Time to learn from NBA's lockout mess - NBC Sports

Time to learn from NBA's lockout mess
League needs fewer greedy owners, fewer teams, fewer big men
Reuters
NBA commissioner David Stern answers questions after news that the league canceled two weeks of the regular season.
October 11, 2011, 3:10 am

We learned that seven hours of negotiations could prove as meaningless as the 2 1/2 hours it takes to complete Kings-Timberwolves.

And we confirmed that David Stern is every bit as ruthless as we already knew.

Through all the drama, through the threats, the stops, the starts, the ultimate lack of an agreement, we've actually learned plenty during this lockout that now threatens to consume an 82-game season in two-week increments, which are the very increments in which most NBA players are paid.

So consider it revenue lost, lessons learned. (We hope. Eventually.)

What have we learned?

We learned this ...

Owners are not guardians of the game
They're in it for the money, many seemingly purely for the money. We get that now.

Sunday night, as the lockout negotiations were pushing toward midnight, I asked a league official how this all went so terribly wrong. Stern had invited some to be owners who either did not deserve it or did not have the financial wherewithal to push through this tough economy.

The league official countered how in some ways the NBA ownership situation resembles the housing meltdown, how some never were qualified to own, of how some built their financing on little of substance.

The romantic version of sports features owners so passionate about the game that their legacy and the legacy of their franchises trumps the bottom line. When the league was smaller, with familial ownership, that might have been the case.

Now? We've heard about Robert Sarver moaning about the lack of profit certainty with his Suns. Not cost certainty, which was all the salary cap was there to do in the first place.

The Summer of 2011 was going to be ugly with the expiration of the collective-bargaining agreement. We got that. But because of who Stern allowed in the door from an ownership standpoint, it got far uglier. These are not the custodians of the sport; they are the custodians of their own bottom lines.

By not playing, many lose less money.

Contraction would help
Among the best examples of what the game could be came in Saturday's stars-only exhibition in Miami, where summer ball didn't mean summer slop.

The passes were crisp. The ball movement precise. Chris Paul's 14 assists were legit, a total not all that difficult when Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire are running the wing. It became clear that stars truly measure up to their abilities when paired with other stars. The respect for the game in this exhibition was absolute.

What the NBA long has sold is a star system, the other guys are just seat fillers. The pre-cap Celtics and Lakers were what made the sport special. The Heat and Knicks last season contributed to the revival.

The shame of the lockout is we end with the same 30 teams we started with, without contraction truly being addressed. Of course, the league owns one of those teams (the Hornets) and has taken the arena-negotiating lead for another (the Kings), so the target teams are in place.

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While it still is possible to include contraction in a new CBA, pacifying the union could be as simple as expanding the rosters of the remaining, post-contraction teams. That also could help assemble something closer to a true farm system, perhaps easing the cash drain from the D-League.

The NBA claims the lack of a competitive system among the reasons for the collapse of the talks.

Yet to get the best possible competition, it might mean making a franchise or two go away.

The game is better without big men
Notice who have been missing from these offseason pickup games? Players such as Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Joakim Noah.

The game is better without lumbering post play or the big-muscle game so athletic players can operate closer to the rim.

No, we're not overstating LeBron's post play this summer, or what Carmelo has been doing on the block against Kevin Durant. But it has been a much more fun than watching the Collins twins simply occupy space or opponents sending out their Zaza Pachulias to clobber Howard.

While there is no way to legislate big men out of the game (though how about two seconds for illegal defense or reducing the isolation call on post-ups from five to three seconds?), the game is livelier and more attractive without that element.

That's another shame of this process; the lack of focus on how to improve the game.

With everything now about dollars, the game itself gets put on the backburner.

For all the excessive shots of coaches during NBA broadcasts, for all the inspection of strategy, for all the debate about chemistry and cohesion, this is a star-driven product, not about owners, executives, coaches or commissioners. Never forget that.

Now we get to see angry stars for weeks, possibly months. And that can't be good for Stern's product, can't be good at all.

The phony foreign threat
Few chose the overseas option. Some of those who did have come to regret it. Most who fled could be back before passport stamps dry.

For months, the threat of losing players overseas was a chip played by agents and the union. It has proven to be a threat with little currency. Ultimately, the talk was cheap, as were most of the contracts offered.

The biggest loser Monday? It just might prove to be Deron Williams. The escape hatch has closed.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

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