There’s a CBA storm brewing

Whenever I see the acronym “CBA,” I still think of the Continental Basketball Association, which is apparently still around, but only had four teams to start the season — the Albany Patroons, the East Kentucky Miners, the Lawton-Fort Sill Calvary and the Minot Skyrockets. Seriously.

CBA also stands for the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, which is essentially the agreement between the league, owners and its players regarding salary cap structure, trades, length/size of contracts, etc. Commissioner David Stern wants a major overhaul to account for the number of franchises in financial straits, but Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBA Player’s Association says the current system is just fine.

“One of the principle issues is that some owners are having a hard time with cash flow,” Hunter said. “I don’t see why that automatically means more give-backs from the players. It seems to me a new revenue-sharing plan among the owners is one of the things they have to look at. Then you wouldn’t be looking to the players every time there’s a shortfall.”

The current labor pact, signed in July, 2005, will expire in June, 2011. No substantive talks with the league on a subsequent deal will begin until after July 1, Hunter said, because union president Derek Fisher and other board members are involved in the playoffs. The current system guarantees the players 57 percent of basketball-related revenue (BRI).

Hunter declined to outline what the players might be seeking in the new deal, but a source said repealing the age limit, reducing the amount of player salaries held in escrow, loosening rules concerning restricted free agents and changing the league’s disciplinary system top the list.

The biggest points of contention are likely to be the age limit and the disciplinary system. The current deal requires a player to be 19 — and one year removed from high school in the U.S. — before he is draft-eligible. There has been talk that the league would like to raise the limit by another year, but one union source said “90 percent” of the current players are against it now.

Hunter’s logic is interesting…

Twelve teams borrowed a total of $200 million from the league, which is a sign that there are a number of teams that will be operating at a loss this season. In his opinion, those franchises that are making money should cover those losses. Hunter says that the players shouldn’t be asked to give anything back, even those playing for lousy teams that are losing money.

The article mentions shorter contracts as one of the things Stern wants to implement within a new CBA, and while that would help, the fact that contracts are guaranteed is what is getting a lot of these teams into trouble. I’d like to see a system where if a player signs a five-year deal, and after the second or third year he is cut by his team (for whatever reason — injury, poor performance, bad attitude, etc.), then the team would only be on the hook for half of his remaining salary. That gives the player some insurance and financial stability without holding the franchise hostage when he doesn’t live up to his contract. The player could then go and play somewhere else and his old team would have more salary cap flexibility, giving the franchise a better chance to be competitive in the short term.

Regarding the age limit, it looks like the Players Association is for having it removed altogether. I’d like to see a system where a player can declare straight out of high school, but if he elects to go to college, he has to stay for a minimum of two years. That way, the top prospects can still come straight to the league, while those fringe prospects have a chance to develop their skills for two years before making themselves eligible. The two-year rule would protect the credibility continuity of the NCAA game, which is suffering with all of these one-and-dones coming and going.

The current CBA doesn’t expire until June of 2011, so the two sides have a couple of years to work an agreement out. But be warned, if they don’t have a deal in place by the end of 2010, this is going to become a very big story.

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