"No Useful Purpose"

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 20: Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver speaks at a press conference after the NBA Board of Governors meeting on October 20, 2011 in New York City. Silver announced that NBA Commissioner David Stern will not attend the NBA labor talks today due to illness. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

As you know, the lockout negotiations broke off last night with the two sides at an impasse, and I'm pretty upset. Maybe not as upset as Ken Berger, who characterized the whole thing as a circus and ended his major media company column on the subject of asshattery, but pretty upset. Or maybe I'm just really, really tired of the whole thing.

Two quotes from federal mediator George Cohen, our erstwhile hero, seem to sum up the whole thing right now for me. 

After negotiations broke off he said:

In these circumstances, after carefully reviewing all of the events that have transpired, it is the considered judgment of myself and Deputy Director Scot Beckenbaugh, who has been engaged with me throughout this process, that no useful purpose would be served by requesting the parties to continue the mediation process at this time.

However, from his profile in the NY Times yesterday morning, we have this:

I often tell the two sides that you're eventually going to settle so you might as well try to settle today.

And of course he's right - they are going to settle eventually - but not today or any time soon. Which begs the question, why not?

Read the accounts of BergerAdrian Wojnarowski and Howard Beck - they'll give you the gist of what happened yesterday.

But it seems quite obvious to me that even though the owners know they are going to settle eventually, they firmly believe that they're going to get a better deal when the players start missing paychecks and the union begins to crumble. We guessed that this was the owners' strategy when talks broke off on October 10th, and at that time assumed that we'd have to wait until November 15th (the first 2011-2012 payday for the players) for any more progress. Cohen stepped in and facilitated a meeting before then - but his presence didn't change the basic dynamics. The owners know that they have all the leverage, and want the players to feel some pain.

It's pretty clear from the post meeting press conferences - the owners are matter of fact about the impasse; and the players are pissed. Derek Fisher, Billy Hunter and their head legal adviser Jeffrey Kessler were all truly angry in their comments, for really the first time in this entire process. Fisher called the speakers from the NBA's own press conference liars. Hunter continues to insist that this was the owners' plan all along (and he may be right). Kessler said that Blazers owner Paul Allen, a newcomer in the room, 'hijacked' the negotiations on behalf of the hardline owners after the NBA's Board of Governors meeting.

The owners do indeed have all the leverage - they always have. The players' only available negotiating tactics - decertifying and/or organizing an alternate league - involve extremely high risk, especially for the rank and file. But the owners may want to think twice before they run up the score in this process. The success of the league is still dependent on the players, and damaging the relationship between the league and its players is not to be taken lightly. In any labor dispute, there's bound to be some hurt feelings. But the gloves are off now and the owners may be on the path to causing more damage than they bargained for.

Do I even need to point out how absurd this all is for a gap (from 50% of BRI to 52.5% of BRI) of $100M on a $4B business? Both sides will of course lose more in the work stoppage and lost revenues from fan apathy when games do resume than they would gain from getting the split they want.

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