David Stern And The Contraction Distraction

By J.A. Adande

Yes, it’s a negotiating tactic and, no, I don’t believe the NBA will actually contract, but it’s sure interesting how persistently David Stern keeps the concept alive.

CBSSports.com first reported it, and rather than shooting it down once the mission (establishing another threat the players’ union will have to deal with) was accomplished Stern keeps floating it out there.

He did it again Tuesday night in Los Angeles while speaking to reporters before he handed the Lakers their championship rings. Notice how he worked contraction in while presenting the concept of parallel yet co-dependent negotiations among the owners and with the players:

“Everyone knows that there’s going to be a deal eventually, and it’s very likely to look a little bit different than the current deal,” Stern said. “There are issues within the union about the superstars vs. the regular guys, there are different views amongst the owners with respect to how much you need and how long you’re prepared to take to get there. And then when you get on top of that, with revenue sharing, which is a subject that’s going to be very much at the fore and keeping it there, that’s what leads to the discussions about if we’re going to give a cut of TV money, if we’re going to give revenue sharing, do we need so many teams?

And these are not threats, these are just sort of the playing table that we’re beginning to deal with as we go dancing – not dancing -- as we go walking through this particular minefield.”

The negotiations were going to be difficult enough. Owners want a hard salary cap, a one-third rollback on player salaries and shorter contract lengths with less guaranteed money. Some are adamant that they won’t do a deal without getting everything they want, while others on the management side believe there will be some give, most likely on the salary rollback. On top of all that, Stern keeps hinting at the possibility of the players coping with something that hasn’t happened to the big sports leagues in decades: layoffs.

When asked directly about contraction, Stern said: “I hope not. The way it comes up is when we say we need more revenue sharing, and it has to be after the collective bargaining.”

There’s no way the union is going to let the owners unilaterally contract and take away jobs, so this would have to be presented during collective bargaining. But as the calendar creeps toward the expiration of the current deal next summer there’s no way the players and owners can strike a new pact if there’s disagreement about the way the owners divvy up their allotment of the money. And Stern makes it sound as if there’s discord among the owners.

Using imaginary contribution figures of $30 million in television revenue and $15 million in revenue sharing, he voiced the concern among some owners that they shouldn’t give that $45 million to a team that’s never going to be profitable. That leads to a whole new discussion.

“I don’t know that there will be contraction,” Stern said. “ But I just don’t want to say anything that denies that that subject gets raised.”

While some believe the owners will actually lose less money if there is a lockout next season and they’re not shelling out the exorbitant player salaries, when the league’s board of governors gathered in New York last week they did hear scenarios of substantial losses stemming from a lockout.

It’s hard not to be pessimistic right now. Stern makes it sound as if the owners and players can’t even agree on the minute details, such as whether the cost of something like the new $15 million scoreboard in Staples Center should be counted as a one-time expense or depreciated over five years for accounting purposes. And if the owners can’t even agree on their revenue sharing, or how many of them should even be in the room? Well, on the bright side, at least you won’t have to worry about missing NBA games while you take your kids trick-or-treating on Halloween next year.