Derek Fisher's legacy will always be the big shots he made while helping the Los Angeles Lakers win five NBA titles during his tenure in LA. But he'll also be remembered by his long history of charitable work in the LA community and elsewhere that he feels a sense of home and connection to. Oh yeah, there's also his gig as the President of the National Basketball Players Association. Without sounding too dramatic, his work this next few months might actually be the most important contribution he's made to the game of basketball.
Alongside Billy Hunter, the Executive Director of the Players Union, Fisher will be in prolonged and contentious negotiations with the league and its owners as the two sides try to hammer out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current CBA, which is set to expire July 1st, has a number of provisions in it that are no longer deemed sustainable that financially strained owners in a tough economy. However, as Fisher noted in a long, candid interview with Stephen A. Smith on Tuesday, the players will dig in and fight tooth and nail against the massive changes in the financial structure of the league currently being proposed by the owners. Let's take a look at part of their conversation to better understand what the owners are trying to finagle out of the players in the new CBA, and what Fisher feels are more reasonable compromises and solutions to the complex set of issues facing the league as a whole.
On why Commissioner Stern has said substantial progress has been made in negotiations recently when it sounds like not much has been really accomplished so far:
"Well the best way to explain it would be that where we were a couple of months ago as far as the proposal that we were given by the NBA, which was essentially the same proposal that we received some two years ago, that hasn’t changed very much. So what has happened is the NBA has really tried to put us in a position where we’re negotiating from what we consider to be an outrageous proposal to begin with. So we’ve just been very focused on expressing that that’s not a place that we should start from. We recognize that there’s some things that we can discuss that we can make some adjustments on, and we can focus on some of the losses that they say they’re experiencing and try to help address some of those, but we’re not going to negotiate from a $900 million rollback in salaries, which would equal $8 to $9 billion dollars over the course of what they want us to sign — a ten year Collective Bargaining Agreement."
After explaining the differences between a hard and soft salary cap, and why a hard cap would tie up too much money in just a handful of star players on each team, Fisher explained that this provision is non-negotiable for the time being as far as he and the players are concerned:
"We’ve expressed that a hard salary cap is a non-starter, we have no interest in that. We’ve tried to express that some of the losses that they’re experiencing. So we made a big move we feel. We talked about moving back $100 million dollars towards the owners each year over the course of a five-year deal, which would put another $500 million dollars back on their side of the ledger, so we feel like half of a billion dollars over the course of five years to give back to owners to help them address some of the things they’re going through was a good move to make right now. But we didn’t receive that type of response."
Fisher then talked about how owners should be held accountable for poor financial decisions, and that there's more to the story than just teams get buried by exorbitant salary costs. After that though, Fisher explained that the players are willing to bear some responsibility for losses in a way that makes sense proportionally to salary costs:
"We recognize that players expense is the single biggest expense that they have, so we’re willing to share some of the loss, our percentage of it. So if we share 57 percent of the gain, we’re willing to discuss 57 percent of the loss. So if you’re losing $300 million, we’re interested in discussing eating off 57 percent of 300. And we feel like that’s a fair discussion to have, and we just haven’t been able to get them to move towards that type of discussion. They’ve consistently remained at more like $900 million a year because they’re asking us to guarantee that each team will be profitable at the level of $20 million dollars per year. So if you take $300 million in losses, and then you add 30 teams times $20 million dollars in profit, that’s $600 million. That’s how you get to the $900 million dollars that they’re asking for."
Near the end of the interview, I thought Fisher made an outstanding point about the length of guaranteed contracts. There's been plenty of chatter about shortening the length of deals to four years instead of having teams be on the hook for five or six years. Fisher again noted that the owners are their own worst enemies sometimes, citing that they're not required to dole out these mega- contracts. Though he's not accounting for the fact that more financially solvent teams don't mind swallowing some lost money on the back end of long term deals, certain teams just can't afford to keep up and make those types of investments. Anyway, FIsher still made a great point when he said:
"It’s not so much about years, it’s about the opportunity to negotiate for those years. Teams do not have to sign a player to a particular deal of any length. If a team feels the player will not be worth his value in five or six years, they have every right to sign him to a three or four year deal at this very moment. I personally went through a negotiation with the Lakers last season where they had no problem offering a one or two year deal to me — they ultimately offered me a three year deal. But we’ve seen the excess years and deals — five and six year deals — we’ve seen that go down without a hard salary cap system. There are fewer five and six year contracts in the league. I might want to say there are only 11 contracts that go out over five years in the NBA right now."
Unfortunately, this fight is just getting started. After a glorious season and playoffs for fans, the reality of a looming lockout is only going to increase this next few weeks as the July 1st deadline to work out a new CBA inches closer. As the days pass and the tensions rise, the spotlight will grow brighter on the five-time champion Derek Fisher.