners did this to themselves? Who asked Atlanta Spirit, LLC to sign Joe Johnson to 6 years, $119 million? Oh, they asked themselves. Who asked the Maloofs to shell out massive contracts to Francisco Garcia, Beno Udrih, Kevin Martin and Kenny Thomas? Oh right, they did that to themselves. Yes, there are some sacrifices the players could make, but the owners have to be protected from themselves.

How many games do you think will be lost this season?

Joe Bernardo: More than the 30 games during the last lockout. I think the players this time around have had more time to prepare for a work stoppage and the owners want no games being played to SAVE money. Ugh...kill me.

Alex Maki: 0. I think the Trilateral Commission (LeBron, Wade, and Riley) will put pressure on both sides behind the scenes to wrap up this deal so they can try to win a championship next year after a full season. You just know this offseason is going to eat those three alive, so they need the season to start ASAP.

In all seriousness, I don’t think the season will start late. Mostly because it would feel so weird for the typical tip-off date to come around and for there to be no basketball. As a social psychologist in training I sometimes need to tell people to not follow their gut. Whatever. I am going to follow my gut.

Franklin Mieuli: None. With the way the NFL labor negotiations are going, I can't believe that the NBA would squander a massive opportunity to dominate the sports market. It might drag on a bit, but all games will be played.

Jordan Durlester: Unlike my thoughts on the current NFL lockout, I really think we're going to miss some basketball games here. My guess is between 15-20 games. There is a significant gap between where the two sides sit and this is going to get REAL ugly.

Jacob Greenberg: For summer league? All of it. Preseason? Probably that too. But the regular season? My guess is zero games. Ten at most. The league is doing really, really well right now; way better than it was in 1998 when the first lockout came around. Along the same lines, the union seems much weaker than it was in 1998. The union had taken a far more aggressive stance, and their rhetoric was far more fiery. Both sides seem to be more focused on coming to an agreement before the start of the regular season. I have to think that both sides have their reasons for dragging negotiations through the offseason--owners can save on operating costs, and players can rest and heal up. I think we'll have games before Thanksgiving.

Respond to this (hypothetical) statement from person who is not a sports fan: "Who cares about pro sports lockouts? It's just rich people fighting over who deserves to be richer."

Joe Bernardo: I can't deny that sports labor disputes are basically struggles between millionaires and billionaires, but there are also those who depend on the league for their livelihood. Think of the ticket sellers, the towel boys, the janitors, the trainers who will get their pink slip at the end of the week. Hell, what about the ticket scalpers, the parking attendants, the dude who sells the bootleg Lakers t-shirts on Crenshaw and Manchester, or the lady who sells the bacon-wrapped hotdogs just outside of Staples Center. Yes, it's true that NBA labor disputes aren't nearly as important as the fight for health care in the US, or the fight against AIDS or famine in Africa, or the fight against US military and corporate hegemony in the Third World. But god damnit, the NBA, though flawed, is still important. Not just to fans like me who use it as a source of entertainment, but also to millions of others who depend on the league and don't want to see it in shambles.

Alex Maki: Can’t say I disagree really. I don’t have much sympathy for either side. Yeah, people enjoy and get pleasure from watching basketball. But they will adjust. Basketball players, coaching staffs, referees, league officials, arena staffs, and front offices would possibly be without paychecks for a while. I worry most about certain members of the coaching and arena staffs. But I don’t have the time or energy to feel bad for most athletes and owners.

Franklin Mieuli: If only the issue were this shallow. In some ways, professional sport labor struggles are a referendum on the economy, labor relations in this country etc. There is no reason that the players (labor) should be making concessions. The NBA has only grown stronger since the last CBA, with a better product on the court, higher attendance, the highest Finals ratings in years, increased jersey sales etc. There may very well be teams that are losing a lot of money, which in any other industry would simply fail and melt away. But because professional sports have a monopoly (and nowadays we give bailouts to to-big-to-fail companies), poorly run organizations continue to lose money and be poorly run. On the surface this is a fight between millionaires and billionaires, but if you go deeper you find a lot of the same issues that Americans debate in other arenas of life.

Jordan Durlester: I wouldn't be caught dead talking to a non-sports fan. However, if I HAD to, I would explain that it's not fair to look at it from that perspective. You have to put the numbers aside and examine the situation from an objective view: you have employees and bosses making money together and figuring how to distribute it is crucial.

Jacob Greenberg: I hear ya. I can't relate to this stuff. But, think about all the people who work in the arenas who rely on the NBA for employment. They don't have an agent who can find them a sweet deal somewhere in Europe to sell hot dogs, or take tickets. The NBA is a major employer, and people need to have an income to survive in this country. The lockout will mean unemployment for hundreds of normal folks, which as far as I'm concerned, is an unacceptable side-effect. Since these employees aren't allowed to be represented by a union themselves, their futures are tied to the negotiating power of the NBPA. This is significant.

Finally, a classic question of any labor struggle: Which side are you on, boys? (Hint: your answer does not necessarily have to be just "the players" or "the owners/league")

Joe Bernardo: Jimmy Hoffa, baby. Like I said earlier, don't punish the players for the mistakes of the owners. But I do think that the players need to concede a bit. Years for guaranteed contracts should go down and veteran and mid-level exceptions should be abolished. Personally, I don't think a hard-cap would work in the NBA since the basketball is so much more star-driven than football, so I believe the salary cap should continue to be somewhat flexible, but with less wiggle room than it has currently.

Alex Maki: I am on the side of a good product with “fair wages” for all. I think basketball players are ridiculously overpaid. Normally I would be on the side of the workers in a labor struggle, but hard to get behind super duper rich “laborers.” But I do worry that if players started making less, the owners would just pocket more of the profits, like corporate CEOs do these days.

I think a good product means finding a better way to give small market teams a chance to improve and compete, year in and year out.

Franklin Mieuli: The players<. The owners are acting as if they have a right to profits. That's not the way it works--you have to earn your profits, and many teams are so poorly run that they deserve to lose money. And even if owners are losing money, they can always sell the team, earning more than they paid for it (and more than they would've if they had just thrown that money into the stock market). Also, the players deserve their money. They are highly skilled laborers, and can do things that only a couple hundred or thousand people in the world can do. Sure, they may not be as "important" to society as doctors/teachers/EMTs, but they have a much more unique skillset. Compared to a professional basketball player, practically anybody can be an EMT or even a doctor. If the owners don't want to lose as much money they SHOULDN'T GIVE ASININE CONTRACTS TO PLAYERS! If they don't want to lose money, they should run their teams like businesses, not like a weekend hobby.

Jordan Durlester: Team Owners (see what I did there?) Over the past 5-10 years the NBA has really turned into a "players league" and I think it's time the owners take back some of the power. I'm not saying take away free agency or restrict "super-teams" but some of these small market teams are deep in the red and deserve some help through the new CBA.

Jacob Greenberg: As in any labor struggle, I am on the side of the lowest, most exploited class. Like Alex, I think players are overpaid anyways, so I'm going with the fans, and the employees of owners who need their jobs to survive. Both sides need to admit their greediness and resolve the conflict. Fewer years on guaranteed contracts would help, as well as a salary cap. But as long as the millionaires argue with the billionaires who sign their checks, I'm standing alongside fans of the game, as well as the employees of NBA franchises who do not get a spot at the bargaining table.

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