Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski joined the Mut & Merloni show Friday to discuss the NBA lockout. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
Wojnarowski got right to business, making it clear that both sides of the lockout — the owners and the NBA Players Association — are prepared to dig in for the long haul.
“I think there’s a real chance that they lose a whole season with this lockout,” Wojnarowski said. “I don’t claim to be an expert on the NFL labor dispute. I’m not sure I’m an expert on the NBA’s yet, but I don’t think they’re looking to change the structure of things in the NFL. In the NBA, they’re changing the structure, and really the whole system. That’s not going to come easily. I think the comparison is what happened in hockey, where they tried to put the hard cap, and they lost the full season in ’04-’05. I think that’s where we may be headed with this stoppage. There’s no doubt in my mind they will miss games, and they’ll be where they were in ’98, where it’s either going to be a shortened 50-game regular season, or they cancel the whole thing.”
On the timing of the lockout:
“I think the NBA’s in a different place than the NHL was then,” Wojnarowski said. “The NBA is at the height of interest and popularity.”
He added: “The game’s never been more popular, watched certainly globally, but here the interest from what happened last year in free agency with LeBron, whether people love him or hate him they all watched. Boston has been good, your marquee markets have been very good again. Boston, L.A., Chicago, New York is having a bit of a revival. I think it’s a dangerous time for the league. I think the players are going to have to give. I think they know they’re going to have to give back, but I think right now, to me, there are so many organizations in the NBA, so many bad owners, poorly run franchises who want to blame competitive balance on the fact that they don’t do their jobs very well. There are enough small-market examples — San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Detroit for a very long stretch without a superstar player, who have shown you can do it. While I understand there’s got to be some tightening up here, there’s no question, I think a lot of this the owners, they’re looking to have the players dig them out of a hole that in many instances, they’ve created for themselves.”
Concerning how current contracts will be handled:
“They want rollbacks on the current contracts. They want rollbacks. This is my feeling on contracts in the NBA. I think that star players, the elite players, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Derrick Rose, even like a Blake Griffin who comes in the league and is selling out arenas on the road in his first year. What Clippers games have ever sold out anywhere? This year I live in Jersey and I was going to take my son to a Nets-Clippers game because he wanted to see Blake Griffin and it was sold out. And I said, ‘How could a Clippers-Nets game be sold out? Wow, Blake Griffin.’ Those guys, generally are to me underpaid for what they do for television, for the interest.
“And I think a lot of probably the middle class might be overpaid. A lot of those guys are probably more interchangeable than they want to believe they are. They don’t put people in stands. What will happen is while their salaries are going to go down, the superstar player is probably going to be very underpaid compared to what they’re worth for these franchises. But, what they do want is rollbacks on the current deals. What the owners proposed right now, they’re looking at 25 percent, 20 percent rollbacks on an existing deal you already have now. That’s going to be hard to swallow for guys, not just on your next deal, but on your current deal. You’re going to lose money on a deal you’ve already agreed to.”
The owners have announced that 22 of 30 teams lost money last season. Both Wojnarowski and the players association aren’t sold on that number.
“I’m not an economist and I don’t have access to their books, but I know on the players’ side, they feel like a lot of these numbers get cooked,” Wojnarowski said.
Added Wonjnarowski: “I know the union doesn’t believe there are 22 teams losing money, not with the way teams have spent. You know you look at free agency, I was talking to a GM last night and he said he was watching actually the lockout press conference and he started going through every deal done last summer and said, ‘I counted about $220 million in bad contracts done in our league last summer.’ So all the owners are crying poverty. They’re still spending money. And it certainly leads you to believe, and not necessarily wisely, I don’t believe there are 22 teams losing money in the NBA. Now, are there a few? Yeah. And if you’re going to look at places with arenas empty, Minnesota or New Jersey, but half the places they’ve not run their franchises very well either. It’s not just because they can’t spend like the Celtics or Lakers or other teams. It’s because they haven’t done a good job drafting, making deals, hiring coaches and yet you never hear them take accountability for that because like I said, we’ve seen the Spurs do it, we’ve seen the Thunder do it, we’ve seen a bunch of small-market teams be able to do it.”
Former Celtic Nenad Krstic recently signed a two-year deal to play in Europe for CSKA Moscow. Wojnarowski expects others to follow.
“I think you’re going to see that,” he said. “The problem right now is that a few years ago overseas was a big threat and then the euro crashed. There aren’t as many teams in Europe as there were a few years ago. There was a couple years there where, you know, Josh Childress had a $6 million a year deal in Europe. Those deals aren’t there anymore for those kind of guys. If a front line NBA guy wants to go over there, he can get a good contract. The middle-of-the-road, the middle-class guys who were going over there and really getting paid well, getting paid more than they could get with say the veterans minimum here or even like a $1.8, $2.2 million deal, they could get a little better over there. That money isn’t really there anymore. So you will see more guys go over there. Now for Krstic it was easy because he’s from Europe and he has a comfort level there. But I think you’ll see a few more guys sign up like that, fringe guys, but the guys who are under contract and aren’t free agents right now, they’re going to have to ride it out.”