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NBA lockout: Players have zero leverage

October 5, 2011 |  8:08 am

Derek Fisher

They correctly argue that they have offered all the concessions. They correctly argue that the owners have bullied more than negotiated. They correctly argue that their presence mainly drives the league's popularity.

To end the NBA lockout, however, none of that matters. All that matters is who has the leverage. The players have none. If they did, they would be weighing contract offers from overseas teams that match their NBA deals, attract network television deals on their numerous barnstorming exhibitions and live comfortably on endorsement deals alone. Only a handful of superstars, including Kobe Bryant, fits that description. 

On Tuesday, the NBA canceled all preseason games. On Monday, the league will cancel the first two weeks of the season. And that may just mark the beginning. That's why, even if the owners are mostly responsible for this lockout, the players union needs to accept a deal before the negotiating conditions become more serious.

The deal may not match the 53% the players union wants of basketball-related income (BRI), feature a hard cap and strip the players of guaranteed contracts. But the longer the players wait, the less likely owners will consider offering anything remotely attractive, such as the 50-50 split that Commissioner David Stern said he offered to the union as an item he would seek ownership approval for, but was met with rejection. 

The owners have resources to stomach a lost or reduced season. It may be misguided that they feel entitled to a profit regardless of economic conditions. Their strapped resources because of bloated long-term deals to middle-tier talent is mostly a result of poor front office decisions. The league's contention that 22 of 30 teams lost $300 million last season should factor in interest payments and outside revenue the teams generate. But facts and fairness don't matter.

National Basketball Players Assn. President Derek Fisher earns kudos for stressing to his colleagues about saving their income. He deserves compliments for speaking eloquently on the issues. He warrants credit for confronting the league's pressure to blindly accepting a deal.

But the little leverage the union has will quickly ebb. Expiring paychecks will immediately form player fractures. Agents' call for decertification will grow louder. The public frustration will grow fierce once sports fans are no longer distracted with the NFL.

The players union needs to broker a deal soon to minimize their losses in a fight they cannot win. Unfortunately for them, time is running out. 


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Photo: Players union President Derek Fisher, center, of the Lakers is flanked by the Celtics' Kevin Garnett, left, and Paul Pierce in New York on Tuesday. Credit: Bebeto Matthews / Associated Press