NBA, union agreement: not much change for fans

NBA, union have a labor deal that gives the owners $3 billion more over the life of the contract. But the NBA, union agreement keeps the league's structure largely intact. 

Mary Altaffer/AP/File
In this file photo from June, NBA commissioner David Stern speaks to reporters during a news conference after a meeting with the players' union in New York. Except for the change in the revenue split, the NBA, union deal changed very little.

The words and phrases associated with the NBA's recent lockout suggested monumental stakes: "nuclear winter," ''catastrophic damages," ''impasse," ''hard-line stances" and "dissolution."

The league's knowledgeable fans at least thought a new labor agreement could right some of the structural wrongs, to create a system where — as in the NFL — a small-market team such as the Charlotte Bobcats has as much chance of winning as the big-market Los Angeles Lakers.

And considering recent attendance issues, the 76ers in some ways are financially in the same boat as small-market teams such as Charlotte, Sacramento, or Milwaukee.

To understand what happened in the final days of negotiating, picture a castle guarded by the NBA owners. They'd tossed out the players and declared change. For nearly five months, the owners refused admittance, swarmed all sides and angles, and proclaimed they were working to preserve the castle's dignity and future.

And then, one day in late November, the owners just stepped aside and said, "Our castle is your castle."

This was not the wrong thing to do or say — compromise was necessary — but it's difficult to understand the months of posturing and sacrifice when the same deal could have been reached without having ever kicked out the players, without having ever missed a moment.

Compared to what they set out to do, the NBA owners changed very little of the league's structure. They saved themselves a bucketful of money — $3 billion during the life of the collective bargaining agreement — but then shared control of the castle.

Perhaps that $3 billion was sort of like an admission fee. Perhaps it's all the owners wanted all along.

Because the truth of the league's next collective bargaining agreement is that, for the average fan, very little will change.

Also for the Sixers, very little will change. From one viewpoint, they represent a major metropolitan area that should be on par with the league's wealthiest teams. But the reality is that their attendance figures — and a string of years in the red — allow them a piggy bank more equivalent to those of the league's have-nots.

Here are some changes that, were they made, could have helped the have-nots, including the Sixers:

Franchise tag. This item was reportedly on the table during the early months of negotiating. It would allow each NBA team to "franchise-tag" a specific player, who would then be unable to sign elsewhere.

Inclusion of such a provision would have allowed the Orlando Magic to franchise-tag Dwight Howard. Instead, it's likely Howard will force a trade or play out the season and become an unrestricted free agent at season's end.


Although the Sixers don't have as imminent a need for the provision as the Magic, it's possible that in a few years, if either Jrue Holiday or Evan Turner blossoms, the Sixers would have benefited from the franchise tag.

As it stands, there is very little a team can do to keep its drafted star, and nothing a team can do if that star is willing to take a little bit less money to play elsewhere.

Contract lengths and minimum roster salary. At one point, NBA owners wanted to drastically limit the number of years one team could offer another team's restricted or unrestricted free agent. Essentially, this would limit an outsider's chance of signing the player, because the home team would have an advantage in years of contract and total money of offer.

The Sixers' crucial coming move will be making a decision on Thaddeus Young's contract. Although he's restricted — meaning the Sixers will have three days to match another team's offer — the league's new collective bargaining agreement does not limit Young's ability to sign a lucrative offer sheet. It's even possible that the new collective bargaining agreement will cause another team to overpay for Young's services. Every team's payroll must now reach 85 percent of the league-standard $58 million salary cap, meaning a few teams will be forced to overpay players to reach the minimum amount of roster salary.

The midlevel exception drama. It was reported during the negotiations that the owners wanted to eliminate the midlevel exception for teams with payrolls higher than the salary cap. The midlevel exception has always been an opportunity for high-payroll teams to sign an impact player to a significant contract.

Eliminating the midlevel for taxpaying teams would force the league's second-tier talent to sign with teams able to offer the contract — usually teams such as the Kings, Bucks, and Bobcats, and even the 76ers. This would disperse the talent and balance the playing field.

The owners did not completely cave on the midlevel, eventually agreeing to the following: a maximum midlevel offer of a four-year/$20 million contract for nontax teams, and a maximum midlevel offer of a three-year/$9 million contract for taxpaying teams.

That will likely be a motivating difference for the league's second-tier talent, but the opportunity is still available for players to sign with taxpaying teams such as the Lakers, Mavericks, and Knicks.

Until the Sixers make their free-agency moves, it is unclear if they will be a taxpaying team.

In addition to recouping losses, the NBA owners said they would fight for system issues that would better allow smaller markets to keep their stars. They also said they would fight for leaguewide competitive balance.

Yet it now seems the owners have postponed that fight.

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