Fisher: NBA Proposal A “Wage Freeze”, Salaries “Cut Both Ways”

Derek FisherPlayer salaries have been the central issue so far in the NBA lockout.  The NBA has proposed a $2 billion salary guarantee over the 10 year life of a new CBA.  It’s a huge number, but it’s also a fixed number.  No matter how much revenue the league makers, that $2 billion number doesn’t move.  That prompted NBAPA President Derek Fisher to put a players’ spin on it in an interview with ESPN Los Angeles.

“It’s tough to respond in a vacuum. … Our position would still remain the same in terms of it’s not always just the economics, it’s the system within how those economics fall. The difference between being guaranteed a certain amount of pay but under a certain system, players aren’t guaranteed that amount of money individually. On a collective it’s one thing and on an individual basis it’s another. The amount of money that players make in the NBA or in most professional sports situations is always tied to the revenue that the sport is bringing in. … Players’ salaries don’t just increase to this arbitrary, astronomical level without the revenues matching that growth. … It’s not so much just the number. If you look at the 10-year deal that they are proposing, there isn’t an industry in the world that would agree to a 10-year wage freeze.”

Up until now, NBA players have gotten a percentage of the gross revenue (57%).  It’s a number that owners call unsustainable, leading to their current proposal.  Until this gets resolved, it’s pretty clear that the rest of the negotiations won’t move very far.  Until players and owners can figure out how to divide up the cash that both sides can agree on, the other issues get dusty until it’s time to pick them up. 

One other modification to the salary structure concerns guaranteed contracts.  Once an NBA player signs a deal, it’s usually guaranteed.  So when Eddy Curry signed a six-year, $60 million extension in 2005, he got all of that money despite being Eddy Curry for the past six years.  And owners (despite signing off on deals like that) want to pull back on those guarantees in case players end up sucking.  But Fisher says owners see some contractual benefits in this system too.

“It depends on how you look at that, what your perspective is on players sitting on the bench and having a particular contract or certain amount of money that they’re owed. At some point, the contract that player signed, a team on some level felt that he was worth that amount at some point and maybe there was a coaching change or a management change or something that changed that player’s value to that team. So, is that just because the players can’t perform anymore, physically, or is it about a change in coaching style or management style. … In reality, there are very few of those compared to the other scenario where you have players like a Derrick Rose or Kevin Durant, guys that come in and in those first three, four or five years, far outpace what they’re being paid initially in their rookie contracts. It cuts both ways.”

A good point by Fisher.  The system has “protect owners from themselves” protections in there so they don’t give un-proven rookies a gazillion dollars to come out and just tank.  The ownership counter-point would be to remind the players that the problem with players taking the money and then partaking in workouts that consist only of counting said money isn’t exclusive to young guys.  

On tihs one, I can see the owners’ point of view.  Rolling back the guarantees makes the players still have to earn those balloon payments.  You can’t just sit back, get fat, and keep collecting checks because you put forth an effort in a contract year.  The problem comes when someone like Kevin Garnett comes due for $21 million next season.  Is he worth $21 million?  No.  But he’s critically important to the Celtics.  Would caving on this create a scenario where guys get cut and re-signed like they do in the NFL?  Would the C’s cut Garnett just to give him $10 million instead of $21 million?  The players’ willingness to negotiate on this issue could be a signal of how far they’re willing to go to get a deal done.

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