LAWRENCE, Kan. — On Friday, the NBA announced the cancellation of 43 preseason games and the indefinite postponement of training camp, which was due to start Oct. 3.
Veteran Thunder power forward Nick Collison, who was at his alma mater of Kansas for an exhibition game last weekend, has closely followed the league's labor negotiations. Shortly after Friday's announcement, Collison spoke candidly of what's gone wrong trying to secure the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement:
What is your general mood right now?
"It's disappointing. As players, we feel like we've come a long way. We've already offered significant givebacks, we just haven't seen any movement from the other side. All along, they've said they were going to lock us out, and here we are."
Is there still hope to start the season on time?
"We'll see what happens. You hope the other side will see the momentum the league had and you hope they won't want to sacrifice that for their demands. To be honest, it's a little disappointing right now. There's still some time. We've got about 2-3 weeks to maybe get it done by November (the start of the regular season)."
Let's say a deal does not come in 2-3 weeks. Are we looking at a February start at best?
"I can kind of see the writing on the wall. These guys (owners) are going to try to make us bleed a little to try and get what they want. That's their game plan, because clearly they haven't tried to negotiate. That's kind of our stand. We try to meet in the middle somewhere, but I think they're a little more interested in trying to break us and force a deal down our throat."
Can the players do anything to ensure no games will be lost?
"We (players) have come more than enough. I know fans don't really want to hear about the details, but we feel good about how far we've come. We've made a real effort to negotiate. We still feel we're not getting enough from the other side."
If the two sides can agree on the salary cap and percentages on basketball-relation income (BRI), will the remaining issues fall into place pretty quickly?
"Yeah, I think it's the split and the system. Basically, they (owners) want the hard cap. We would like to continue as is, give teams some options to get a player, give teams some flexibility. Those two things are it. The rest will be done quickly. That's what we're talking about here. Many things will figure themselves out."
Players were guaranteed 57 percent of revenue sharing in the previous CBA. What is an acceptable number now?
"We're down to 54 percent or whatever now, and we're not done negotiating. That's a lot of money in real dollars. We've come a long way. We definitely want to play. We still think the system we have in place works well for them and for us."
How much financially are the players willing to sacrifice?
"We've already given back on this (in terms of future revenue sharing). We've already done that. We're not getting a dollar more than we've gotten before. We're giving back, we just don't know how much."
Will players be asked to refund money to owners on their existing contract?
"It's off the table for us to give back on our current deals. As a union, I don't think we're going to agree to any deal like that. I don't think that's on the table."
How about the length of contracts?
"It's definitely an issue, but I think we could find some common ground on years."
Are players upset with how much money they make?
"I think the public has a tough time understanding because we do have a good deal. As an NBA player, we're very fortunate. We're never going to deny that. But when you look at the entire business and the dollars being generated, the league has used the players to drive most of that revenue. We just want a fair deal."
For you personally, you're set. You've been in the league since 2003. You got a four-year extension last year and a $6.5 million bonus. Why be so deeply involved in the CBA?
"All of us realize how fortunate we are to play in this league. A lot of players in the past who didn't have it as good as we have it fought really hard to get certain things for players. I think we all feel a responsibility to get a fair deal for the rest of the guys, current guys, younger guys."
What about the minimum age requirement? Players are supporting that kids ought to be able to enter the draft directly out of high school, while commissioner David Stern favors 20 as the minimum age.
"That's an issue for us. That'll be negotiated at some point."
Why favor a kid trying to steal your job straight out of high school?
"That 18-year-old kid is going to be part of our union, too, someday. We feel as a group that if a business wants to employ you, an NBA team wants to employ you, you should have the right to play. Our union is made up of a whole bunch of guys – young guys, old guys, mid-level guys, stars, minimum guys. I think overall it's more about what you think is right. We feel if somebody wants to hire that kid or draft that kid, we feel that's the right thing to do."
You're not allowed to talk with any team officials from the Thunder, including coach Scott Brooks, general manager Sam Presti, trainers, equipment people, PR, film crew, et al. Has that been difficult?
"It would be nice to be able just to chat with Sam and Coach Brooks in the summer in a friendly way. I've got buddies who work for the team. I've been with (director of team operations) Marc St. Yves and (director of athletic performance) Dwight Daub since Day 1."
Why can't you contact medical staff, especially if rehab is involved?
"It's probably just easier to keep a clean separation, but on the medical side, I think that's a real risk for the team. It just doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. For me, being a little bit long in the tooth, it's nice to be able to talk to the trainers and the physical therapy side just to try to keep up with everything. I don't understand that part of it (the lockout). At the end of the day, we're going to come back and play, and if a guy were to get injured, wouldn't they want some kind of say in how his rehab is going? Why not be able to stay in touch with medical staff?"
They're protecting some huge investments.
"A guy like Kevin Durant, they owe him $85 million over the next five years. If something, God forbid, was ever to happen to Kevin, wouldn't they want something to say about it? That's one part I don't understand. It doesn't do anybody any good. I don't think that's bringing us to the (bargaining) table. It doesn't create any leverage for them (owners) really. At the end of the day, we're not going to give into less money because we want to see our trainers. It's easier to make a clean break. I'm sure that's why they do it."
Given the current state of the NBA, is this a good time or a bad time for a new CBA to be needed?
"It's so frustrating. The league did so well last year. We were so into it. It's the most popular the league has been in a long, long time. As players, we're ready to go. Hopefully the other side will come around."