When Charles Grantham abruptly resigned last week after six years as executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, some members of the union's executive committee got what they wanted. But in the process, the players' association may have tipped its hand in its negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement with the NBA.
Sources close to the talks between the union and the league say that Grantham was losing the support of some of the players because of what they considered his hard-line approach. Grantham will be replaced as lead negotiator by the players' association general counsel, Simon Gourdine, who from 1974 to '81 was deputy commissioner of the NBA. With Gourdine heading the union negotiating team—and presumably taking a more conciliatory tack—some owners have said there could be a new agreement in place before the playoffs are over.
The union and the league have been without an agreement since their contract expired last July 1 (they have been operating under a no-strike, no-lockout agreement reached days before this season began). In the current negotiations, Grantham and the union originally sought abolition of the draft and of the salary cap and the end of restrictions on free agency. But Grantham wasn't completely inflexible; the most recent proposal from the union showed significant movement on several issues. It conceded the continued existence of a salary cap, though the union proposed raising the cap from $15.9 million to about $27 million per club. And it no longer asked that the draft be discontinued but proposed that it be reduced from two rounds to one. The union also expressed willingness to limit rookies' contracts to a maximum of three years. The players have not budged, however, on other proposals, including overall compensation (they want a 50-50 split of all revenue, more than they currently receive) and the elimination of restraints on free agency.
Grantham denies rumors that he urged the union to push for a work stoppage next season if no agreement was reached. Still, he concedes that his aggressive proposals were not being received as favorably by the players as they once were. One player close to the negotiations confirms that and adds, "There was a feeling that the talks were stalling and that we should be willing to show a little more flexibility in our position than Charlie and some others wanted to." The split between Grantham and the players wasn't especially bitter, but a rift of any kind presents an opening for the league.
The Envelopes, Please
With the regular season ending April 23, the awards season is upon us. Here's one voter's ballot, which also includes the Pistons' Grant Hill as Rookie of the Year (page 40):
MVP: David Robinson, C, Spurs. Many of the voters who had penciled in Magic center Shaquille O'Neal's name for this award undoubtedly pulled out their erasers during the last two weeks. Robinson not only made sure the Spurs didn't fall apart when forward Dennis Rodman went down with a shoulder separation on March 20, he also led them on a 15-game winning streak that helped them overtake Orlando for the league's best record at week's end. But Robinson doesn't merit this vote merely on the strength of just a few games—he has been consistently brilliant all season. And, finally, even though O'Neal almost certainly will win the scoring title (with defending champion Robinson third), there is the little matter of free throw shooting: Through Sunday, Shaq was hitting only 54%. Should the MVP really be a player who is a liability at the foul line at the end of a close game?
Coach of the Year: Del Harris, Lakers. In his first season in L.A., Harris has taken a collection of good but not great players and transformed the young Lakers from a 33-win team whose morale was even lower than its winning percentage into a hustling, exciting club that through Sunday had won 48 games. Give Harris extra points for fooling most observers, including this one, who thought he was nothing but an NBA retread (he had coached the Rockets for four seasons and the Bucks for four-plus) who would have no luck motivating his team.
Most Improved Player: Elliot Perry, G, Suns. Perry, the point guard who has helped keep Phoenix on track while subbing for the often-injured Kevin Johnson, gets my vote by the slimmest of margins over the 76ers' Dana Barros, who went from a good season last year to All-Star status. Barros's jump was a big one, but Perry's was bigger. He once was a CBA veteran scavenging for his next 10-day contract; now he is a key contributor for the Suns (through Sunday he was averaging 9.8 points and a team-leading 1.9 steals). Perry is the kind of player the award was meant for.