As the NBA free-agent frenzy accelerated Friday, CBSSports.com learned that the players’ counter-proposal on a new collective bargaining agreement has been submitted to the owners’ negotiating committee – with plenty of pushback on teams’ desire to reduce max contracts, institute a hard salary cap and change the financial structure of the sport.
The players’ proposal, hammered out last week in Las Vegas, aims to leave the current soft cap with exceptions and a luxury tax in place, while instituting more aggressive revenue-sharing system, according to a person who worked on the proposal and has viewed the final version. Extreme measures proposed by the owners in late January – including a reduction in the number of years that can be guaranteed in players’ contracts – do not appear in the players’ counter-proposal, the person familiar with it said.
An NBA official confirmed to CBSSports.com Friday that the league office has received the proposal, but said executives declined to comment on it. Similarly, executives from the National Basketball Players Association also declined to comment.
Representatives for the league and the players will convene next week – not for a bargaining session, but rather to participate in the exercise of setting the salary cap and luxury tax for the final year of the current CBA. The final figures will be based on league-wide revenues from the 2009-10 season, and some of that data remains in dispute, one of the sources said. But based on better-than-expected financial results that already have been acknowledged by commissioner David Stern, the salary cap for the 2010-11 season is expected to at least hold steady at the last estimate given by the league -- $56.1 million – and perhaps even approach or exceed $57 million, sources said. A higher-than-expected cap would ease the burden on teams that are still scrambling to clear more space to add multiple free agents with maximum-salary deals, such as the Nets, Heat and Bulls. The Knicks, with $34.1 million in space based on a $56.1 million cap, already have room for two max free agents.
The owners’ spending spree the opening hours of free agency -- $449 million in the first 36 hours -- has only reinforced the players’ belief that the system as currently constructed is working fine, according to Hawks guard Mo Evans, a member of the players’ executive committee.
“They get to police themselves,” Evans said. “The owners are the ones that are signing these deals. There’s nothing in the CBA that says you have to do that, so why would we propose something that says you can’t do that? In my opinion, we don’t need to fix anything because the system isn’t broken. It’s been proven to work.”
In terms of changes to the existing agreement, the players are proposing to loosen the guidelines for restricted free agents, which have proved onerous to such players and teams trying to retain them. The Grizzlies being forced to offer restricted free agent Rudy Gay a five-year, $82 million deal rather than risk losing him to a team trying to lure him with a front-loaded offer sheet is a prime example.
The players’ proposal also seeks to eliminate base-year compensation rules, which make it difficult for teams to satisfy the 125 percent rule in matching salaries for a trade involving a player who just received a significant raise. Such a provision theoretically would be embraced by players and teams because it would facilitate player movement in cases when the team is amenable to a trade but couldn’t work it out under the current agreement. A revenue-sharing plan, absent from the owners’ initial proposal, is included in the players’ version. But Stern has said the league’s position is to keep that system separate from the CBA negotiations.
“We’re excited about our proposal, and we’re hoping the owners are excited, too,” Evans said. “Hopefully, when they look at it they’ll see it the same way we do – that we’re trying to work together and make the game better.”
That hardly seems realistic, given that virtually all of the significant changes to the salary and cap structure proposed by the owners do not appear in the players’ proposal. With less than a year to avert a work stoppage when the current CBA expires on June 30, 2011, the owners and players don’t appear any closer to a middle ground than they were when negotiations began in earnest in August 2009. In fact, sources told CBSSports.com that the players continue to dispute Stern’s assertion that teams lost $400 million during the 2009-10 season – a figure that seems to have been contradicted by the better-than-expected cap figure for next season and the owners’ loose purse strings in the opening days of free agency.
So whereas the media frenzy this week is about owners and players arriving for free-agent pitch meetings via Gulfstream jets and luxury SUVs, it remains quite possible – even probable – that a similar scene will play out a year from now in New York City with very different stakes. Some of the very same people will step out of window-tinted Mercedes in front of hotels and office towers, but they won’t be chasing free agents. They’ll be trying to end a lockout.