Have Owners’ Bargaining Positions Changed During the NBA Lockout?

Posted on September 13, 2011 by


The following is originally from the Miami Heat Index. Mosi Platt (@MIA_Heat_Index) has done some brilliant analysis of the NBA owners based on media perception. Enjoy!

You know what makes owners love lockouts? Fining them money!

The bargaining positions of NBA owners reported by Henry Abbott from ESPN last week differ from those reported by Mark Heislerfor the LA Times at the all-star break.The question is, “How much have the owners changed?”  For an answer, we can turn to this post at the Miami Heat Index (which compares the reporting of NBA owners’ bargaining positions by Abbott and Heisler) and this slideshow at Bleacher Report (which analyzes the impact the biggest changes could have on the NBA lockout). Or you can just keep reading.

In February, Heisler reported that nine of 12 members on the NBA’s labor relations committee wanted to drive a hard bargain with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), but only one member wanted to cancel games. Last week, Abbott reported only seven of 12 owners on the committee wanted to take a “hard line” with the players, but two of them wanted to cancel games. Voting on the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) isn’t limited to the committee, however. According to Abbott, it requires a majority vote of 16 owners to ratify a new CBA.

Heisler reported at the all-star break that 24 of 30 NBA owners wanted to drive a hard bargain with the players, and at least four of them would be willing to cancel games to get the collective bargaining agreement they wanted. Last week, Abbott reported that 17 of 30 NBA owners wanted to drive a hard bargain with the players and at least three to six owners would be willing to cancel games.

The following paragraphs summarize the key differences in Abbott and Heisler’s reporting on the positions of owners from the NBA labor relations committee.

Dan Gilbert, Cleveland Cavaliers

In February, Heisler reported that Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wouldn’t be willing to cancel games because he could make over $20 million dollars operating his team (since they cut payroll after trading LeBron James). Abbott reported that Gilbert would be willing to miss the season because 1) the Cavs stink, 2) it’s one less year Baron Davis gets paid and 3) it’s one less title for LeBron to win.

Miami Heat Index’s HEAT Check: Abbott’s justifications for Gilbert to cancel games and forgo a profitable season don’t pass muster. It seems more credible that the profit motive would supersede spite when it came down to the “Comic Sans Man” voting to cancel a season.

Herb Simon, Indiana Pacers

Heisler reported that Simon was a hawk in the CBA negotiations since he’s lost eight figures owning the team, but he did not want to cancel games or the season. Abbott reported the Pacers’ owner should not be considered a hawk because he does not want a long lockout, just a “reasonable” CBA with a decent portion of revenue sharing on the side.

HEAT Check: It seems reasonable that Simon’s position could change after seeing the Pacers make the playoffs and push the Bulls in four close games before being eliminated in five.

Glen Taylor, Minnesota Timberwolves

Heisler reported that Taylor would go with whatever commissioner David Stern wanted in February. Abbott reported a slight shift in Taylor’s position that has the Timberwolves’ owner driving a harder bargain for incremental improvement but not a completely new system.

HEAT Check: The difference in Heisler and Abbott’s reporting of Taylor’s position shouldn’t make a big difference when it comes down to canceling games. Either way, he’s voting with Stern. If Stern plays hardball, then Taylor probably will, too, and vice versa.

Clay Bennett, Oklahoma City Thunder

Heisler reported Bennett’s small market and expiring rookie contracts for star players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook made him a hawk in CBA negotiations, but he also noted the Thunder owner may owe Stern allegiance for backing their move from Seattle. Abbott reported Bennett was a dove, not a hawk, because the Thunder wouldn’t want to miss a season coming off their playoff run to the Western Conference Finals.

HEAT Check: The most important reporting on Bennett was his relationship with Stern. The documentary Sonicsgate also reported the longstanding connection between the Thunder owner and NBA commissioner. Like Taylor, it’s very believable that Bennett will go whichever way Stern wants.

Rich DeVos/Bob Vander Weide, Orlando Magic

Heisler reported the Magic’s representative on the labor relations committee was a hawk in CBA negotiations with a focus on adding rules that would facilitate re-signing Dwight Howard. Abbott reported the same concern over Howard but said Magic ownership was a dove in CBA negotiations because they were more concerned about having the best center in the NBA on the court for one last run in their brand new arena.

HEAT Check: It doesn’t really make sense for the Magic to be soft in CBA negotiations because that would be incredibly short-sighted. Why settle for one year of Howard in an expensive, new arena when they could potentially have Howard for multiple years in an expensive, new arena if they just drive a harder bargain with the NBPA?

The labor relations committee is scheduled to meet with the NBPA on Tuesday. The subsequent paragraphs summarize key differences in Heisler and Abbott’s reporting on the collective bargaining positions of owners that aren’t on the labor relations committee but could cost the fans games this season if their influence spreads to other owners when the NBA Board of Governors meets on Thursday.

Donald Sterling, Los Angeles Clippers

Heisler reported that Sterling was a CBA hawk “sharpening talons” at the all-star break, but Abbott reported the Clippers owner was a dove who wanted to “let the Blake Griffin money machine keep rolling.”

HEAT Check: It’s good news for fans if Sterling’s position has changed, but Heisler’s reporting in February may have been more accurate since he worked for the LA Times while Abbott lives in New Jersey. TrueHoop’s Kevin Arnovitz ran a blog about the Clippers but it’s a good bet he didn’t have Heisler’s sources. Additionally, Abbott admitted that Sterling thought the last CBA was a horrible deal for the owners so it’s unlikely that he would completely reverse his position. Bad news for fans is that Sterling would likely vote to cancel games and perhaps the season.

Herb Kohl, Milwaukee Bucks

Heisler reported that Kohl absorbed big losses owning the Bucks, but did not report that he would support canceling the season. Abbott reported those losses resulted in Kohl being ‘as hardcore as anyone’ looking to overhaul the system.

HEAT Check: It’s bad news for fans if the Bucks owner would vote to cancel the season. While the number of owners willing to go that far still constitute a minority, it decreases the pool of owners that would potentially ratify a new CBA that didn’t meet all of the owners demands and thus extend the lockout.

Joe and Gavin Maloofs, Sacramento Kings

Heisler reported the Maloofs were not the “burn-the-village-to-save-it types” and thus not likely to support cancellation of games but Abbott reported the Kings owners could potentially profit from the lockout.

HEAT Check: If the Maloofs’ willingness to work with the city of Sacramento is altruistic, then perhaps they’re not the scorched earth types. If they’re as phony as Clay Bennett and Abbott’s reporting is accurate, then it’s more potential bad news that NBA fans could face an even longer lockout.

Larry Tanenbaum, Toronto Raptors

Heisler reported the Raptors were relatively secure financially with fans buying NBA tickets to ensure good seats for hockey games. Abbott implied Tanenbaum’s experience with the NHL lockout and the love of hockey in Canada could result in the Raptors ownership supporting a move to cancel the NBA season.

HEAT Check: With the NHL potentially staring another lockout in the face, Tanenbaum should know that canceling a season isn’t all it’s cracked up to be if a team makes money. Heisler may be closer to the mark on this one but it’s impossible to get a good read on this one.

Summing Up

NBA fans should get an idea this week whether the owners have truly softened their bargaining position since the lockout started, as Abbott reported, or if the owners remain the same hawks that Heisler reported them to be seven months ago.  What we will probably see is that it doesn’t matter what owners — and the people around them — say to reporters.  What matters in the end is what they do.  And to see that, we just have to wait.


Mosi Platt (@MIA_Heat_Index) is the Miami Heat writer for the Wages of Wins Network. You can normally find him at the Miami Heat Index. In addition to making sure the  world knows the greatness of Dwyane Wade, Mosi also helps keep haters in line. Mosi makes his own lists of people who spread false information and he checks them twice thanks to his trusty Blackberry.