Sunday, September 11, 2011

NBA Lockout: Have Owners' Bargaining Positions Changed?

The bargaining positions of NBA owners reported by Henry Abbott from ESPN last week differ from those reported by Mark Heisler for the LA Times at the all-star break.

A big topic discussed on the latest HEATcast: Impact of Sportswriting, was the reliability of sportswriters in an age of anonymous and questionable sources. A popular NBA story from last week was Truehoop's post on the collective bargaining positions of NBA owners during the lockout. Since Heisler already covered this topic, NBA fans can get an idea of how reliable the Truehoop story is and whether the owners' bargaining positions have changed as the NBA lockout goes into its third month.

This spreadsheet compares the reporting of NBA owners’ bargaining positions by Abbott and Heisler.

In February, Heisler reported nine of 12 members on the NBA’s labor relations committee wanted to drive a hard bargain with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) but only one member wanted to cancel games. Last week, Abbott reported only seven of 12 owners on the committee wanted to take a “hard line” with the players but two of them wanted to cancel games. Voting on the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) isn’t limited to the committee, however. According to Abbott, it requires a majority vote of 16 owners to ratify a new CBA.

Heisler reported at the all-star break that 24 of 30 NBA owners wanted to drive a hard bargain with the players and at least four of them would be willing to cancel games to get the collective bargaining agreement they wanted. Last week, Abbott reported that 17 of 30 NBA owners wanted to drive a hard bargain with the players and at least three to six owners would be willing to cancel games.

Heisler reported that Micky Arison, principal owner of the Miami Heat, was a hawk on CBA negotiations because he had lost millions on the team before the Three Kings took their talents to South Beach, but the Carnival CEO would not support any draconian measures that would cost him one of those contracts. Abbott reported Arison the Three Kings factor made Arison a dove on CBA negotiations.

Changes on the Labor Relations Committee
Below is a summary of the key differences in Abbott and Heisler’s reporting on the positions of owners from the labor relations committee.

Dan Gilbert, Cleveland Cavaliers
In February, Heisler reported that Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wouldn’t be willing to cancel games because he could make over $20 million dollars operating his team since they cut payroll after trading LeBron James. Abbott reported that Gilbert would be willing to miss the season because 1) the Cavs stink, 2) it’s one less year Baron Davis gets paid and 3) it’s one less title for LeBron to win.

HEAT Check: Abbott’s justifications for Gilbert to cancel games and forgo a profitable season don’t pass muster. It seems more credible that the profit motive would supersede spite when it came down to the “Comic Sans Man” voting to cancel a season.

Herb Simon, Indiana Pacers
Heisler reported that Simon was a hawk in the CBA negotiations since he’s lost eight figures owning the team but he did not want to cancel games or the season. Abbott reported the Pacers’ owner should not be considered a hawk because he does not want a long lockout, just a “reasonable” CBA with a decent portion of revenue sharing on the side.

HEAT Check: It seems reasonable that Simon’s position could change after seeing the Pacers make the playoffs and push the Bulls in four close games before being eliminated in five.

Glen Taylor, Minnesota Timberwolves
Heisler reported that Taylor would go with whatever commissioner David Stern wanted in February. Abbott reported a slight shift in Taylor’s position that has the Timberwolves’ owner looking for incremental improvement but not a completely new system.

HEAT Check: The difference in Heisler and Abbott’s reporting of Taylor’s position shouldn’t make a big difference when it comes down to canceling games. Either way, he’s voting with Stern. If Stern plays hardball, then Taylor probably will, too, and vice versa.

Clay Bennett, Oklahoma City Thunder
Heisler reported Bennett’s small market and expiring rookie contracts for star players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook made him a hawk in CBA negotiations, but he also noted the Thunder owner may owe Stern allegiance for backing his move from Seattle. Abbott reported Bennett was a dove, not a hawk, because the Thunder wouldn’t want to miss a season coming off their playoff run to the Western Conference Finals.

HEAT Check: The most important reporting on Bennett was his relationship with Stern. The documentary Sonicsgate also reported the longstanding connection between the Thunder owner and NBA commissioner. Like Taylor, it’s very believable that Bennett will go whichever way Stern wants.

Rich DeVos/Bob Vander Weide, Orlando Magic
Heisler reported the Magic’s representative on the labor relations committee was a hawk in CBA negotiations with a focus (if they’re smart) on adding rules that would facilitate re-signing Dwight Howard. Abbott reported the same concern over Howard but said Magic ownership was a dove in CBA negotiations because they were more concerned about having the best center in the NBA on the court for one last run in their brand new arena.

HEAT Check: It doesn’t really make sense for the Magic to be soft in CBA negotiations because that would be incredibly short-sighted. Why settle for one year of Howard in an expensive, new arena when they could potentially have Howard for multiple years in an expensive, new arena if they just drive a harder bargain with the NBPA?

Other Changes That Could Threaten the Season
Below is a summary of key differences in Heisler and Abbott’s reporting on the collective bargaining positions of owners that aren’t on the labor relations committee but could cost the fans games this season.

Donald Sterling, Los Angeles Clippers
Heisler reported that Sterling was a CBA hawk “sharpening talons” at the all-star break, but Abbott reported the Clippers owner was a dove who wanted to “let the Blake Griffin money machine keep rolling.”

HEAT Check: It’s good news for fans if Sterling’s position has changed but Heisler’s reporting in February may have been more accurate since he worked for the LA Times while Abbott lives in New Jersey. TrueHoop’s Kevin Arnovitz ran a blog about the Clippers but it’s a good bet he didn’t have Heisler’s sources. Additionally, Abbott admitted that Sterling thought the last CBA was a horrible deal for the owners so it’s unlikely that he would completely reverse his position. Bad news for fans is that Sterling would likely vote to cancel games and perhaps the season.

Herb Kohl, Milwaukee Bucks
Heisler reported that Kohl absorbed big losses owning the Bucks, but did not report that he would support canceling the season. Abbott reported those losses resulted in Kohl being ‘as hardcore as anyone’ looking to overhaul the system.

HEAT Check: It’s bad news for fans if the Bucks owner would vote to cancel the season. While the number of owners willing to go that far still constitute a minority, it decreases the pool of owners that would potentially ratify a new CBA that didn’t meet all of the owners demands and thus Kohl's new reported position could extend the lockout.

Joe and Gavin Maloofs, Sacramento Kings
Heisler reported the Maloofs were not the “burn-the-village-to-save-it types” and thus not likely to support cancellation of games but Abbott reported the Kings owners could potentially profit from the lockout.

HEAT Check: If the Maloofs’ willingness to work with the city of Sacramento is altruistic, then perhaps they’re not the scorched earth types. If they’re as phony as Clay Bennett and Abbott’s reporting is accurate, then it’s more potential bad news that NBA fans could face an even longer lockout.

Larry Tanenbaum, Toronto Raptors
Heisler reported the Raptors were relatively secure financially with fans buying NBA tickets to ensure good seats for hockey games. Abbott implied Tanenbaum’s experience with the NHL lockout and the love of hockey in Canada could result in the Raptors ownership supporting a move to cancel the NBA season.

HEAT Check: With the NHL potentially staring another lockout in the face, Tanenbaum should know that canceling a season isn’t all it’s cracked up to be if a team makes money. Heisler may be closer to the mark on this one but it’s impossible to get a good read on the situation.

This spreadsheet lists the bargaining positions of all owners reported by Heisler and Abbott. Hopefully, Abbott is right and the owners are softening since Heisler reported their bargaining positions seven months ago.

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