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What agents think
by Jorge Sierra / May 12, 2005

- Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the possibility of a lockout in the NBA?

Bill Neff (represents Troy Hudson and Kevin Ollie): I think there will be a lockout. It is simply in David Stern's hands. He and he alone will determine whether there is a lockout. The owners have a good deal now. Phoenix received a record sum for the sale of its team, as did Cleveland. It cost Charlotte, an expansion team, $300 million, to enter the league. We have a good thing going. I hope commissioner Stern pays careful attention to the situation in hockey and we never approach the arrogance of the NHL owners and Players Association.

David Bauman (represents Predrag Stojakovic, Vladimir Radmanovic and Andrew Bogut): I am very pessimistic that the NBPA and NBA will be able to reach a fair agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement prior to June 30. Therefore, I think the prospects of the NBA locking out the players on July 1 is virtually guaranteed at this point. The reason for this is it appears that the NBA is not negotiating in good faith. They talk about give and take, but from what I have been told by the NBPA, it is all "take" from the NBA and all they want the players to do is "give." That is neither fair nor appropriate given David Stern's statements that this is a partnership between ownership and players, and that this new CBA is all about tweaks.

It is not a tweak to move from 6 and 7 year contracts to 3 and 4 years. It is not a tweak to keep rookie wage scale contracts as long as 5 years, but only guarantee 2 years. It is not a tweak to go from 10% and 12.5% raises and go to 5% raises. It is not a tweak to reduce the mid-level exception. It is not a tweak to force each and every rookie to limit his salaries in the first 3 years, even if a player is a second-round player (like Gilbert Arenas) or undrafted. It is not a tweak to put in a 20-year age limit. it is not a tweak to have a super-luxury tax on the top 5 teams that would punish those teams with money to spend and which would destroy the free agent market. These are not tweaks in the system. These are serious issues with serious consequences for the players.

Keith Kreiter (represents Maciej Lampe): I am not overly optimistic that we will see a settlement within the next several weeks. There are a few major issues that are causing a snag. The current system has proven to be very effective and the league is asking for a few concessions that appear to be a tough sell. It is certainly possible that a deal could be reached by mid-summer, although not likely. I do feel that a deal will be signed prior to the beginning of next season. Both sides have way too much to lose and the NHL disaster has created a heightened sense of urgency. Both sides are working very hard and I'm sure some type of compromise will be reached.

Agent A (requested anonymity): I think there is a good chance there will be a lockout during summer league, but there is no way there will be a lockout that affects the season. The NBA may want to put pressure on the players' moral and summer league is a big expense. So it really won't hurt the teams at all.

- What do you think will be the biggest obstacle in the negotiations?

Bill Neff: The biggest obstacle to the negotiations will be the league's attempt to shorten the Bird and early Bird contracts from 7 and 6 to 4 and 3. No agent has ever forced a team to take a player. Teams can say no.

David Bauman: The biggest obstacle to the negotiations will be the length of years, annual raises and the luxury tax / escrow tax issues. What other employer in America takes 10% back from its employees simply because the employer has failed to abide by normal and reasonable budgets? If a team or employer does not have the money to pay its employees, then they should not agree to pay that money. But this escrow system is taking 10% of the money from the players is hurting each and every player – from Shaq all the way down to minimum players.

Keith Kreiter: I just feel the concept of shortening the maximum length of all deals from 7 to 4 years is excessive.

- What would be the single major change you'd make to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement?

Bill Neff: I would get rid of all tax scenarios because they serve to give certain teams a disincentive to compete.

David Bauman: The single change I'd make to the current CBA is the elimination of restricted free agency. It is an antiquated system that was struck down in court over 20 years ago and it in the single worst restriction on younger players. For teams to announce publicly, "I will match any offer made on my up and coming star player," indicates how bad this rule is. First of all, that statement indicates that this is bad-faith negotiating. Other teams will be hesitant to make offers, and as a result the original team gets to keep its player for less money. I would do away with this immediately if we could.

Keith Kreiter: I would like to see teams freed up a bit more to work trades. Rather than having to match salaries within 15%, I would like to see this percentage raised to create more flexibility. Also, a sleeper issue is the international buyout figure should be increased from the current max of $350,000. A more appropriate number would be $750,000 or higher. There is currently zero governance in Europe with respect to clubs signing young kids to insane contracts. These multi-year deals include buyout figures that are completely out of line with fair business practice.

With the current figure being so low, most kids have to take 25% of their entire NBA deal as an advance, which is then passed on to their international club to pay off a percentage of their debt load. This advance is then prorated and deducted from their gross salary covering the first 3 years of their NBA deal. This reduces their take-home sum significantly. Any relief with respect to this issue would be a wonderful victory for the international players.

Agent A: The players to get a bigger percentage of all basketball related income

- Do you support the age-limit rule David Stern is proposing?

Bill Neff: I would not have an age limit because all these proclamations have nothing to do with an age limit. They have all to do with limiting the number of contracts an 18-year-old can acquire. If an 18-year-old gets a five-year deal as a first-round draft pick, then a seven-year deal, he is age 30 and can get a third five- or six-year deal. But if he is 20, then does a five-year deal and then he does a seven-year deal, he is 32 and may be unlikely to get that third contract. That is the motivation. I truly wish the age limit existed to protect the majority of the younger players from making a mistake, but that is not the motivation here. I truly wish all these young players, both in high school and college, would seek advice from knowledgeable people – not the majority of agents who tell them what they want to hear, but qualified professionals who tell them what they need to hear.

David Bauman: I absolutely and positively am against the age rule being proposed, even for 19 years. I represent some of the top international players in the world, including likely Andrew Bogut, Nemanja Aleksandrov, Marko Tomas, Roko Ukic, Erazem Lorbek, Drago Pasalic, Stefano Mancinelli and Dusan Sakota for the 2005 NBA Draft. Also, in the NBA, I represent Peja Stojakovic, Vladimir Radmanovic, Nenad Krstic, Carlos Delfino and others. These players have specific issues and challenges coming from Europe and beyond, but one thing is certain – they all have the maturity and work ethic to play in the NBA. Putting an arbitrary age limit on these types of players is unfair and unjust. Are there young players who are not mature enough to be in the NBA? Leon Smith, yes. Others, yes. But it should be up to the teams to do their vetting and research on these players. Don't punish all players for Washington's and Dallas' mistakes. How do we explain LeBron James' success story?

Keith Kreiter: My only question is this... If LeBron James were 17 years old, would this issue even be in play? I think not. Therefore, I really believe that shutting the door behind LeBron is not fair to every other talented kid who may need to play professionally to provide for his family. Having said that, I really like the compromise being proposed by the league; allow kids to enter their name in the draft thus ensuring that they do not lose out on their rookie scale contract while playing in the NBDL. This is a terrific idea and one that should be considered. If this resolution gets put through, then I would feel much better about a minimum age requirement. As long as this new rule does not inhibit these young kids from earning a substantial income, I am all for it.

Agent A: The ironic part of this argument is that while some of the players and the Players' union are opposed to an age limit, the fact is that for every young player under 20 that makes the NBA, a veteran player is quite possibly losing his job.

Jorge Sierra is the editor of HoopsHype.com

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