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Little sympathy for owners in NBA labor dispute

By Scott Tibbs, July 6, 2011

As I have observed the NBA labor dispute, I find myself having very little sympathy for the owners.

It is true that employers can only pay employees a salary that represents their market value. Owners claim they are losing money, and players cannot expect their share of revenue (net or gross) to be at a level where the teams are losing money. These teams need to make a profit.

But the kicker for me is that no one is forcing the teams to sign these deals. The Atlanta Hawks are losing money, for example, but no one forced Atlanta to pay a player $16.3 million for the 2010-2011 season when that player averages 18 points, 4 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. We're not talking about LeBron James here. My gut reaction to owners complaining that they cannot afford player salaries is "Do not sign deals you cannot afford."

For example, a guest on ESPN's NBA Today podcast said that one thing under consideration is eliminating sign and trade deals, because those deals add cost over time. Again, do these teams not know this will happen? Do these teams not know that trading a player making $15 million a year and one year left on his contract for another player with a similar salary but a much longer deal will lock in that cost for a longer time? Why eliminate a way for teams to improve because some owners are unable to plan for the future?

I understand the need for a salary cap, in order to keep the league competitive. It would become very boring if the only teams that contend for a championship every year are in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston while cities like Indianapolis and Sacramento have little chance of breaking through because they cannot compete against the teams with the most money. But that is very different from protecting teams from their own stupidity.

The NBA needs to be very careful with this situation. They could lose a large number of fans if the season is shortened by a lockout. If an entire season is lost, it will be even worse. It could take years to rebuild the fan base if fans become frustrated and stop following the league, especially with so many things competing for our entertainment dollars. It's going to be very interesting to see how this turns out.