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A Game of Give and Take

 Let's preface this entire "lockout/work stoppage" issue with a simple truth:

No matter who is right and who wrong - the owners will "win" in the end because their offer still outstrips any monetary compensation for playing basketball anywhere else in the world. The owners are also much better equipped to survive without NBA-generated revenue than the mass majority of the players, regardless of Union education on prudent spending and fiscal responsibility on the players side.

The owners are surely asking for the moon, but the idea of eliminating the "NBA middle class" is pretty sensible because its those "middle class" contracts that cripple franchises ability to re-constitute themselves when a central building plan around a superstar player falls apart. How many of those bad contracts were deemed poor investments while that player was still filling the role he was signed to perform on a team built around someone else with superior talent?

As long as superstars get paid, the rest of the lot should be able to deal with "only" getting 3-5 million dollars annually on 1-3 year deals. Yes, when you're getting far more than that now, I don't expect you to take it without a fight, but in the end, how many of the players can do better for themselves in any other industry in the world, including professional sports?

NBA players are overpaid as a whole. The "middle class" contracts are the poison-pills on almost any roster. If they could keep a ratio of contract size to length, that would help to maintain viability while improving the product. In many ways, players could increase their earnings potential by going year to year and finding situations where their worth is greater to a given team for that particular time and space - this is what happens in Hockey now.

Only baseball amongst all sports IN THE WORLD, offer longer, richer deals than the NBA. Nobody gets financial security for half a decade or more with no performance incentives....its great if you can get it, but apparently you aren't going to be able to get it anymore if the owners have their say. This doesn't make them the "good guys" in this debate, but there is a version of the truth buried in the ridiculous stipulations outlined within their proposal.

I love the players and will never fully side with ownership on some of this stuff, but at some point maybe being an NBA player doesn't mean you get to own a jet airplane or have a 38 thousand dollar monthly mortgage on ONE of your multiple houses. In no way does this mean I believe owners should be guaranteed 30 million dollar annual profits either. But if the industry is making billions as a global vehicle, I do think some profit certainty should be expected.

Maybe its time to fall in line with some of the other pro sports and even the entertainment industry in general. Where the "big money" is still defined by up-front bonuses, one time payments, or negotiated for points off the total profit of the vehicle. Maybe contracts that are merely "outstanding" instead of "outlandish" would serve their purpose when tied to the short-term objectives of the team and the projections of profit for accomplishing those objectives.

NBA careers are short, no doubt that is true. But the player who cannot stick in the league for 5 years doesn't get my vote for the "retire for life just for making it this far" award. You get paid to perform and the luxury of making tens of millions should come with the ability to earn that money through performance that is equal to the paycheck.

Of course owners are the ones that sign the contracts - but with no set rules to govern short term expenditure vs. long term cost, what is a team to do when they must have certain non-star, role players to compliment their superstars or building efforts in a competitive environment where fans demand improvement?

The system has to provide the rules to govern these situations - its not a matter of self-governance and wise spending - not totally. To quote Herm Edwards " you play to win the game." Sometimes that burning desire to win forces decisions that are not fiscally prudent for the long term but a necessary risk for gaining the chance at the ultimate prize.

When multiple teams compete for a single championship and there are a limited number of opportunities to acquire necessary talent - the market and the rules governing that market will create situations that lead to "poor spending" decisions. There's no way around it.

In the end, we will likely lose a season - much like Hockey did a few years past. But eventually all parties will realize its better to be in business than to not be. If the owners are truly adamant about systemic changes, they will stick to their guns - and they will outlast the players union, who have a constituency that just cannot afford to NOT be getting paid.

The money it too good in the NBA - even with the slap-in-the-face proposal the owners currently have on the table. Hopefully, a little more inter-ownership faction debate will soften some of the harsher elements, but as a whole, the NBA is going to change how it operates and it will not "hurt" the players or prevent them from being fabulously wealthy.

Its reality check time for the gentlemen who "make a lot of money, but spend a lot of money too" it seems. If a role playing, bench contributor can bank away 25+ million over a 10 year career, maybe he should be take satisfaction in living in the best neighborhood in town, having his kids in the best schools, and having the ability to wisely invest his money into enterprises that guarantee his family won't have to live anything but the good life for more than a generation.

If the players are going to cry foul over the owners lack of ability to govern their spending habits, maybe its time to point the finger the other direction and ask the players "what's in your wallet" and then find out why so much is needed to survive. The league provides retirement benefits as well as taking care of living expenses during the season. Will anyone truly suffer if contract values decrease?

We've been through a financial crisis of epic proportions over the past few years in this country. Yet, there has been no true deflation in income for the athletes that play the sports we love. Surely owners have felt the "pain" of our economic hardships in the various business enterprises they've used to become the billionaires they are today. I cry no tears for these individuals and do not look at their CBA stipulations as a decent proposal."

But amidst all this bad blood, I hope the players union can also debate amongst themselves and get away from the notion that the current salary system is the only acceptable alternative to a long, cold battler of attrition. It may very well take a pro-active, radical proposal from the players union to unseat the powers that be in within ownership and give enough ammunition to the more level-headed owners that are looking from some true middle ground.

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