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NBA Lockout: The tale of two hardliners...

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Could the NBA lockout be coming down to salary cap, hard cap "true believers" and those who just want to get this thing over with? Only the owners know for sure.

To be more specific - this lockout could really come down to two owners, Dan Gilbert of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Robert Sarver of the Phoenix Suns, who aren't willing to negotiate, and to players' agents who are hell bent on decertification.

Is this really happening?

I have no idea what these parties are thinking. If the recent reports are true, then it seems like the powers that be in the NBA are marching towards oblivion, while playing the pied pipers tune of the "hard cap". True believers? Well, at the very least I think one of them is.

Shortly after a piece appeared on ESPN's True Hoop Network about Sarver (Phoenix Suns owner) and Gilbert (Cleveland Cavaliers owner), David Stern emerged to proclaim the story was "fiction" and that Sarver and Gilbert did not persuade their fellow owners to reject the NBA Players Association concession of lowered BRI (Base Rate Compensation, or players percentage of revenue) from 57% to somewhere around 53%, and a cap in revenue share of $2.1 billion over two years to get the owners finances in check. While not perfect, it represents the largest concession thus far in these negotiations. By most accounts the owners were pleased with this.

The caveat was that the owners accept the "system" (soft cap with exceptions) as is for these ideas to be implemented. But this is kind of an unacceptable term on the players part, but it's fairly typical in Labor negotiations. There's no way the owners would agree to a stipulation like that. However, what happened when the owners met for roughly three-hours to discuss this proposal by the players is interesting to say the least. According to the article by Sean McMenamin:

Owners were seriously considering coming off of their demand for a salary freeze and would allow players' future earnings to be tied into the league's revenue growth, a critical point for players. The owners also were willing to allow the players to maintain their current salaries, without rollbacks, sources said.

But when the owners left the players to meet among themselves for around three hours, Cleveland's Dan Gilbert and Phoenix's Robert Sarver expressed their dissatisfaction with many of the points, sources said. The sources said that the Knicks' James Dolan and the Lakers' Jerry Buss were visibly annoyed by the hardline demands of Gilbert and Sarver.

So if this source were to be believed then this meeting was productive until Gilbert and Sarver (sounds like a seventies folk duo!) rallied the troops and true believers to remember that some of them (certainly not all) want a hard cap. Despite the recent spin to the contrary, the large market owners are ambivalent to the hard cap and are very much opposed to any substantial revenue sharing proposal. They really do like the system the way it is.

What is frustrating about this situation is you have the players making major concessions (albeit with a major caveat) and the owners seem to be receptive to this offer. Yet we are virtually in the same position because there are people within the owners group who want nothing but a hard cap (remember, David Stern himself has said that the hard cap is negotiable too). This is slightly discouraging

Mr. Sarver seems to be a true believer. He's been unloading salary for multiple seasons and it seems like he's intrenched in his position. Mr. Gilbert on the other hand seems to be intent on "sticking it" to Lebron James. I come to this conclusion based on one thing - what would Gilbert's position on this lockout and hard cap be if James would have re-signed with Cleveland in 2010? Don't you think this highly disingenuous person would be on the opposite side of things if that were to have happened?

For Nuggets fans, the important question is where do the folks at Kroenke Sports Entertainment stand? For all intents and purposes the KSE crew has been painted as a hawk in the proceedings, and I'm inclined to believe it's true for the most part. However, the KSE team has been far less engaged in this process than they were in the NHL lockout of 2004. Maybe their position isn't as intransigent as we have been led to believe?

Not to say that the players side is any better right now in terms of "unity". The big time player agents are causing trouble and trying to get the union to de-certify...which is hurting the cohesiveness of the message on the players side. Players' agents need to be quiet at this point. There was progress being made, and they managed to get there without threatening decertification.

My message to players' agents. Please shut up until there's a legitimate reason to be unhappy. The players and owners are closer than they have ever been on monetary issues. Focus is paramount at this point, and it's much easier to do without the agents squawking in the ears of the players.

This is frustrating. It feels like we have two steps forward and four steps back. This is typical of all labor negotiations, but as a Nuggets fan, my team's future direction is so uncertain. This process had made it even more agonizing to watch it all unfold or never unfold, however you view it. Everyone needs to take heed and realize that there are basketball fans all over the globe who are not wanting to miss games.

Will cooler heads prevail? Or will we trudge down the path of a busted season with no end in sight?

Twitter: @jmorton78 https://twitter.com/#!/jmorton78

mortonagency@juno.com