Will the NBA season be canceled? Players are already looking at signing with European teams if the lockout continues, as it will.
New Jersey Nets guard Deron Williams is working on a deal with a Turkish team and Kevin Durant and Amare Stoudamire have both talked about playing in Europe. Union chief Billy Hunter has given them all his blessing, which tells you he thinks this stalemate is going to last for some time.
There is a precedent: The NHL lost the 2004-2005 season to a labor dispute. Most American sports fans didn’t even notice until it was time for the playoffs.
It would probably be much the same for the NBA. Probably the most frequent comment about the NBA is, “I don’t bother watching until the playoffs.”
That’s reasonable because the overload of games and excessive travel during the regular season often results in visiting teams sleepwalking through games. That works well for the home teams, as weaker teams can sometimes steal a win from a better team, but it’s cheating fans who pay very high ticket prices.
The NBA could alleviate this problem with two steps: 1) Cut the number of games during the season; and 2) Put in the 60-40 gate split that is the norm in baseball and football.
I’m not naïve enough to think that the season will be permanently shortened, though. The upcoming season, if it’s held at all, is certainly going to be shorter, but that’s a one-time situation.
Neither owners nor players want reduced revenue, which they’d get if the season were shortened.
The practice in the NBA, no doubt originated by the clubs in bigger metropolitan areas, has been for the home team to keep all the gate.
Because of this, schedules are set up to keep travel costs as low as possible, which has the unfortunate result of visiting players getting so tired they just go through the motions.
Will the league change its gate split? That’s a possibility because the stated goal in these negotiations is to have an agreement that would make all clubs profitable. This would be a step in the right direction.
The NBA was the first league to have a salary cap and because of that, the one which just expired was problematical, to say the least. One of its provisions, that salaries of traded players be equal on both sides, has led to trades in which a team would acquire players only to balance the contracts — and immediately cut those players.
The biggest problem, though, is trying to equalize competition between teams when individual players have so much power. We saw that in the last offseason when Dwayne Wade re-signed with the Miami Heat and Chris Bosh and LeBron James soon followed as free agents. That didn’t quite make the Heat NBA champions, but it showed the power that star players have.
League owners would like to limit that power, but no matter what the rules are, they can’t restrain themselves when a good or great free agent comes on the market.
So the world of equality owners say they’re seeking won’t come with a new agreement. Unfortunately, they may sacrifice the season to prove that.