We’ve asked five of the most knowledgeable minds covering the NBA’s labor dispute to weigh in on some key issues surrounding the current lockout.
Larry Coon: Covers labor issues for ESPN.com
John Lombardo: NBA reporter, SportsBusiness Journal
Ken Berger: NBA reporter for CBSSports.com
Darren Rovell: CNBC sports business reporter
David Aldridge: NBA.com and TNT reporter
WHEN WILL THE LOCKOUT END?
Coon: At least November. Probably January. There’s a very real chance it could cost the whole season.
Lombardo: I think it’s going to be awhile. There are some big philosophical differences that still exist.
Berger: I am predicting Oct. 15. I think that will be the drop dead time for no regular season games to be lost, and ultimately I don’t think either side wants to go down that road.
Rovell: I don’t think we can begin to contemplate the end being near until September 15. We have to get close to missing a game. That’s the first requirement. Leverage only comes when people are close to missing games.
Aldridge: I got a Christmas kind of feeling.
HOW IS THIS WORK STOPPAGE DIFFERENT THAN 1998?
Coon: The issues today are bigger. The league sees its financial system as fundamentally broken and needs to take very big steps to fix it.
Lombardo: The league’s in a different place. Revenues are higher. Players are making more. Owners are spending more.
Berger: The owners are far more entrenched in their position and they have much more far-reaching objectives than they did then.
Rovell: The stakes are similar. In ’98, we had (Michael) Jordan leaving. So there was the same risk in the drop-off in momentum, probably even greater. What’s different is the stakes are higher from a financial perspective because the salaries have gotten higher.
Aldridge: In ’98 they were looking to assure themselves of cost certainty. Now they’re trying to assure themselves of profit certainty. That’s a little harder.
WHICH SIDE CAN LEAST AFFORD A LOST SEASON?
Lombardo: Both sides have a lot to lose.
Berger: Financially, the players. But neither side can afford it from other perspectives in terms of the hit that the sport would take and the time it would take to rebuild the image.
Rovell: There are teams that can’t afford a lost season. Teams that have built momentum like Memphis and Atlanta. And there a players that can’t afford it. But as a whole, it really depends on who wins in the end. That lost season might be worth it for five years of a better system.
Aldridge: Obviously the players have less money to play with than the owners do. The owners will, if not make money, they certainly won’t lose as much money if they don’t play. So the players would be the ones that would suffer more economically for sure.
WHICH SIDE IS RIGHT?
Coon: It’s nuanced. Neither side is entirely right nor entirely wrong.
Lombardo: Owners have their views and players have their ideas. That’s why it’s a negotiation.
Berger: Both are partially wrong. I think the side that is over-reaching in a big way is the owners. They’re trying to force the players to account for the economic downturn and some of their own poor business decisions.
Rovell: Neither. Should the players take responsibility for the growing of basketball related income? I think that’s the essential question.
Aldridge: It’s hard to say. I understand that the owners are spending more money than they would like to, but no one is telling them to do that. On the other hand, the players have to understand that we’re coming out of a very deep recession and there are a lot of people who would love to have a job, much less a job that pays them an average of $5.7 million a year.
ONE THING OWNERS ARE MOST LIKELY TO GIVE UP?
Coon: A hard cap.
Lombardo: Their biggest issue is a hard cap.
Berger: The hard cap. If they can get the salary reductions they’re looking for, it wouldn’t be as important.
Rovell: The request for the back money for the escrow. That or non-guaranteed contracts if they can get one less year on new contracts.
Aldridge: At the end of the day, they will not have a completely hard cap.
ONE THING PLAYERS ARE MOST LIKELY TO GIVE UP?
Coon: The split of the revenue.
Lombardo: They’ve already offered to restructure their salaries.
Berger: Within reason, money.
Rovell: They’d be willing to share some of the owners’ new expenses and reduce their percentage of the pie.
Aldridge: Money first of all. But I think they’ll have to give up at least one of the exceptions that are currently in place.
ONE NON-NEGOTIABLE FOR THE OWNERS?
Coon: The split of the revenue.
Lombardo: How the money is split.
Berger: Keeping the disparity in payroll as wide as it is. They want a much narrower gap between the top paying teams and the lowest paying teams.
Rovell: They’re not going to do a deal without at least a 15 percent rollback in player salaries.
Aldridge: The split of basketball related income. They’re going to have to get around 50-50.
ONE NON-NEGOTIABLE FOR THE PLAYERS?
Coon: A hard cap.
Lombardo: Guaranteed contracts.
Berger: A dramatic pay reduction in the absence of the owners making some sacrifice themselves.
Rovell: Guaranteed contracts. They will not give that up.