Sense of Urgency: Another Lockout Could End the Spurs
Spurs fans may feel they have enough worries halfway through this thus far disappointing season. But if there was a call for a new sense of urgency from the Spurs before, ESPN’s Chris Broussard reminded us last night of a much larger problem looming on the horizon.
In conversations with front-office executives Tuesday night, I was told some strong stuff regarding the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement. As you probably know, the current CBA will end after the 2010-2011 season.
The gist of what I was told is that the owners will go for the jugular and drop the playersâ€™ salaries immensely.
It’s been a rough economic climate out there. Attendance figures are constantly fudged and skewered to reflect positively but if you turn on the television on any given night you can see a number of empty seats scattered throughout NBA arenas. Teams took out loans. It’s obvious the league cannot continue to operate as is, and owners have a drastically different view on how to fix things than the players. Which can only mean one thing, as Broussard reports:
Severe drops in salary. Non-guaranteed contracts. Billy Hunter, the Executive Director of the Players Association, will not settle for that without a fight, and the owners know it.
â€œThereâ€™s going to be a lockout,â€™â€™ the owner said. â€œThereâ€™s not even a doubt in my mind about that. Billyâ€™s not going to make a deal like that. Teams are already saving up money for a strike.â€™â€™
In all likelihood, the NBA will survive another lockout. If the past two or three decades have proven anything, it’s that sports leagues are bigger than work stoppages. Sadly, I’m not sure the same thing can be said of the Spurs.
Now, we here in San Antonio are probably the only fans in the NBA that have fond memories of that lockout shortened season (unless you count Bill Simmons and his love of David Stern’s lockout beard). But the Spurs face a drastic set of circumstances, and the results of another lockout could leave most of us clamoring for the days of asterisk talk.
Heading into the last lockout, the Spurs were already set with their core of David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Sean Elliott and Avery Johnson. A few veterans on the cheap and they were ready for contention. A salary cap protecting small markets and Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford were able to come up with a successful business model to compete.
Heading into this probable lockout, the Spurs face far more questions.
The most immediate problem is what to do with Manu Ginobili. Consider the heart and soul of the team by many fans, Ginobili already faces contract uncertainty headed into this offseason (and more to read here) without a lockout muddling things.
Knowing that salaries–and by extension the salary cap–are about to be slashed, do the Spurs risk low balling Ginobili this offseason in anticipation of a new CBA? Or do the Spurs, in offering Ginobili fair market value under the current CBA, overpay for an aging shooting guard under a new CBA?
Of the Spurs stable of young rotation players, consisting of Tony Parker, George Hill, DeJuan Blair and presumably Tiago Splitter, only Blair will be unaffected by the uncertainty of a new CBA.
And if the Spurs face uncertainty concerning their own free agents, what can we make of our chances to attract new ones under a new, lower salaried CBA? One would assume that lower salaries would benefit small market teams, but is there a point where salaries drop to their detriment?
I assume that whatever new deal is ratified, teams will be left with the means to secure their own franchise players. But what of secondary stars? In an extreme perspective, one owner predicted that All-Star Amare Stoudemire would receive no more than $5 -6 million annually. Accustomed to much larger salaries, I think it’s reasonable to assume that secondary stars would flock to larger markets in search of endorsement dollars to compensate.
Furthermore, there’s been talk of following an NFL model and non-garuanteed contracts. After all, parity does seem to reign supreme in football. But building a successful football team is far different than building a basketball team. Professional football teams are built through the draft, where there is a much larger influx of superstar talent with late picks than that of the NBA (nearby superstars Tony Romo and Miles Austin were undrafted).
NFL teams Â overcome bad free agency decisions all the time, it’s screwing up the draft that destroys a team. Outside of quarterback, no one player transforms a team. By contrast, one player can make all the difference in the world in basketball. The Spurs have been successful because they have been smart in a system that severely punishes irresponsible spending. Imagine removing that responsibility, or accountability, from the deep pockets of Los Angeles, Portland, New York or Dallas.
Secure in the knowledge that all contracts are guaranteed only in the short term, these owners will give their general managers free reign to spend as they please. Given enough opportunities to come up with different combinations in such a short time, one could see how eventually enough general managers would find enough successful combinations of talent to render the have nots of the league irrelevant.
Finally, there is the not so little matter of Tim Duncan. Despite his resurgent play so far this season, he is nearing the end of his career. If he is already resting on back to back nights now, what happens when the Spurs return to playing three nights in a row during a lockout shortened season?
If Spurs fans thought the team was wasting one of Duncan’s final brilliant seasons this year with disappointing play, what happens when another year is lost to an empty court?