To hear Howard Beck of the New York Times tell it, our national nightmare is closer to ending than we think.
Despite the on-again, off-again progress of labor negotiations between the owners and the players’ union, Beck wrote Saturday that the new collective bargaining agreement is “about 95 percent complete.” Given the resurrection of talks and tangible progress made in recent weeks, it seems entirely possible that a handshake agreement is all but imminent. Both sides are in agreement on a host of other issues such as contract lengths, luxury-tax rates and an amnesty clause similar to the one introduced in 2005. (A breakdown of the issues agreed upon will come later in this post.)
Of course, there is but one major issue left to be settled: the dreaded basketball-related income, or BRI. Beck said that the gap between the owners and players sits at about $100 million, which basically amounts to Washington forward Rashard Lewis’ current contract (THANKS, Seattle). Commissioner David Stern is hellbent on securing an even 50-50 split, while union chief Billy Hunter has offered a 52.5% share for the players. Both parties have made significant sacrifices, but neither seems willing to budge on the BRI. While there is no doubt that this singular issue has been –and will continue to be — the key issue in ensuring labor peace for the next ten years, it’s important to recognize the steps being made to get basketball back as soon as possible.
Here are the major issues that have already been settled, according to Beck:
Luxury-tax rate: Teams will be charged $1.50 per $1 spent beyond a threshold, replacing the previous dollar-for-dollar tax, according to people who have seen the plan. To further discourage spending, the tax will increase for every $5 million spent beyond the threshold: to $1.75 after $5 million, $2.25 after $10 million and $3 after $15 million. Under this system, the Los Angeles Lakers would have paid $42.5 million in taxes last season, compared with $20 million under the old formula. (The rates could still change based on other tradeoffs.)
Contract lengths: Players with “Bird” rights will be eligible for five-year deals, while others will be limited to four. The previous C.B.A. allowed for six-year (Bird) and five-year deals. The 1999 C.B.A. allowed for seven-year (Bird) and six-year deals.
Raises: Annual raises will be reduced by several percentage points, possibly as low as 5 percent for Bird players and 3.5 percent for non-Bird players. The prior deal allowed raises as high as 10.5 percent (Bird) and 8 percent.
Mid-level exception: It will start at $5 million, a decrease of $800,000. The contract length and annual raises attached to the exception remain under discussion.
Amnesty clause: Each team will be permitted to waive one player, with pay — anytime during the life of the C.B.A. — and have his salary be exempt from the cap and the luxury tax. Its use will be limited to players already under contract as of July 1, 2011.
Stretch exception: Teams will be permitted to stretch out payments to waived players, spreading out the cap hit, over several seasons. The payment schedule will be set by doubling the years left on the contract and adding one. (Thus a team waiving a player with two years left could pay him over five years.)
With these topics essentially agreed upon, it’s only fair to expect a settlement of BRI coming sooner rather than later. Let’s just hope that the NBA and NBPA have the same type of urgency that the fans do and get our boys out on the court soon.