NBA faceoff over salaries could stuff the 2011-12 season

NBA players agreement up for negotiationThe public posturing for negotiation of the next National Basketball Association collective bargaining agreement with the players union has begun, just in time for the NBA All-star game.

Commissioner David Stern was quoted as claiming that teams will lose $400 million this year, a figure that will no doubt translate into a proposal to cut players' salaries in the next contract. The current one expires June 30, 2011.

The bottom line here, however, is that the league seems to have reached the tipping point in the fan's willingness to pay. The average ticket price for a Lakers game in 2008 was $93.25, or roughly a dollar a point. The league average was $48.47, and the Team Marketing Report estimated the average cost for a family of four to attend a game, including drinks, hot dogs, parking, a program and souvenir cap at $291.93.

The fans, however, will not have a rep at the negotiating table.
Forbes recently reported that a dozen NBA franchises lost money (before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization were considered), in the 2008-09 season. The biggest losers were the Portland Trail Blazers ($20.3 million), Dallas Mavericks ($17.4 million), and the Indiana Pacers ($15.7 million).

The magnitude of these losses pales in comparison to the bounty of the profitable teams, led by the champion Los Angeles Lakers ($51.1 million), Chicago Bulls ($51 million), and Detroit Pistons ($46.9 million). Chicago finished eighth in the Eastern Conference, Detroit twelfth.

The top five player yearly salaries in 2009-10 are
  • Tracy McGrady, Rockets, $23,329,561
  • Kobe Bryant, Lakers, $23,034,375
  • Jermaine O'Neal, Heat, $22,995,000
  • Tim Duncan, Spurs, $22,183,218
  • Shaquille O'Neal, Cavs, $20,000,000
If Shaq matches last year's performance, the Cavs will be paying $14,981 per point scored, $31,746 per rebound. They should install a device at the bottom of the net that emits a cash register sound every time he puts the rock through the hoop.

Last year's MVP, LeBron James, is eligible for free agency at the end of this year, and I'm anticipating he'll leapfrog this group unless the collective bargaining agreement slams a cap on individual salaries.

The current contract includes a rookie salary schedule for first round draft picks (#1 makes $4.286 million, #30, $850,800), and minimum salaries for veterans ranging from $736,420 for a one-year player to $1,306,455 for a 10-year vet.

Player's union president Billy Hunter told NBA fanhouse that the owners were proposing sweeping changes, such as retroactive changes to existing contracts, beefed-up salary cap restrictions, elimination of guaranteed contracts, and shorter-term contracts. The players could also lose another 7% of the basketball-related income pot, dropping to 50%.

Will this blow over, or turn into the type of standoff that cost us the 2004-5 NHL hockey season? I just hope that my team, the Cavs, can win the title this year, because the near future could be bleak for the sport.
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