Friday, May 6, 2011

Even a Great NBA Postseason Can't Overshadow The Looming Lockout

By Charlie Scaturro

Photo Credit: Harry How/Getty Images North America
I hate to be that guy who can't enjoy the moment, but even as I've watched Zach Randolph suddenly morph into the most unstoppable post player in the league, the Lakers struggle with "trust issues", and the Miami Heat turn into the bully everyone thought they were going to be at the start of the season, I can't stop thinking about what awaits the NBA this summer. 

Anyone who follows sports is already sick of the term "lockout" thanks to what's been going on with the NFL over the past few months, but the impending NBA work stoppage has the potential to make the NFL's current drama between the players and the owners look like nothing more than a lover's quarrel.

As opposed to the NFL lockout, which is basically a bunch of greedy owners deciding that since their sport is so profitable they're going to try to get an even bigger piece of the pie, the NBA as a whole and many individual teams are actually losing money and changes need to be made in order to save professional basketball in this country.

It hasn't been highly publicized, but the NBA has been losing hundreds of millions of dollars every season since the current collective bargaining agreement started in 2005.  And while the value of most NBA franchises continues to rise, the number of teams that lost money in 2010 outnumbered those who turned a profit.  In total, 17 of the 30 NBA franchises lost money last year and even though big market teams like the Knicks and Lakers did just fine, other organizations that don't have the luxury of being based in a major American city operated at a loss.

It's doesn't take a genius to figure out why the NBA is in such a dire financial state and a quick look at the payroll of pretty much any team around the league is basically all you need to understand the situation. 

To put it simply: role players and guys who are not superstars make too much money.

Just from scanning over the first few payrolls I came across, here's what some notable players made this season:

Gilbert Arenas- $17.7 million dollars

Andrei Kirilenko- $17.8 million dollars

Vince Carter- $17.3 million dollars

Kirk Hinrich- $9 million dollars

Luke Walton- $5.2 million dollars

Marko Jaric- $7.6 million dollars

Corey Maggette- $9.6 million dollars

Jose Calderon- $9 million dollars

Troy Murphy- $11.9 million dollars

Boris Diaw- $9 million dollars

Ben Gordon- $10.8 million dollars

Photo Credit: J. Meric/Getty Images North America
This isn't to say that some of the guys mentioned above aren't good NBA players (or at least were good NBA players when they signed their lucrative deals) but even within the framework of an organization that pays athletes millions of dollars to essentially put a ball in a hoop, it's hard to justify paying any of these guys what they earned this past season. 

Unfortunately, the precedent has been set by owners and GM's who think it's a good idea to severely overpay for non-superstar players and proceed to sign them to huge guaranteed contracts.  This wouldn't be such a big deal if it happened to a few teams every once in a while, but terrible contracts have been consistently handed out to non-superstar players by almost every team in the league.  

There's no denying that the current system needs to change but it seems doubtful that the NBA players association will be going down without a fight.  Even considering the turbulent financial times that the NBA is currently facing, I'm sure that most (if not all) players will be opposed to the pay cuts that will need to take effect in order for the NBA to be a financially sustainable venture.

And why wouldn't they object?

Even though it's utterly ridiculous, Joe Johnson no doubt enjoyed the fact that the current NBA system allowed him to sign a $119 million dollar contract in much the same way that Jason Kapono happily accepted the $6.6 million dollars he received from the 76ers this past season.  The simple fact that players with big ego's, big entourage's, and big spending habits won't want to take a substantial pay cut is enough to make the 2011 NBA lockout a bitter reality.

And when you combine this with David Stern's strong, no-nonsense way of running the league and the recent news that neither side is pleased with the current negotiations, you have all the makings of a long lasting labor stoppage which could potentially hurt the game.        
All of this news couldn't be coming at a worse time for the NBA, especially when you could make the case that professional basketball is the most exciting it's been since number 23 was wearing a Chicago Bulls uniform.  The intriguing mix of emerging young stars and Hall Of Fame caliber veterans has already begun to make the 2011 NBA playoffs one of the most unpredictable and pleasantly surprising postseasons in a long time.

Not only have the first few weeks of the NBA playoffs seen the Miami Heat live up to some of their pre-season hype, the Memphis Grizzlies pull off the extremely rare 8 vs. 1 upset, the Dallas Mavericks present a serious challenge to the Lakers Western Conference dominance of the last few seasons, and given young teams like the Thunder and Bulls a legitimate shot at making a deep postseason run, people have actually been tuning in to see all of this drama unfold.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America
There's a buzz surrounding the playoffs that hasn't existed for a long time and it appears that we might finally see some young, unfamiliar faces in the NBA Finals this season rather than the same old cast of characters we've grown accustomed to over the last few years.

Regardless of how the rest of the 2011 NBA postseason plays out (even if we end up with another Celtics vs. Lakers meeting in the finals), it figures to be one hell of a ride that will present an invaluable opportunity for the league to continue to build momentum. 

However, a bitter and long lasting lockout would negate any progress that the NBA is able to make with an incredible three months of playoff basketball.

In what would be an ironic and unfortunate twist of fate for the NBA, what happens in October and November may end up carrying more weight than what happens in May and June.  A reality which will hurt the NBA, it's players, and the fans who love the game.

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