The NBA season will happen after all, thanks to a handshake deal struck in New York between David Stern’s NBA and what remains of Billy Hunter’s players association.
As the dust settles after one of the NBA’s more cantankerous episodes, here’s an early peek at who wins and who loses in the upcoming new collective bargaining agreement.
WINNER: David Stern
A missed season would have mucked up his legacy profoundly and called into question his ability to control his owners. A deal, on the other hand, shows he still has the touch.
WINNER: Billy Hunter
He was under serious fire from agents. They have been concerned about his salary, how he runs the union and too many concessions to the owners. And yet, for the third time in as many attempts, he has delivered what matters most: a deal. The first two times, pundits said they were bad deals for players, but over the following years, the pundits were proved wrong -- the players have done very well under Hunter, who many say has negotiated his last CBA. And if the players are sharing in the league’s overseas and national TV revenues, this deal also could look great by the time it’s done.
WINNER: Adam Silver
Stern pointedly put his deputy in the spotlight through one of the choppier moments in NBA history, with the tall order to “reset” the way the league works in a fashion that favors owners. The ride was plenty bumpy, but mission more or less accomplished.
WINNER: Derek Fisher’s next career
For much of the lockout, Fisher became the public face of the union, and the private one; he said he thought he had talked to every single NBA player during the lockout, except for a few whose email addresses had changed. He proved he can speak extemporaneously, in stressful environments, without putting his foot in his mouth. That bodes well for whatever he wants to do next.
WINNERS: Player development experts
With luxury tax more punitive than ever, there will be a premium on those who can help a team round out a roster with incredibly cheap but productive players. The Spurs have had a habit of finding and developing those guys -- now every team will have to do so.
WINNERS: Stat geeks
Everyone is playing “Moneyball” now. If it can help you control player costs, it can help you win titles.
WINNERS: Incoming owners
In Detroit and Philadelphia, they set the purchase price in an environment of league-wide losses and labor uncertainty. Now they emerge with owner-friendly rules, high TV ratings, media-friendly young stars to drive future league-wide ratings, a better national TV deal on the horizon, promising overseas markets and the knowledge that it’ll be harder in the future for opponents to outspend them.
LOSER: Mark Cuban
The good news is he gets to have a season of glory and a chance to defend that title. The bad news is he is said to have wanted a system that would protect him from big losses even as he went all-out to field the most competitive possible team. A stiff luxury tax, however, does not get him there. Now, to protect his bottom line, he’ll have to develop a new skill: spending discipline.
WINNER: Jerry Buss
Revenue sharing is a bitter pill to swallow, but he still owns one of the most lucrative franchises in sports, he’ll always be able to attract amazing free agents and now fans will understand if he spends a little less on payroll.
LOSERS: Lakers fans
One nice thing about rooting for the Lakers has long been knowing that the team would spend whatever it would take to be competitive. Now that’ll be harder.
LOSERS: The big agents
They tested their influence among players against Hunter and Fisher. And ultimately, this deal was struck between Hunter and Stern. Worth noting: The Players Association regulates agents.
WINNERS: Players who signed long guaranteed deals in the past year
This is a big group, ranging from Paul Pierce to LeBron James. It’ll be tough to beat their old-CBA deals under the new CBA.
WINNERS: The Knicks
This is a deep-pocketed team looking to build a winner. The Knicks still need more players, and with a hard cap out of the picture, they continue to have some flexibility to keep spending if they have to.
LOSERS: The middle class
As owners and the league have spent a year obsessing about player costs, one clear factor has emerged: The poor-value contracts are the big deals for middling players. With or without stiff taxes, you can expect more teams to catch on to the idea of paying for stars and filling in the rest of the roster cheaply.
WINNER: The D-League
As more teams seek bargain players, more teams will invest effort in getting the most out of the NBA's little brother.
They have long made far less than they are worth, and that’s not going to change now.
WINNERS: Strategic dealmakers
A wild and woolly free-agent miniseason likely will commence Dec. 9 under new operating rules. Front offices that know the players they want and what they’re worth in this brave new world could work wonders. Look for the usual candidates -- San Antonio, Houston, Oklahoma City -- to be working the angles.
WINNER: Deron Williams
He gets to come home from Turkey without a major injury and having had likely the most lucrative offseason of any player. Mitigating factor: Now he’s seeking a big new deal in a more restrictive system.
WINNER: The New Orleans Hornets
These CBA talks long included talks of contracting the Hornets out of existence. Now that the talks are over, it has to feel good that that discussion never amounted to much. The next trick: Prove that under a new, more owner-friendly deal the team can be viable in the Big Easy.
WINNERS: Fans of the Spurs, Heat, Magic and Mavericks
It was a terrible thing to have your “win now” team sit now.
WINNER: Kobe Bryant
He’s now the NBA’s highest-paid player and a guy who made the right moves in the lockout, toying with various overseas backup plans while looking good back home by offering to lend money to NBA colleagues in need.
Owner Glen Taylor gets to reduce the financial pain. President of basketball operations David Kahn keeps his job. New coach Rick Adelman breathes life into the proceedings. And the long list of talented young players grows further with Derrick Williams and Ricky Rubio.
WINNERS: The Denver Nuggets
Remember when the Heat had all that cap room to sign free agents? The Nuggets are basically like that, only now all kinds of teams will be on a course to shed payroll. There’s not a system in the world in which you can’t parlay tiny roster commitments into potential.
WINNER: Player movement
You know you love the excitement of a trade. And there’s going to be more of that. The old CBA went to some trouble to keep teams united. The new one, not so much. The league noticed that LeBron James’ desertion of Cleveland spurred more interest in the NBA, not, as feared, less. It’s no accident the new system will inspire a lot of player movement.
Revenue sharing will be a factor here, too. While a lot of the CBA fight was about the rich teams adding free agents, the deal's biggest effect might be at the other end of the spending spectrum. The stingiest teams ought to be ready to join the bidding to add salaries here and there. That's a win for small markets and for free agents.
LOSERS: The Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers carry high salaries with a mediocre team, and we know for certain the GM has not spent the summer executing a new master plan. We know this because there is no GM. But common sense would suggest this team has to win a lot or change a lot, and one of its favorite tools of the past -- outspending rivals -- has grown trickier.