Wednesday, September 8, 2004

NBA Labor Issues

The NBA Season will have the nice added touch of……LABOR TALKS!!!! Ah, nothing better than a bunch of takes about who is punking who! Well, this labor deal may not be as gloomy as say, the MLB….or nowhere near as possibly fatal as the NHL. But there are some interesting points that need to be ironed out.

Four-year maximum contracts. Currently, players can sign for a maximum of six years, seven if they're re-signing with their original teams. The league wants to cut that to four years to reduce the risk of locking into long-term guarantees. The league may very well get their wish here…and may concede on one of the points made later. As most of you know, a big problem in the NBA is the “trading of contracts” that goes on. Trades are SO hard to pull off in the NBA now, unless you get 3 or 4 teams in on them. That affects those lower-end players that seem to get thrown in to every deal just to make it done. With the 4-year max, trades [most likely] wouldn’t be needed to be made as much….and neither would this ongoing quest by everybody to sign every big final-year contract [I.e. Walker, Abdur-Rahim, etc].

Escrow tax. NBA players give 10 percent of each paycheck to an escrow fund. The league has a formula that divides total NBA revenue, with 55 percent to players and 45 percent to league owners. If the players make more than 55 percent, the owners make up the difference by keeping the money in the escrow account. If it's less, the players get the money back -- but they have gotten a rebate only once since the agreement went into effect for the 2001-02 season. This will be a top target for elimination by the union, and the league likely will concede to get their other goals accomplished.

20-year-old age limit. Oddly, this is an issue neither side is wedded to. The league included an age limit among its demands, and Stern [publicly, at least] will contend it's a big issue. Legally, though, an age limit probably won't stand up, and Stern must know that. The union is officially opposed to a limit. But most of the players would welcome one. They're not going to be 19 again, so why should they care? The union's opposition to the rule is driven by agents. …obviously. BUT, unlike in 1998-1999, the agents aren’t running the labor talks like Mr. Faulk did then. Faulk not only held the key to the NBA’s biggest stars….but also was the agent of the guys doing the negotiating [Jordan, Ewing]. Now, the talent is spread out amongst many agents.

July moratorium. The league imposes a two-week moratorium in July, when free agents can be recruited but not signed. After the fiasco this offseason that resulted in the Cavaliers losing Carlos Boozer because the Jazz made a better offer during the moratorium, this rule will be tossed out altogether. I liked the rule…because I felt that it kept teams from bum-rushing a player and getting him locked in too hastily. For instance, a team might hurry up to get a contract together before the guy has a chance to visit another team. The moratorium helped players be able to step back and totally evaluate his choice. But, if the players want it gone….then that’s their right.

Draft reform. One of my favorite rumors is the possibility of eliminating the 2nd round of the draft. This would actually help ease out the age limit issue. Think about it. In today’s draft world, teams routinely use their 2nd round picks on foreign players who aren’t quite ready to come over to the NBA. Those guys can keep developing…and when they are ready to come over…the team has his draft rights already established [and cheap]. NBA teams also send the American players overseas to work on their games while they sit and wait. Right now, the Chicago Bulls are doing so with Dookie Chris Duhon. The elimination of this round would mean that A) teams may then choose to select these Europeans in the first round which B) means that there are less spots for those underclassmen and high school kids to get that guaranteed money which means that C) they may elect to stay in the NCAA and D) means that they are a little better developed when they do get drafted.

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