This morning, I caught up with NBA players' union vice president Roger Mason Jr. to get his take on the lockout, the final week of negotiations and what we should expect moving forward. Here's my conversation with the Knicks shooting guard.
Zwerling: Now that you've had the holiday weekend to digest that the lockout's in effect, what are your feelings right now?
Mason Jr.: This is what we all kind of thought it would come to, just given the fact that we're so far apart. It's no fun looking online and seeing the restrictions, and not being able to speak to a lot of the guys that you've been friends with in management. That kind of stinks because the summer's when you're bouncing ideas off about the team and talking basketball. So for the basketball lover, it stinks.
JZ: There seemed to be some optimism with about a week to go before the CBA expired. What changed and what were the last few days of meetings like?
RM: It was amicable, but I think both sides realized that right now what the owners are looking for and what the players are willing to do is just too far apart. While everyone in the room was cordial and hoping that we can work something out, it kind of is what it is from making a deal standpoint, and we'll see what happens over the next few weeks. We're going to continue to try to get together and see if we can find a common ground.
JZ: Was there any kind of rush from either side to get a deal done?
RM: Yeah, everybody had a sense of urgency I think. The players wanted to get a deal done, but I know from the players' standpoint, we weren't going to just do a deal that was going to be bad for not only guys now, but for future players coming into the league. I don't think anybody wanted to do a deal that would compromise the ability that we've all had to make a living and play with guaranteed contracts without a hard cap.
JZ: What was the biggest positive coming out of the final meetings?
RM: They know where we stand and we know where the NBA stands, and I think the biggest thing now is rolling our sleeves up and trying to work through it. It's always positive to know that both sides want to make a deal. I don't think anybody wants this to last throughout the whole year, so I guess that's the biggest positive you can take from it.
JZ: Were agreeing on a salary cap number and how to split the BRI (Basketball Related Income) still the two main issues on the table?
RM: At the end of the day, it always comes down to money. There are system issues that we're dealing with as far as the hard cap, which they're calling a flex cap; we're calling it a hard cap. And then there are issues with money. It comes down to that. The owners want a guaranteed profit every year and I don't really know any business that you can go into and guarantee yourself a profit year in and year out, but that's what the owners want. It doesn't seem that fair or realistic. They want a system that controls their spending, where you have teams that have done a good job controlling their spending. Look at the San Antonio Spurs. Over the years, they've shown that good management and good use of free agent dollars can result in championships without spending a whole lot of money.
JZ: Do you think the NBA's report that 22 teams were in the red accurate?
RM: We're not out here questioning their books, so do we think that 22 teams lost money because of the system? No, we don't feel like the system is the reason that 22 teams lost money.
JZ: When will negotiations reconvene?
RM: I think we're regrouping in a little bit and then we're going to schedule some meetings in the not-distant future, so we can try to get this thing resolved. The game is in too good of a place right now and the fan base is too critical for us to mess around. I think everybody understands that. Nobody wants to be in the situation that we're in now, but it's going to take some work, that's for sure.
JZ: What are you hearing from the players as far as what they may do now?
RM: It varies. Our league has changed and you've got dynamic characters and people who do other things and have other businesses. Some guys are going to go over to Europe and others are going to wait it out. I think there's a wide variety of what guys will do. The common theme between all the players is that we're going to stay together and we're going to make sure that we leave this game in a healthy spot.
JZ: How about for you personally?
RM: I'll continue to work out and prepare myself as though we're going to have a season October 1st. I'm continuing my other career with the music. My music is taking off for me. But I'm proceeding like we're going to have a season and I guess that's the optimism in me.
JZ: Do you think something will get resolved before the season starts?
RM: It's hard to tell because you don't know what from the owners have in mind as far as their bottom line with the deal. I know that there are certain things that us as players that we're not going to be able to let off. Hopefully we'll be able to continue to work through these issues and come to a resolution.
JZ: What do you have to say to fans who are worried about the league's future this season?
RM: We appreciate their support because a lot of fans have been supportive of the players, and a lot of times it's easy to say that the players are being greedy and these things are happening. I would just say continue to support the idea of having a season. I don't want to put the blame on anyone, but we have a responsibility to try to get something done. I just want the fans to know that every guy in the NBA wants to be able to go out there on the hardwood and play for each respective city and fan base. We're trying to get something done.
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