Something just hit me last night while I was ruminating on the lockout. I'm firmly on the players side, and I think the owners are trying to bully them into a pay cut. And I think that it's dangerous to give in to bullying just to preserve the peace, because bullies tend to demand more and more if you do that.
On the other hand, I can see that the owners may be crazy enough to tank a whole season, and they may think they can get NHL style concessions by doing that. And they may be able to. The truth is, the NBA players can take a 50-50 deal and still make plenty of money to survive while playing basketball for a living, and not lose a precious season of their very finite basketball careers.
So what's to be done? I have a plan.
1. Spend 15 hours Saturday fighting for the best deal you can get, and shake hands on it. Whether it's 50-50, or 51-49, or even 49-51, just agree to the best you can get Saturday.
2. Have Billy Hunter resign as head of the union, and have him take on a new role: Commissioner of a new, alternate basketball league.
Now, you are no doubt saying "Fuhry, you nutcase. The USFL failed. The XFL failed. The ABA eventually failed. A new league has no chance in hell. You're just trying to pad your fanpost total."
But it occurred to me last night that the NBA owners, in their attempts to decrease their expenses and maximize their profits, have made a tactical error that creates a clear opportunity for a competing league that, at the very least, can improve the NBA players negotiating position.
Over the last 10 or so years, the value of the average NBA franchise has ballooned, so that a wealthy individual or group who wants to own an NBA franchise must come up with 400 million dollars. Then they have to come up with more money to pay players.
Over the last 10 or so years, NBA owners have successfully pushed for new arenas to be built, leaving a plethora of unused but suitable basketball arenas all around the country looking for rent.
Over the last 10 or so years, the NBA owners have negotiated max salary amounts, and even more significantly, rookie deal max salary amounts. Do you see where I am going here? A new league need not have max salary restrictions, or it could have higher maxes. And a new league franchise would not cost even a tenth of what an NBA franchise would cost.
So let's say you have Billy Hunter, who obviously knows something about basketball players and owners, approach wealthy individuals who like sports. Here would be the pitch:
"We need a minimum of 10 franchises for our new league. The fee for buying a new franchise is going to be 20 million dollars, which will be 95 percent refundable if the league never plays a game. But we will compete with the NBA because we will attract some of the best players, and here's how we're going to do it.
"We're going to have max salaries 50% higher than the NBA max salary. We're going to have a draft, and we're going to have rookie max salaries twice as high as the NBA. And we're going to make it legal to draft players straight out of high school. We'll have a salary cap to keep costs under control, but the cap will be a total cap rather than a per-year cap. We'll have other rules that will keep costs from going out of control, and we'll have a sensible revenue sharing agreement.
"Think about it - the top high school player can go to college for a year and then make 7 million - maybe. Or they can sign with our league for 14 million. A top free agent in the NBA can make 18 million from a handful of teams. Or they can sign with our league for upwards of 20 million per season. All we need is a few splashy rookies and a few established stars, and we're on our way. There are plenty of decent college players out there that can fill out these rosters. Once we have a few top-name players, we become a serious threat to the NBA. And if you sign Chris Paul , the value of your franchise jumps overnight. If this league works, you can not only make a profit but you can probably sell your franchise for $200 million in a few years. Because our owners won't be servicing so much debt from huge franchise costs or new arenas, we'll be able to sell tickets for less - another advantage we'll have over the NBA. The NBA will probably push for a merger, and if they do, you become an NBA owner for a fraction of the cost.
"I need 10 ownership groups to step up - 10 visionaries who understand the opportunity the NBA has created by squeezing its labor source and overspending."
This is a much better way to help American basketball players and fight the NBA than trying to hold firm and miss games. Fine - let them win this battle. Then win the war - by attacking their exposed flank.