Another step toward a lockout

Today the NBA moves one small step closer to a lockout.

The league's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is due to expire on July 1, 2011. If a new agreement is not in place by that date, the league will shut down. It’s the dreaded L word – with a lockout, the league will cease business and until a new agreement is in place.

Technically, the CBA doesn’t have to expire on July 1. The agreement gives the league the option to extend it for one additional year, through June 30, 2012. But they don't intend to – the league considers the current system to be broken, and can’t wait to put it in its rearview mirror. David Stern is more likely to start at point guard for the Knicks than to extend the current agreement for another season.

“We informed the NBPA several months ago that we would not be picking up the option to extend the CBA,” said Tim Frank, the league’s Senior Vice President of Basketball Communications.

So even though it’s just a formality, the league’s deadline for notifying the players association that it intends to extend the agreement is today. Starting on Dec. 16, the league couldn’t change its mind unilaterally even if it wanted to.

Not that the players would mind working under the current system for an additional year. “To avoid a lockout we have offered the owners an extension on the current agreement while we’re negotiating the terms on a new one,” said union president Derek Fisher in October. “The NBA owners have declined the offer – and that’s where it stands.”

Fisher thinks the negotiating process would go more smoothly without the added burden of a looming deadline. “I think that would really allow us all to continue to work through this process without the pressure of a deadline,” he said, “but the owners have declined so far.”

It is still possible for the league and players to mutually agree to forestall Armageddon while they continue to hammer out a new agreement. This happened in 1994, following the expiration of the 1988 CBA. A temporary “no-strike, no-lockout” accord allowed the 1994-95 season to proceed as scheduled while the two sides continued to work out their differences.

But with the owners eager to overhaul the league’s economic system, this scenario is unlikely to be repeated in 2011.