A modest examination of the NBA’s proposal (Part 3)

Posted on Wed 16 November 2011 in Lockout Coverage by Aaron McGuire

This post is part three of a three part series examining the final doomed CBA proposal pre-disclaim.

The other day, the NBA officially released the terms of the final CBA proposal sent to Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher in the latest CBA negotiations. The players rejected it, throwing negotiations into a death cycle and all but destroying our chances of seeing a 2012 champion crowned. Before the proposal was killed, I started a series examining it point-by-point to see how bad it actually was. Being someone who finishes what he starts, I decided to finish the job despite the irrelevance of the act. This is the final part of this series. Join us tomorrow for an angry summation rant on the subject of the lockout. Until then, bask in the glory of the CBA none of us will ever see applied.

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12. Salary Cap Holds

  • Salary Cap holds – i.e., amounts that are included in a team’s team salary in respect of the team’s free agents prior to signing, calculated based upon a multiple of the free agent’s prior salary – are as follows:

  • First-round picks: Reduced from 300%/250% (if prior salary is below average salary / above average salary) to 250%/200%

  • Bird: Reduced from 200%/150% to 190%/150%
  • Early Bird: 130% (same as 2005 CBA)
  • Non-Bird: 120% (same as 2005 CBA)

This part is a relatively inconsequential change to the CBA -- it helps player movement marginally by giving teams that haven't dealt with their bird rights players and rookies more room under the cap in which to sign players before they deal with those players, but in general, most teams deal with their hold space BEFORE they go trolling for free agents, not after. Not to mention the reduction in Bird won't be seen except on below-average salary free agents, so it'll be exactly the same for your Wade types and Bron types. And given the drop in salary by rookies, the difference in cap room will be marginal at best no matter how significant it looks percentage-wise.

13. Trade Rules

  • Extension-and-trades prohibited. If a player signs a contract extension, then the team is prohibited from trading the player for a period of six months following the date of the extension. If a team acquires a player in a trade, then the team is prohibited from signing the player to a contract extension for a period of six months following the date of the trade.
  • Cash paid or received by teams in trades is limited to an aggregate of $3M per team annually.
  • Waiting period for trading team to re-sign traded player who is waived by recipient team is extended until the earlier of (i) one year from the date of the trade, or (ii) the July 1 following the last season of player’s contract.

Hey, look! It's the part of the CBA where player movement goes to die.

Alright. This is sort of a lie. Actually, a big lie. Sure, this clause does a lot of damage to any player movement caused by trading -- what this essentially means is that if you want to trade your superstar, you need to trade him preseason in his last year of his deal, or he won't get bird rights on an extension and the team will have no incentive to give any value for him, given that they'd just need to woo him in free agency anyway.

On the other hand, we return to the key point I've been making throughout this series. Player movement is difficult to define. Does this hurt player movement via trades? Certainly. You aren't going to see a trade like the Carmelo Anthony deal any time in the duration of a CBA with these rules -- the Knicks would've traded for him without actually gaining the advantages of bird rights or extension rights. There would've been no reason for Melo to sign with them before free agency, nor would there be any incentive for the Knicks to give the Nuggets anything. The point where this gets sticky is in the OTHER definition of player movement. That is, where the players have free choice as to where they play, no front office required. And, again -- this actually strengthens player movement in the "more free agency" side of the mobility coin.

Make no mistake. The Deron Williams deal is a type of deal that simply would happen less under these rules. That particular deal could've still happened, as Deron had over a year left on his contract. But that KIND of deal -- one where a star is traded without his consent (better examples: the Gerald Wallace trade as well as the Stephen Jackson trade in the offseason) -- is one that simply could not occur in the season during the last year of a star's contract. Is that a bad thing? Personally, I don't think so. While this harms player movement in the sense that top-15 players won't have quite as much leverage to pick their team and get traded there, it doesn't really harm player movement for the broader group of players in a tangible way.

It harms trades, a bit, but it strengthens free agency by simply ensuring more and more players get to make their pick there as opposed to having their team choice essentially made for them, with their front office throwing them to another team for picks and cash. Which, in the long run, improves player mobility and gives the players MORE choice as to where they want to go. For all the grumblings about how supposedly awful this CBA proposal was for player movement, I don't really think it is. It was mostly extremely poor PR by the NBA and a media machine that was never given adequate time to truly read and think about the proposal in front of them. Given that this hurts the Melo trade, and the proposed Dwight trades, and the proposed CP3 trades, it's natural to assume it hurts player movement in general. Natural, but wrong. Free agency does the opposite -- it makes sure players have a fair chance to make their own choices instead of letting a front office team make it for them. And that, regardless of what you think of the players, is a pretty good thing for the league.

The waiting period thing is more of a big deal than it looks, too. It essentially is a "you traded him, he's gone" clause -- if you trade a player under this CBA proposal, you can't sign him again for a whole year. So, if you lose a player in a deadline deal, you better not be expecting him back for two seasons. If I didn't know better, I'd think this clause is a direct reaction to the sideshow back in late 2010 when the Cavs traded Zydrunas Ilgauskas only to re-add him to the roster a month later after the Wizards waived him. Back then, I was really happy about it. In general I think it was the right move for all parties involved. But I can see why the owners would prefer to make that something that teams can't do, as charges that Gilbert and the Cavs gamed the system on that transaction are relatively true to life. Don't like it, but I see why it's in place and don't think it's altogether unnecessary. The cash is also a bit of a big deal -- it essentially means you can't buy your way into the draft unless you abstain from trades with any of the franchises that are in the red, given that every team that takes big losses demands cash when you trade with them. Perhaps that would change given the rule. Doubt it, though. It's a big shift in the way the NBA would do business, though I'd need to look up transaction details to try and determine how many teams actually used more than $3 million in cold hard cash for trades last year. I don't care to do so right now, though, so let's move forward.

14. Amnesty

  • Each team permitted to waive 1 player prior to any season of the CBA (only for contracts in place at the inception of the CBA) and have 100% of the player’s salary removed from team salary for Cap and Tax purposes.
  • Salary of amnestied players included for purposes of calculating players’ agreed-upon share of BRI.
  • A modified waiver process would be utilized for players waived pursuant to the Amnesty rule, under which teams with Room under the Cap could submit competing offers to assume some but not all of the player’s remaining contract. If a player’s contract is claimed in this manner, the remaining portion of the player’s salary will continue to be paid by the team that waived him.

So, this was going to happen. It was going to be pretty awesome. There was a really weak free agent class entering the now defunct 2012 season, and this amnesty process would've made sure that every team would've had one waiver slot that they could use to remove a player from their docket and put him on the market. Essentially a giant jumpstart to 2012 free agency. There are a ton of cool (and a ton of not so cool) aspects to this codified version of the amnesty rule. If this ends up being the final one that's used whenever the hell we get our next season, there are going to be several extremely tricky parts to this proposal that would throw a huge wrench into a lot of the ink already spilled over possible amnesty targets and destination. I'll go over three of the big picture points.

1. Not everyone can bid for them. What do I mean? Look at the last bullet. The only teams allowed to bid for amnestied players are teams under the cap. Baron Davis to the Heat? Gilbert Arenas to the Knicks? Neither of them are happening if this incarnation of the amnesty provision is passed through to the next CBA, because you can't use your exceptions on amnesty players. They'd need to sign for absolute minimum salary. Also important: they don't get to double-draw salary, as the team that wins the bidding war for them (which, let's be honest, will end up with some of them being overpaid YET AGAIN) simply signs a contract with the team that waived him saying that they pay some portion of the player's salary rather than a new salary. This makes a lot of sense, but had never been released before, so nobody actually thought about it. In short, it means that ideas like Baron to the Heat aren't going to happen unless every single sub-cap team passes on him. And that's very unlikely.

2. One per season? This part confused me. The first bulletpoint, according to both my reading of it and Matt Moore's reading of it, essentially says you can waive one player prior to any season. Does this mean that you can only waive one player, but you can waive him whenever you'd like in the duration of the CBA? Does it mean that you can waive a single player per season? Can you waive traded players, but only if you waive them prior to the season's first game? I'd think the answer is that you can waive a single player, but whenever you'd like in the CBA. And there is absolutely no language that would preclude you from waiving a traded player, meaning that teams like Oklahoma City and Indiana that don't have any particularly awful contracts could use their trading leverage to extract an asset from a team that desperately could use two or three amnesty waivers and get rid of a player they don't like. In particular, I could see some kind of magical trade where the Thunder traded Westbrook and Collison for either Dwight, Gilbert, and Anderson or CP3 and one of the Hornets' awful contracts. It would fit with Presti's general competence as a GM to work the system like that, same with Buford in San Antonio.

3. BRI cracked down, possibly. If you combine the stretch exception with the amnesty clause, you could have some teams paying out amnesty salaries well into the late years of this CBA. That's bad news for current players, whose 50-50 BRI split would probably turn slightly negative as teams need to keep paying off these awful contracts to players no longer playing in the league. Much like the NBA's incomprehensibly stupid curse where they will forever have to pay a large percentage of TV revenue from all former ABA teams to the former owners of the ABA's St. Louis Spirit, the amnesty salary could have the unsavory effect of depressing the BRI share for players for years to come. Not fun, if you're a player already chafing under the awful BRI split.

Still. My guess is amnesty in the final CBA -- whenever the hell we arrive at it -- will be different, rendering much of this inaccurate or outdated. I'd still pay attention when the final CBA gets agreed to, though, because if they push through a similar amnesty clause these particular restrictions are going to make it a far different amnesty game than the one that Simmons talked about in his huge amnesty column.

15. Player Benefits

  • New benefits pool to be funded with 1% of BRI for post-career player annuity and welfare benefits.

The players union wanted this put in place for their proposed "50% + 1" deal they offered the owners at a previous negotiating session. My question is where this 1% comes from -- my assumption is that it's simply taken off the top before they calculate the 50-50 for the owners and the players, meaning it's more like 49.5-49.5. But I'm not sure, and the language is ambiguous enough that I don't care to extrapolate.

16. Revenue Sharing

  • _ The NBA will commit to maintaining during each year of the CBA the revenue sharing plan that the NBA has described to the Players Association._

Wow, this is truly a descriptive bulletpoint. I really feel the NBA has given me a lot to comment on with this incredibly detailed tour de force into the true guts of their strong, gravity-defying revenue sharing plan.

(Screw you, NBA.)

17. Term of Agreement

  • _ 10 years, with mutual NBA and Players Association opt-outs after year 6._

I think, overall, the players probably should've taken this CBA. There are a ton of concessions they'd be making for not only BRI but the system itself, as I've excruciatingly outlined in this series of posts. That much is clear. But by making a year 6 opt-out? How can you not take this deal?

I get the general consensus among some that the owners win every CBA negotiation. I get that some think the players should argue for a CBA that lasts a ridiculously long time, just to get more leverage. I just think that's wrong and misguided. In 6 years, there are going to be a lot of differences in how the league is run. Stern probably won't be the commish. Hunter probably won't lead the NBPA. New owners will have gotten into the game, and the Decision fallout will be ancient history. All of these are of negligible impact to negotiations, and certainly don't give the players a ton more leverage. This, however, does: the NBA will be going to a new TV deal for the 2017 season. This will give the owners a taste of the revenues they'll get from having a sport with a good TV deal. And it will also give the players far, far more leverage than they have this time. Because the revenues on the line will be far greater, and a cancelled season will have the potential to destroy the league in a manner far more comprehensive than this lockout would have if it had ended this monday.

They would have the ability to disclaim or decertify a lot earlier if they realize the league is going to strongarm them. They have the time to restructure the union in a more organized, powerful way. They have the time to learn from the mistakes of this lockout and take advantage of the record growth the NBA has been on, uninterrupted by a lost season or a hefty lockout. They would be able to get a better sense beforehand which owners are hardliners and which owners are doves, and use that against the league in the same way the owners were using the players against the union. In short, they'd be able to do the myriad of things they could have done this time to make things a bit less bitter, but probably wouldn't have gotten a much better deal in the first place -- the NBA, as it stands, is not a very profitable enterprise. And the owners are currently reeling from losses. But with this proposed CBA, plus the new TV deal, the owners would enter the lockout on a record profits binge and the players would, unlike this time, have all the leverage and preparation on their side.

Had they taken the deal. They didn't. And, as I've outlined -- it's a bad deal. I can't blame them. But it was the right call to take it, and in my opinion, there's very little to excuse the union leadership for not taking off their blinders and seeing just how well-positioned they'd be in 6 years to make a run at an extremely player-friendly CBA. And for seeing just how few of the problems with this CBA that would apply for more than 3 or 4 years of its duration anyway -- for much of this CBA, the system would be virtually unchanged from the current system and some of the proposals simply wouldn't come into effect until year 5 or later.

But hey. They didn't take it. So rest in peace, CBA proposal.

And with it, the 2012 season. We knew ye well.

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I've already gone almost 3000 words on this crap. No way I'm adding my rant to this behemoth of a post. Expect a nuclear bomb style take-no-prisoners lockout rant tomorrow, because I sure as hell don't feel like writing it today after reading through this doomed CBA proposal so thoroughly. More tomorrow.