How do you like the lockout so far?
For you NBA fans who aren’t digging it, tough luck, because there will be lots more just like it.
At this point, highlights include... nothing.
The two sides didn’t meet in July, which was a no-brainer. If they had, neither would have budged an inch. It was actually a truce, relieving the principals of spending hour after agonizing hour, glaring at each other.
As for August, meetings are expected!
Of course, all they did Monday was glare at each other, showing they’re still in the Show Trial phase, with both sides digging in, knowing the other side has no intention of giving an inch until it gets a lot later than this.
This is where both sides, which only dislike each other now, start to get upset about the other side’s arrogance, sham tactics and willingness to Torch The Game if that’s what it takes.
This is also where they begin invoking doomsday, however politely, as when David Stern said, “I don’t feel optimistic about the players’ willingness to engage,” and Derek Fisher agreed, “We’re very, very far apart.”
Both sides know the press, which lives for doomsday scenarios (cancellation of the NFL season, U.S. default, et al) is capable of coming up with enough mushroom-cloud imagery to flip out talk shows for months.
Along with that come the legal maneuvers, as Stern launched his own preemptive offensive, while Billy Hunter plays it cool, proceeding with his NLRB complaint instead of decertifying as NFL players did and NBA agents want him to do.
(Hint for Billy: Stern is too smooth for this one. All David’s billing and cooing about negotiations in spring was aimed at showing the NLRB that he was, too, negotiating in good faith.)
Actually, it looks exactly the way David Stern and his owners, the aggressors in this conflict, want it to look.
(It’s true, 80 percent of the owners operate too close to the blade and are entitled to relief.)
(It’s also true the union has signed off on the notion of giving back, and has dropped from its offer from its present 57 percent of revenue to 54 percent. Of course, the owners say it’s not really 54 percent but whatever it is, it’s a giveback.)
(It’s also true the owners also have an issue with themselves, with the big teams – Lakers, Bull, Knicks, Rockets, Clippers – taking almost all of the profits and everyone else in, out or way into the red under their old vestigial revenue-sharing plan.)
(Where the one issue ends and the other begins is what they’re working out this summer.)
Unfortunately, with no NFL lockout to hype to obscene heights, only to see it turn into nothing, and no NFL free agency to track, the press will get really antsy in August.
This will result in as many End of the NBA As We Know It Scenarios as editors can get their people to put out, if they can get them back off vacation.
And we won’t even have gotten to September... when nothing will get done, either!
Yes, they’ll have meetings.
No, they won’t make a deal.
Yes, they will really start to hate each other.
Remember when NFL talks got so hot the owners ejected the lawyers on both sides?
Some of the same lawyers are involved in this one, like the acerbic union counsel, Jeff Kessler, whom NFL and NBA owners consider the human equivalent of fingernails scratching across a blackboard.
Of course, this just makes Kessler a worthy foe for the eloquent Stern, who, when crossed, is capable of silencing an entire law firm with his withering sarcasm.
Their Duel of Giants is actually scheduled for mid-September, which is when, and only when both sides will get serious.
If there’s deal by October 1, they can start the season on time.
(While otherwise acting as if it has no players, who no longer appear on its web site, TV network, etcetera, the NBA released its schedule, showing its non-existent players would open November 1, almost a week later than last season.)
Maybe they can fudge that by a few days to October 5 or so.
If there’s no deal by then, you’ll know Stern is really serious... or putting on the show he has to put on for his never-before-so-militant owners.
That’s the real deadline. Until that, or a week or two before, there may be plenty of comings, going and, of course, talk, but it will all be BS.
Beyond early October...
I’ll believe this impasse will get past Nov. 1 – meaning a December 1 start – when I see it.
(Not that very many others see it my way. Laker broadcaster John Ireland, who spent last season asking everyone how they thought this would turn out, told me I was the only one predicting they’d miss one month or less.)
Here’s how bitter the divide between owners and players is:
It’s not really such a divide, they’re just so ready to rumble, no one wants to admit it.
The union claims it has dropped to 54 percent... meaning it’s willing to take 52 percent.
Stern says the NBA will “at least” triple revenue sharing, currently around $50 million (to baseball’s $450 million)... meaning he’s willing to quadruple it
Based on next season’s projected $4 billion in basketball-related revenue, that would be a $200 million giveback from players and a $150 million boost in big owners’ contribution to revenue sharing.
That’s a grand total of $350 million, or about what Stern says they’re losing annually (which they are, counting paper losses for depreciation, and the millions of expenses the owners pay themselves in salary.)
In other words, they’re already close!
That’s my story, up to October 5, anyway.
Follow Mark Heisler on Twitter at @MarkHeisler