Experts: Will NBA cancel more games?

In a league Where Amazing Happens, we have a new source of amazement: The owners, led by David Stern, and the players, led by Billy Hunter, couldn't come together to figure out how to split billions of dollars and keep the NBA's incredible momentum going.

Now that it's official the season will not begin on Nov. 1, as planned, we asked five experts to look through their microscopes to assess blame and into their crystal balls to forecast the future.

Here's 5-on-5:

1. Whose fault is it that regular-season games have been canceled?

Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: The leaders of the two sides could make a deal tomorrow. But they both have big blocks of strident followers who would scream bloody murder if they did. So you can blame the top dogs for not whipping their followers into shape, or the strident folks for being impractical.

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: It's the owners' fault. They were willing to use a lockout instead of good-faith bargaining to get what they wanted, and here we are. The players aren't asking for a dollar more, they only want to give back less than what the owners are demanding.

Larry Coon, ESPN.com: Both. Really. This is the classic Prisoner's Dilemma problem. The two sides don't work together to find a solution, even when it's in their mutual best interest. This situation applies to economics, politics, law … and now NBA labor negotiations.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: This is a business negotiation. So you expect both sides to be unreasonable for as long as they can stomach it. Good luck assigning blame or judging fairness when it comes to a fight over money. But I think we can all rage at both sides for not respecting the gravity of the situation earlier.

For the past month, they've really put the hours in at the negotiating table. But what happened in July and August? Silence. The NBA, as so many of us have said a zillion times, is not the NFL. A work stoppage hurts this league with far, far greater force. The September urgency to try to make a deal that preserved a full 82-game season still came two months too late.

David Thorpe, ESPN.com: Billy Hunter, for failing to get almost any agreement despite having years to work on this. Stern and the owners, who are using their long-term advantages to bring the players down to their knees -- the same players they need in order to have a vibrant league. Derek Fisher, for failing to represent the middle class, which will feel most of the pain of missed games. And the superstars, who allowed agents to convince them that nothing below 53 percent makes sense.

2. What is your advice to David Stern, the owners and the players?

Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: A nice, long Caribbean vacation. Honestly. None of the crap they're fighting over matters a lick if you have a modicum of perspective. Of course the league should be operating and the players should be playing.

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Could you at least pretend like you care about the fans of the game? All they talk about is how unfair the other side is being in the negotiations. Their priority should be fairness to the fans and supporting workers who make the league possible.

Larry Coon, ESPN.com: Let the words of the immortal philosopher Mick Jagger sink in: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need." Both sides have already lost this negotiation. Stop looking for a win. Dig down and find something you can live with.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Even though I have little faith this will actually happen, they need to restart talks no later than next week. As far apart as the sides are on the BRI split and agreeing to a workable luxury-tax scale -- two issues where the gulf is certifiably huge -- there was a sense from the league side as recently as last Tuesday that a deal could be made. So I'm not hearing all of that doomsday rhetoric we were served Monday night. Stay at it.

David Thorpe, ESPN.com: Take 48 hours and do nothing but watch financial news programs. The pain in this country is at an 80-year high, with no end in sight. Then read up on WorldCom, Enron, Lehman Brothers, GM, Chrysler -- all mammoth companies with huge assets that declared bankruptcy, with some of them disappearing forever. Humility is a good thing to begin the healing process with.

3. Will the negotiations move toward the owners' or players' position?

Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: The players have held the line on their "blood" issues and the owners have been winning on everything else. Looks like BRI has recently become a blood issue among the players, so I suspect the league will go over 50, but while picking up lots of other goodies like shorter deals, a stiffer luxury tax, a smaller and shorter midlevel exception and the like.

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: This lockout was always going to be settled on the owners' terms. Their model is the NHL, and the NHL players caved after the lost 2004-05 season. Don't think for a minute that the owners will factor in the players' lost wages when they negotiate a new CBA. They're losing money that they'll never get back.

Larry Coon, ESPN.com: The longer this goes, the more it favors the owners. It may have been the owners' intent all along to wait until Nov. 15, when the players start missing paychecks. But it will be bloody for both sides -- is a Pyrrhic victory really worth the cost?

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: I firmly believe that once games are canceled, leverage swings even more to the owners. They had it before and they have a larger slice of the leverage now, even if NBA players appear to have more actual unity and resolve in their union than ever before. The fact remains that players have only a short window in their lives to make money and that owners will always have more resources to weather a work stoppage. Always.

David Thorpe, ESPN.com: Owners. The players have very few sources of income and none that come close to filling the hole that losing a year's salary creates. They may have money in the bank, but they do not have much time to make up those lost dollars. Owners have decades to do so with other rich revenue streams and an option to one day sell the franchise and perhaps make every lost dollar back and then some.

4. Who are the biggest losers?

Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Players on the bubble who don't already have deals secured overseas. Being 23, having made $500,000 for a few years, and now staring at, potentially, 80 years of underemployment with family and friends expecting you to support them … well, I'd imagine that's hard on your nerves.

Also, Billy Hunter and David Stern, who have legacies to worry about.

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: The biggest losers will be the arena workers who need the income. For most owners, the NBA is a luxury. The players won't have jobs, but they've made way beyond "living wages." Anyone who sells popcorn or checks tickets does so because they need that money, and now that tap is cut off.

Larry Coon, ESPN.com: Let's not kid ourselves. In the end, NBA owners will still be billionaires, NBA players will still be millionaires, and fans will still fill seats. The players may have a slightly smaller nest egg, and owners may have less of a safety net should they mismanage their franchise, but that's nothing compared to the real losses in this situation: This morning, teams are preparing furlough notices and pink slips. Arena employees are being notified that they may not have jobs.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Looking strictly at the principals as opposed to the real sufferers -- devastated fans and the various arena workers whose livelihoods depend on NBA games -- it's the rank-and-file players who, as always, are going to take the hardest hit.

But Stern takes a hit here, too. Now we have confirmation that he can't just impose his will on 29 owners and 400-something players as legend suggests, because there's no way he wants a second work stoppage in 13 years on his Wikipedia page after the most successful season in memory. Not unless this mess ultimately leads to a system that is so favorable to the owners that he gets credit for fundamentally changing the business dynamics of the sport.

David Thorpe, ESPN.com: The NBA as an entity, including all of us who work alongside it. Sure, it's possible that things get settled quickly and all will be forgotten. But it's also possible that the "golden goose" will lose its value, thanks to negative press, the lack of anything good happening nightly, and its players not destroying the competition in overseas play.

As a whole, the NBA could lose its standing as the unequivocal spot for the world's best players and instead be known as just the most hyped league. If the world stops caring, that amounts to huge dollars lost over time.

5. How many games will we have in the 2011-12 season?

Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: I have said 82 all along, but with that dream just about extinct, and saber-rattling from both sides, make a little room for me on the pessimist bandwagon! I will say zero.

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: I'll stick with my call that there will be a 50-game season starting in January. It's the minimum viable season, the result of the two offending parties stopping just short of maximum stubbornness.

Larry Coon, ESPN.com: I said all along that this was going to mirror the situation in 1998-99, when a deal was salvaged right before the season was to be canceled. It seems like real movement doesn't occur until backs are against walls. They may not try to cram in 50 games again, so I say they go with 41.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: More than 50 but presumably less than 82. I don't buy the nuclear talk that the entire season is going up in smoke. And I know that the league doesn't want the debacle of another 50-gamer. But finding the time on the calendar to replace the two weeks that have already been lost is going to be tougher than some are suggesting in an Olympic year. Especially since you have to assume that we're likely to see more cancellations before the next round of substantive negotiations.

David Thorpe, ESPN.com: None. Unlike 1998-99, the two sides have met often and have gotten nowhere. In corporate America, heads would be rolling and new leadership would work to right the ship. I don't see that happening, and neither side has proved capable of making progress. It's naive to think it can start now, as that would require real leadership, which thus far has been lacking.

ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Marc Stein, J.A. Adande and Henry Abbott are senior writers at ESPN.com. David Thorpe writes for ESPN.com and ESPN Insider. Larry Coon contributes to ESPN.com.

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