By Matt Moore
In the busiest month since the start of the lockout, we had our hands full with palace intrigue on both sides. The conversations about who was on which side inside the NBPA and the owners deepened, talks started, stopped, then re-started. Compromise came forward, and so did threats. It was a month that usually showed conflicting sides of the conflict. Progress was followed by downturns of pessimism, and dour notes were trailed by waves of feel-good compromise. At the end of the third month, we're closer to a deal than we were on July 1st, but you'd have to look really closely in order to see it. With that, here are the winners and losers for September.
No one looked stronger throughout the month than Fisher. Fisher fired off two letters to the NBPA which naturally got leaked to the media and reprinted. Both times Fisher held the line the players want. he kept the union strong and together, working to take some of the edge off the knives of agents contemplating involuntary decertification, and reinforced the position of union leadership to stand up for the players' so-called needs at whatever cost. Hunter is the magnet for criticism, from agents, the union, media, the works. Fisher is being set up to take the reins and at the same time looks like a strong leader in his own right. Fisher came out of September looking like the one who could hold the line and get things done.
The Lakers were proactive in releasing the fact that they support revenue sharing and a hard cap. Both of these things cost them money and wins, so why would they be winners? Because by getting ahead of the movement, they're setting themselves up to control the process. In doing so, they'll insure the changes are made in a way that minimizes the damage to themselves. It's a nice piece of politics from the most powerful franchise in the league. Times are changing, and instead of fighting progress, the Lakers are spearheading it to make it work for them to whatever degree they can. Shrewd, those Busses.
Commanding huge offers from Europe. Making strong statements at NBPA meetings. Leading the way for the veterans. Continuing his aura of being bigger than the game. Good month for Kobe as the overseas offers continue to climb.
It's pretty hard to hurt the reputation of agents since public perception of them is not great to begin with, but coming off as renegade coup leaders isn't a good look. The agents were rabble-rousing all month about the leadership of Hunter, even as things tredged towards a deal and Hunter et al showed no signs of budging on the "blood issue" of the hard cap or any of the other lines in the sand for the union. Meanwhile, no one's really signing those gigantic overseas deal besides former Nuggets, and the exhibition games are getting no traction nationally. Agents usually seem greedy, it comes with the business. But this month, those that were rabble rousing look sneaky.
Players' ability to earn outside the NBA
Deron Williams began games with Besiktas and no one noticed. The European team spots are drying up. The exhibition league in Vegas was a lot of fun, and absolutely no one attended. The exhibitions around the country are getting less and less attention. The players may be prepared to dig in and wait this thing out, but they won't be doing it while collecting nice fat paychecks to cover their missing ones from the league. The players may be what drives the league, but the league structure is what allows them to become stars. This month showed that they need the league as much as the league needs them.
First, they were outed in an ESPN post which outlined where each owner sits in terms of the hard cap and revenue sharing. Then it was leaked that Dan Gilber and Robert Sarver were scuttling progress in the talks. The owners got the players to come down to 53 percent from 57 which is great, but their hard-line insistence on sub-50 levels makes them seem out of touch and desperate. Meanwhile, the NBA continues to hold strong as it waits for the NRLB ruling, which the owners cleary don't want to mess with. Their constant pushing of the union instead of working on compromise has fostered the discontent with the union agents, which could result in decertification and antitrust lawsuits. Stern needs to get the house in order, because in September, it seemed all over the place. They'll cave on the hard cap, but they're still seeking wild changes. All over the map for the owners in September.