Is the NBA destined for a lockout?
Only two days are left, barring an extension, for the owners and players to come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement.
If not? It's lockout time, most likely.
To figure out the most pressing matters in this most depressing time, our 5-on-5 crew plays a little Fact or Fiction:
1. Fact or Fiction: Owners will lock out the players at midnight Friday.
Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Fact. Or, rather, don't expect a deal by Friday, not because there isn't the will but because there isn't time. In years past it took days from finally agreeing on the basics to "having a deal." There is not time for a deal this week. Whether that comes with a lockout or not is arbitrary (unless you happen to run an NBA website).
Tim Donahue, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Fact. It seems that the owners have been repackaging the same demands while waiting for the National Basketball Players Association to make what it considers a material move toward them. It won't come, and the owners are perfectly comfortable with a lockout.
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Fact. The owners will make a strong push for a hard cap, and the players will not allow that to happen for a while. I don't see how this could be resolved by Friday.
Matt Moore, Hardwood Paroxysm: Fact. Are we still wondering about this? I'm already in the bunker with Twinkies, bottled water and several digital copies of the 1995 Finals. Hope died when the players elected not to provide a counterproposal. The fact that we're only now having substantive conversations inside of two weeks to deadline shows how much both sides knew this was the only way.
Kyle Weidie, Truth About It: Fact. With such high stakes and drastic change needed, the arguments and grandstanding will take longer.
2. Fact or Fiction: The 2011-12 NBA season will start before Christmas.
Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Fact. I'd bet my house on it. The league is going gangbusters right now. The big play is to have the best ratings moving forward for better future TV deals. Missing games is very expensive in that regard, and demonizes those idle rich players -- the same players the league needs to be likable as hell to inspire further growth.
Tim Donahue, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Fiction. The cliff is coming pretty fast, and the owners are not afraid of the fall. The players have probably learned enough fiscal discipline to be able to hold their breaths and wait out a whole season. But the guys they're up against (the owners) have oxygen tanks.
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: I'll tentatively say fact. This will be an ugly, drawn-out dispute, but I think both sides would lose too much by giving up half a season or more to allow a prolonged lockout to take place.
Matt Moore, Hardwood Paroxysm: Fact. As often as I question the logic and/or base intelligence of the decision-makers surrounding the NBA and the players' union, I can't believe both sides will fail to realize how much momentum and opportunity they're blowing by losing games. I'm like Don Quixote with my optimism, except the windmills are small-market owners.
Kyle Weidie, Truth About It: Fact. Tensions will get high in September, but the stalemate won't last into October. Several free agents will jet overseas, and we might even see a currently contracted NBA player with little to lose make the jump, but ultimately, owners will get their way. Most interesting to see will be the portrayal of the players' margin of defeat.
3. Fact or Fiction: A lockout will damage the league's momentum.
Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Fact. The NBA, in no small part because of race, has a tough time convincing fans its players are decent human beings. When they're locked out, some players will get in trouble and others will say things that make them seem insensitive to the reality that they are incredibly lucky to make fat cake in this economy.
Tim Donahue, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Fact. Losing games will kill the momentum, but that isn't as important as portrayed. The owners will compare the opportunity for growth to the cost of what they are sure is a bad system, shrug and soldier on. The resulting fan disenchantment will make it only more important to the owners to get the deal they want.
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Fact. When basketball isn't being played, people forget about basketball. There's almost no way to imagine that a lockout won't hurt the league's momentum.
Matt Moore, Hardwood Paroxysm: Fact. We live in a 24-second-attention-span society. Trust me, I'm a blogger; I'm aware of how quickly things move. The league can't afford to allow people to move on to the next thing. They will.
Kyle Weidie, Truth About It: Fiction. People worry about halting the momentum of goodwill, but it's really about the media hype. With LeBron, the Celtics, the Lakers, the Bulls and the Knicks primed to be relevant (some hanging on to a thread) in a league with an ever-expanding international presence, media attention will be just fine post-lockout, even if it's a long one. Besides, is anyone involved even thinking about the fans?
4. Fact or Fiction: Fully guaranteed player contracts hurt the NBA.
Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Fiction. Have to respect market forces. NBA contracts are not fully guaranteed by league-wide decree (many aren't guaranteed at all). Players simply have the market power to negotiate for that, and get it. Now, if you're worried about Gilbert Arenas making too much, you can either offer him less or work the interesting shorter contracts angle, which the league is doing.
Tim Donahue, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Fact. Guaranteed contracts clearly can hurt the teams, but don't always help the players. Jamaal Tinsley and T.J. Ford got paid, but did they damage their careers? Guaranteeing money beyond three years is lunacy. You simply cannot see that far into the future on uncertain ventures like a player's career or team dynamics. The players' protection should be partial, not complete.
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Fiction. Nonguaranteed contracts could help some teams get out of bad spots, but I think it does a tremendous disservice to the players and the league. Teams should focus on being better prepared to honor the contracts they give to their players.
Matt Moore, Hardwood Paroxysm: Fact. That's like asking whether self-inflicted gunshot wounds hurt. Sure, they hurt. You know how you stop them? DON'T SHOOT YOURSELF. Long, guaranteed contracts to players who don't deserve them hurt you. DON'T SIGN PLAYERS TO THEM.
Kyle Weidie, Truth About It: Fact. Most people are thinking injury protection, and yes, the main concern should be having to pay for nonproduction (or whatever Eddy Curry was doing). But I imagine owners are also aiming for partially guaranteed contracts as a threat to complacency.
5. Fact or Fiction: The NBA needs a hard cap.
Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Fiction. It's a nice-to-have for owners (who have other options to reduce costs, which is not an option). A hard cap would keep Mark Cuban from spending deeply into the red to stay competitive. But he doesn't have to do that. If profit is a big enough priority, he can become a cheapskate like Donald Sterling and clear a profit. It's his decision to make, and the NBA can remain in business either way.
Tim Donahue, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Fiction. "Needs" is too strong. "Wants" might be true. There are teams in the league -- small-market clubs like Indiana, Milwaukee and New Orleans -- that need a hard cap (and sensible revenue sharing) to be viable and competitive. The question is, does the NBA need teams like Indiana, Milwaukee, or New Orleans to be viable and competitive?
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Fiction. The NBA certainly needs a fix, but I'm not sure a hard cap is the only way to do things. The current system allows for players to stay with their own teams, which I like. Wouldn't a hard cap hurt a team like the Thunder as much as it would hurt the Lakers if they can't afford to keep Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of their young players?
Matt Moore, Hardwood Paroxysm: Fiction. Well, we managed to get a dynamic, interesting league with lots of player movement that drives fan interest constantly and allows teams to rectify decisions that don't work out. I know! Let's scrap it!
Kyle Weidie, Truth About It: Fact-ish. The NBA needs a staunch cap, a way of keeping owners from taking "stupid pills," as Wizards owner Ted Leonsis likes to put it. Regulation of those willing to throw money away seems like an inane concept, but you'd be ignoring the stupid part. However, big markets and free-spending owners will still need an out, so it's unlikely teams will get completely stuck between a cap and a hard place.