Beginning in 2016, the NBA – thanks to a rich nine-year, $24 billion media rights deal that will kick in that summer – will be flush with cash big enough for both the owners and players to line their pockets.
Those good tidings may only last a season however, as each side has the option to opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement following the 2016-17 season. That same CBA that brought an end to the 149-day lockout in 2011 -- which shelved the first two months of the season -- could be ripped up, signaling what many expect to be another work stoppage.
New NBA Players Association executive director Michele Roberts, who gained prominence as the one of the top trial lawyers in the United States, is preparing for a nasty fight, one that could legitimately threaten the entire 2017-18 season.
In comments to ESPN The Magazine, it appears Roberts doesn’t just want to get players their fare share, she wants to blow up the entire system. Many observers agree that the current CBA heavily favors the owners.
Roberts went on the offensive against owners, arguing that they are expendable and that the players are the ones who keep their pockets full of money. She also took to the task several aspects of the NBA system: the age limit (commissioner Adam Silver has said he wants to raise it to 20 years old), max contracts and the entire concept of the salary cap, which has been in place since 1984.
"I can't understand why the [players' association] would be interested in suppressing salaries at the top if we know that as salaries at the top have grown, so have salaries at the bottom," she told ESPN’s Pablo S. Torre. "If that's the case, I contend that there is no reason in the world why the union should embrace salary caps or any effort to place a barrier on the amount of money that marquee players can make."
With the salary cap primed to take a massive jump when the new TV money kicks in, commissioner Adam Silver and the league’s attorneys are considering a “cap smoothing” process that would artificially increase the cap in smaller increments in the seasons leading up to 2016.
Roberts told ESPN that she doesn’t expect the players to swiftly consent to it, at least without discussing. “At first glance, [cap smoothing] is not that attractive, I won't lie. But we're studying it to figure out if there really is some advantage for players."
Any loss in games would make the league’s pockets considerably smaller, even more so with the new TV money set to increase nearly three-fold. During the 2011 lockout, the league lost an estimated $480 million.
If the league and the players do find themselves embattled in another lengthy work stoppage, it’s fair to wonder how long the players – the majority of whom rely wholly on basketball to make their living – are willing to hold out while the owners have their outside businesses (the ones that made them their fortune strong enough to buy an NBA franchise) to fall back on.
(Photo Credit: Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)