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This summer has been about numbers and money and negotiations, rarely about analysis and how this lockout will affect, specifically, the 76ers. And this summer has almost never been about basketball. It's never been about Jrue Holiday's outside shot or Nikola Vucevic's up-and-under move (does he have an up-and-under move?) or the targeted free-agent center who was supposed to slip into the starting role for the Sixers. Talking about these things would be like discussing the meal selection while the plane's engine is failing. (Of course, this analogy only works if applied to air travel from about a decade ago, when they still served meals to their customers.)
We can't know for sure how this lengthy lockout, the missed regular season games, will impact the Sixers. But, after a summer devoid of any discussion, and with the NBA going dark for the forseeable future, we can toss around a few ideas. We wish these ideas were, say, the potential starting lineup for the team's first pre-season game, but that's not reality right now. The NBA is in a bad place, which we tried to discuss during last night's post (Bad, bad place), but which we'll try to frame more positively today. Some thoughts, some overlapping each other, not all of them bad, some of them actually good, but all in all a collection about the state of the NBA, the state of the Sixers on the morning after cancelling regular season games.
1.) Although union chief Billy Hunter would not say that the entire season was in jeopardy, NBA commissioner David Stern made it clear after last night's meeting that the owners' proposals would only get worse once regular season games were cancelled. Why? Because their new proposals would reflect the losses (about $200 million per two weeks of cancelled games) and incorporate recouping those losses into any future proposals. Both sides have said all along that once games were missed, they'd dig in their heels. The players seem to want to prove to the owners that they are willing to miss paychecks. They've heard the chatter that ownership doesn't believe they're capable of missing paychecks. At this point it almost feels like a point of pride: we're prepared, we're willing to take a stand, we're responsible, we're fighting for what we believe is right. There is no analysis to this point, only an explanation of why it's unlikely a deal will be reached before missing a good chunk of the season, if the season is saved at all. I know many aren't concerned about the lawyer-ly, intricate aspects of the negotiations, but some are. For those of you who want to understand the finer points, read here: Berger. For those of you who are OK with a general understanding: the two sides are far apart on both the economics and the system issues. The NBA wants to institute a hard-hitting luxury tax, which wouldn't be a hard cap, but would operate very similarly. (Taxing teams spending above the limit at a rate of something like 4 to 1.) The union is actively against a hard cap or any other system that's really just a hard cap in disguise. The two sides are also far apart on the split of the basketball related income. Right now the players are standing firm at a 53-47 split, in their favor, and the owners are formally offering a 53-47, in the owners' favor. Meaning the players are at 53, the owners at 47. OK, we're getting into the numbers; and we said we wouldn't.
What is your level of disappointment concerning the NBA lockout?
2.) Anyone who follows the NBA regularly knows the league has a slew of issues it needs to fix. If it's possible, we say this without taking a specific side. Everyone involved in this negotiation is on a different financial playing field than most reading this blog (and definitely the one writing it). This point is simply acknowledging that the NBA's current system of guaranteed contracts, massive mid-level exceptions, soft salary cap, extremely high average salaries, twisted trade system (trading for expiring contracts instead of talent for talent), is hurting the league and the fan appeal and the game itself. From a purely basketball, competitive standpoint, the league needs to make changes. The current product is exciting in some ways, in some markets, but the overall product is suffering because of a lot of these issues. And they're all issues the owners instituted years ago. The franchises are the ones who have issued so many bad contracts over the years, agreed to so many policies that have hurt the game, and now the want to snatch back what they've already handed over.
3.) So how does this news affect the Sixers? As we talked about last night, we feel this lockout and this abbreviated season (again, if there is a season at all), specifically hurts a young, growing team like Doug Collins' Sixers. First, the team is impacted by the lack of communication with the coaching staff, which has been radio silence since July 1. Collins loves talking to his guys every day; you'd be hard pressed to convince me that some of the younger guys haven't been (negatively) impacted by their inability to communicate with Collins and the assistant coaches. That was three months -- July, August, September -- of growth time that was stunted, at least in some way. Second, the team is impacted by a shorter season. For the NBA as a whole, a shorter season (speaking in strictly basketball, entertainment terms) is likely more exciting for the average fan. The diehards who show up in November and December probably wouldn't agree, but the average fan doesn't pay attention until after the All-Star break anyway. A condensed, action-packed season doesn't sound like a terrible thing. But as it relates to the Sixers, and the 2011-12 season in particular, it's most likely a hurdle the franchise would have to overcome. Remember that the Sixers started the 2010-11 season with a record of 3-13. Remember that the roster is filled with a young point guard, young shooting guard, a young Evan Turner (I'm against assigning him a position!), young centers, etc. Although Collins and his staff are working overtime right now to be as prepared as possible the second the lockout ends, this missed time will be tough. And a shortened season will, likely, mean that the Sixers will have fewer games to find their stride.
(And to answer a question I keep receiving on Twitter, if the 2011-12 season is missed, that's a lost year of wages, of a contract, etc. It's not as if Elton Brand's contract is extended another year because of the missed 2011-12 season. It's gone, the contract still ends when it's scheduled to end. Brand's final season is 2012-13, during which he is scheduled to make approximately $18 million.)
4.) More generally speaking, how does this lockout affect the Sixers future, long-term? At this point, without knowing what the next collective bargaining agreement would look like, it's impossible to say. The owners like to say that they're fighting for the viability of the league, to make each franchise capable of competing. The way the league stands now, very few franchises truly have a chance of winning the title because -- as has been discussed ad naseum -- you need a superstar to be in the hunt, maybe even two superstars. The Sixers, you'd have to say, are a have-not franchise right now. At quick glance, the Sixers, along with about 20 other franchises, would likely be in a more competitive position if some of these system changes were made. But at what cost? If this labor negotiation costs an entire season, will there be any fans to appreciate the product?
After that massive blog post, most of it depressing, I must leave you with a little bit of humor. Here's the link to a Grantland piece about "How the WNBA can fill the void in our NBA-less lives": The Triangle Blog. It's just a fun, sarcastic piece, nothing too serious. (So don't take it too seriously, please!)
Each week, Kate will check in from the road and answer fan questions about the Sixers. Click here to ask Kate a question or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.