Union VP Evans opens up about negotiations, players' stance
Maurice Evans said he had little optimism during the labor meetings
He said the owners' flex-cap concession seemed bigger than it really was
The union still doubts the league's reported losses of $300 million
One week into a lockout that so many expect to last much, much longer, Wizards guard and National Basketball Players Association vice president, Maurice Evans, candidly spoke about the labor situation with SI.com.
SI.com: As you look back at last week and the final meeting before the lockout, did you have any optimism at all that this could get resolved at the 11th hour? What's your outlook now?
Evans: I didn't have much optimism throughout this process. I've been in every meeting for the last two years, and the hard-line stance that the owners have taken has been clear from the start. Even with the record season-ticket sales, the great support from the fans, the record ratings, etc., their position never changed. It has been evident that, in their minds, they decided a long time ago that they were going to implement a lockout.
SI.com: Commissioner David Stern probably captured some public support with the $62 million flex cap, as if it were a huge concession. How did the players' view the proposal and the support it received?
Evans: I think the owners are very intelligent. Most of them own businesses, and they're very unified, and David Stern does a great job of making sure they keep a united front. It's easier for those guys to kind of manipulate the public to make their concessions seem bigger than they really are. For example, the $500 million to $600 million they say they gave us [for the 2010-11 season] ... still didn't even bring us up to the current salaries, which total $2.17 billion. [Their concession brought it up] to $2 billion, without even counting insurance and benefits. So we take another $160 million back, and you can see where we fall.
I don't think this is a matter of trying to win the support of the public, because we're not fighting for the support of the people, we're trying to fight for what's right for everyone, what's right for the game, for all the people who have come before us -- the Magic Johnsons, Michael Jordans, Dr. Js, all the gentlemen who played in the ABA and merged and believed in this league to make it what it is today. I don't think any of those people saw the NBA attaining this type of popularity and success that we've achieved, and we've done it through a partnership. But it seems at this moment in time that the owners want to deviate from that partnership and try to implement a hard-cap system, they want to play with the guarantees to where they may give you a guarantee but it's still not fully guaranteed. They want to reduce years, they want to add escrows, they want to do things that don't lead to competitive balance, things that don't lead to improving the game as a whole. It's things that lead to increasing their profitability.
They're preaching to us that it's two years where they're losing hundreds of millions of dollars, but I've read many an article that proves that they're making a significant amount of money. Every franchise isn't [able] to attain the amount that the Lakers are, or the Knicks are, but for the Lakers to be able to sign a $3 billion television deal shows you that the game is obviously headed to unchartered places, so we should be able to go there together.
SI.com: There has been a lot of discussion about the accuracy of the league's reported losses. How much questioning of the numbers is going on in-house?
Evans: I personally don't believe the numbers. The NBPA, we don't believe the numbers. They haven't been open with us in opening up their books. For example, the Pistons were just sold and ... the NBPA doesn't have the opportunity to review the sale and see what the player costs are, just see the numbers so that we can try to remedy the situation.
SI.com: That was 57 percent for the players down to 54 percent. Correct?
Evans: Exactly. And we still had options in there where we could play with it in terms of future growth and not accepting future growth until they were able to reach a number that allowed them to cover a certain number. We were working toward building a way in the system to help them be even more profitable than what they already are, taking out of consideration the fact that each team has to work to manage a franchise properly to max out its respective market. Retaining their big players, marketing their team, making proper coaching decisions, employing two or three [head] coaches at the same time (when the firing of one coach and the hiring of a new one lead to multiple coaches on the payroll), paying those expenses -- those are things they control.
We talked about players having the opportunity to try and maximize our market value. That's all we want is the opportunity. Not a guarantee. It's not a guaranteed right for each player to go in and make the average salary, which is around $5 million [annually]. But most players don't fall in that $5 million range. Most players fall in that $1 million range or below, with bi-annual [exception] players and things like that. Then you have your max players, who take up the bulk of that money, and they still soak up the bulk of that money as they slide down in their career. They're the ones who are getting the full mid-level, on average. What we're saying is that we're still unified because players just want to have the opportunity to play.
Even when they don't reach their value because they're misevaluated by certain GMs or ownership, players aren't complaining about that. So we're not sure why owners try and complain about not being able to be profitable as if that's the players' responsibility to build that into the system.
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