And that's how Saturday's deal ultimately got done: Adult professionals speaking to each other, fully aware what was on the line, away from a heavy media presence waiting outside the door. In other words, it was everything that the first 140-plus days of the lockout wasn't.
One of the initial reactions from some in the U.S. media has been to congratulate the NBA and its players for reaching a compromise in an era where compromise appears impossible in Washington, DC.
I think it's
worth noting however that these are business people we are dealing with, not
politicians. Business people have money to lose. Like any labour showdown, the
NBA lockout was full of tough talk and incendiary optics, but both sides
understood what was at stake - it would be virtual suicide to kill the season,
particularly moronic given the upswing in marketability the league experienced
at the end of last year.
And deep down, some of the players - widely viewed as the group who would blink first in this mess - had to consider how the NHL's union split after the entire 2004-05 hockey season was cancelled.
Owners came out on top
So who won? The owners. As if it should be a surprise that the richer group would come out ahead. You can make that determination solely by considering the players agreed to reduce their share of the league's basketball-related income (BRI) from 57 per cent to a reported 51.2 per cent.
While the players also compromised on certain issues that will affect free agency and sign-and-trades, a compromise that the owners made involves the free agency mid-level exception (MLE), which is a number of $5 million US teams can use on free agents. Teams now $4 million over the luxury tax - a major issue the league wanted changed over during the lockout - will not be able to use the MLE.
What the Heat can keep
However, as Brian Windhorst of ESPN pointed out over the weekend, the Miami Heat stands to benefit right away because while they are over the salary cap and paying luxury tax, they aren't $4 million over. That allows them to keep their $5M MLE. In English, it means they'll probably keep Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and be able to add a veteran. For the Heat over the next two seasons, this isn't a bad deal.
Beyond that may be a different story.
Some of the biggest changes are to the aforementioned luxury tax, the penalty that tries to keep big-market, free-spending teams like the Knicks and the Lakers in check. Up until now however, it was a dollar-for-dollar penalty (spend $1 million over the cap, pay $1 million in tax). Starting in 2013, it changes to $1 to $1.50 for the first $5 million, rising to $1 to $3.25 for $25 million over the threshold. To put it in perspective, the Lakers paid about $21 million in luxury tax last season. Under the new rules, they'd pay about $68 million.
Even for an egotistical free-spending billionaire along the lines of a Mark Cuban, that's a number that affects the bottom line. Some have even suggested we'll be entering the sabermetric era of NBA basketball, where cheap, economical players will be viewed at a premium across the league. Like JP Ricciardi and his obsession with On-Base Percentage, expect many NBA GM's to display an upsurge in attention to APBRmetrics.
As for basketball itself, 66 games is better than 50, and just might be more entertaining than 82. It will unfold as a bit of a travel nightmare with teams playing at least one back-to-back-to-back, but that's the way it is. I'll leave the bulk of predictions for later, but I will throw this out there: When Miami wins the title in June, there will still be Phil Jackson-types calling for an asterisk to be placed next to their name.
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