As the days begin to shorten and the weather feels more like fall every day, this should be a time to enjoy the start of football while gearing up for another season of NBA basketball. Well, fans can enjoy football still, but there’s no NBA basketball to be found at this point in time.
As the lockout continues to drag on, it’s only fair for fans to not only feel nervous about the prospects of losing out on an entire season, but also for them to question what exactly is going on with negotiations. After spending much of the summer acting like a couple of cliques of spoiled children in lieu of actually holding meaningful discussions in hopes of finding resolution, the players and owners are finally beginning to feel the urgency and holding real negotiation sessions.
On Wednesday, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix was on 92.3’s afternoon show The Bull & Fox to give the latest on where things stand between the two parties. He mentioned that while there is some urgency and the negotiation sessions have been trimmed down to essential personnel in an effort to get things moving, the two parties still stand $5-6 billion apart over a 10 year agreement. As Mannix points out, unless one side starts making some serious concessions, it’s hard to imagine this ending any time soon.
One of the things Mannix mentioned, though, that may be of particular interest to Cleveland fans is that Dan Gilbert is one of the owners holding on to a hard line stance. This should come as no surprise, as it has long been reported that Gilbert was going to be one of the owners pushing the hardest for some major changes. The wording of his statement was interesting though. As Mannix told Bull and Fox:
“There is a group of owners, and I’ve heard that it’s Wyc Grousbeck in Boston, Ted Leonsis in Washington, Dan Gilbert in Cleveland, and Robert Sarver in Phoenix, that are entrenched in the position that they want to cut the players’ legs out from under them. That they want to get a deal that essentially guarantees them profits over the next 10 years. And the players at this point have balked at that. So I really think it’s going to have to take a major concession on the part of the players.”
It would be easy to read those remarks and to assume this means that Dan Gilbert is now more concerned with turning a profit than with winning. The reality is a little more complicated, however.
Guaranteeing profits can actually mean a couple different things. It could be a reference to the division of basketball related income (BRI). Heck, it could even be referring to a change in how BRI is calculated. It could mean a change in how the league estimates the salary cap and how the league’s escrow system works. It could mean a more aggressive revenue sharing plan for the owners.
Perhaps the most likely explanation, though, is that these owners are pushing for a hard cap system similar to the NFL’s. It has been widely reported that Gilbert is one of the staunchest supporters of the league switching from it’s current soft cap system to a hard cap one. Cleveland fans who have heralded Gilbert’s willingness to spend money on his team might find this stance a bit surprising.
For his first 5 years in Cleveland, Dan Gilbert proved to this city that he was willing to spend liberally and minimize profits in an effort to maintain a relevant, competitive, winning NBA franchise. But perhaps what happened with LeBron James served as an eye opener to Gilbert. It has been reported that LeBron’s unwillingness to recruit other stars to Cleveland hindered the Cavaliers’ chances of signing impact players to help bring a Championship to Cleveland.
That’s certainly part of the problem, but it’s not the whole story. The Cavaliers were also handcuffed by the salary cap which prevented them from ever really having a lot of space to sign players after the misfortune of spending so much on Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Damon Jones, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas re-signing. But upon even further inspection, there’s a deeper issue at play.
The fact that players were not willing to come to Cleveland unless they knew LeBron was going to be around speaks to a fundamental problem small/midsized markets, particularly in cold weather cities, face in free agency. Would players be as scared to sign in Dallas without knowing Dirk Nowitzki was going to be around? How about Los Angeles without assurances from Blake Griffin? For Gilbert, there had to be a sobering realization that his willingness to spend is irrelevant when most NBA stars have no interest in playing in Cleveland even for a lot of money.
For Dan Gilbert, perhaps a hard cap is best viewed as killing two birds with one stone. It would still give the Cavaliers the same chance to sign and keep stars and put together winning teams while also promoting a system in which the fixed salary ceilings would guarantee owners profits as well. For all the excitement that the soft cap promotes in both free agency and in trade deadline drama, there’s no question that when you look at this list of NBA Champions, the parity level isn’t the same as in the NFL.
It’s hard to argue that the NFL has a system in place that gives small markets the same chance to win as large markets. As much as fans in Cleveland hate to admit it, the Pittsburgh Steelers serve as a prime example of how in a hard cap system a small market can not only field a team that is seemingly perpetually in contention, but also one that superstars are not opposed to playing on. It’s not a perfect apples to apples comparison, but it’s easy to see how this can be an appealing alternative to an owner like Gilbert.
Make no mistake, the fact that a hard cap would cause problems for these new mega-star teams like Miami and New York is certainly also playing a factor in this. If Gilbert can get a system in place that helps smaller market franchises while also sticking it to Miami, that’s probably a nice bonus for the owner. But Gilbert’s infamous letter causes a lot of misperception when it comes to what kind of businessman Gilbert really is. Guys like Gilbert don’t become multi-millionaires operating billion dollar businesses by solely being petty and reactionary. Rather, this is just yet another example of a real life issue where a multitude of factors and motivations serve as the background for a particular stance on an issue.
Just because these owners are pushing for a certain system doesn’t mean that will necessarily be how things end up. However, Mannix ended the interview by stating that due to the width of the chasm between the players and owners, he believes there will not be an NBA season this year. I guess it sounds like Dan Gilbert will be one of the primary reasons, which indicates that this group of owners may have more traction among owners as opposed to just being a rogue group of revolutionaries.