Fixing The Hornets & The NBA

I keep reading and listening to people talk about the NBA and plans for the Hornets this summer.

As I process this media I am sometimes baffled at what people write and say.

That said, here is a logical breakdown of the NBA and the Hornets:

LOCKOUT LOOMING:

The NBA collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between owners and players ends July 1st.

NBA players union chief Billy Hunter says their is a “99% chance” a lockout will occur.

The reason is simple. 

NBA Commissioner David Stern says the league lost $300 million dollars last season and that 22 of the NBA’s 30 teams reported losses.

Due to these dire financial conditions owners want to slash player salaries by $750 million dollars, rid the league of guaranteed contracts and perhaps add a franchise tag (which would be aimed at helping small market teams keep superstar players).

The players will not agree to this.

Because both sides are so far apart and because the NBA labor battle isn’t between just the owners and players (it’ll also be big market owners vs. small market owners) expect the lockout in the NBA to make the current lockout in the NFL seem trivial.

The NFL players and owners are fighting how to divvy up $9 billion dollars in annual profit.  The NFL makes $9 billion a year, yet the players and owners have been fighting for months and a lockout has been in place for 60 days.

How long will a fight in a league where losses are in the hundreds of millions last?

Maybe all season?  Perhaps, it happened in the NHL in ’04-’05.   

My prediction: The NBA season starts around Christmas (or the 1st of the year) with a season consisting of between 30-55 games (not the normal 82…at least 30-50 games will be lost to this labor battle).

LOCKOUT & THE HORNETS

A lockout in the NBA is horrible for the Hornets “I’m In” season ticket campaign.  As soon as fans realize their is a chance their will be no season…or a shortened season…they will not buy tickets or suites. 

A lockout in the NBA is helpful for the Hornets if the league fixes itself.  

Right now the NBA caters to a select few big market teams and watches all the others suffer. 

In his new book, Portland Trail Blazer owner Paul Allen…the 21st richest man in the United States says:

  • The NBA has yet to address the “big market / small market discrepancy” in revenue generating potential.  In a  “perfect world” the NBA would be a place where “the most successful NBA teams wouldn’t necessarily be those with the biggest local television markets or corporate-suite bases.” 

http://probasketballtalk.nbcsports.com/2011/04/20/portland-owner-one-of-world%E2%80%99s-richest-men-complains-about-nba-finances/

Allen is dead on.  One of the reasons (besides great revenue sharing) the NFL is uber-successful financially is because every team has a fair chance to win…which means fans in every market buy tickets/suites and support their teams.  Look at the past three Super Bowl champs…Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Green Bay.  The great thing about the NFL is that parity allows small market teams to compete and be successful.  The Hornets and Bucks don’t have the same chances as the Saints and Packers to win championships.

HELPING SMALL MARKET TEAMS

Assuming the NBA does the right thing and decides to make itself more competative…to level the playing field so to say…how does the league make this happen?

Start with a hard salary cap like in the NFL.  Without a hard cap in the NFL owners like Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder would be out of control when it comes to spending on players.  Making every team play by the same rules has made the NFL a stronger league. The NFL has prevented teams like the Cowboys & Redskins from buying championships…a la the Lakers/Celtics. 

The NBA absolutely, positively needs a hard salary cap. 

Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis says the NBA needs a hard salary cap to prevent owners from “taking stupid pills.”

http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/news/story?id=5208536

Imagine if all NBA teams could spend only $70 million dollars on salaries (we use $70 million because that figure was the ’10-’11 luxury tax threshold).

Would the Hornets series with the Lakers have been more competative? 

Sure! 

The Lakers players combined salaries are $91 million dollars.  Envision the Lakers without Pau Gasol and Ron Artest (combined $22 million in salary)…or without Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom (combined $21 million in salary).

Making the NBA adopt a hard salary cap would put an emphasis on scouting, the draft, finding foreign players…and player development.

A hard cap would also prevent teams like the Lakers from stockpiling talent…meaning the talent would be more evenly dispersed throughout the entire league…like in the NFL.

Aren’t we sick of reading/watching reports on ESPN about which superstar the Lakers will trade for/sign next just because they’ve got the most money?   

The NBA also needs to rid itself of guaranteed contracts.  The fact that Peja Stojakovic (who I love) is making $15.3 million dollars this year shows how guaranteed contracts hurt the league.  Paying aging former stars superstar money is foolish and handcuffs teams. 

If the NFL worked like the NBA Reggie Bush would be making a guaranteed $11.3 million dollars in salary for the Saints in 2011.  Because contracts in the NFL are not guaranteed the Saints have the opportunity to restructure Reggie’s contract or cut him. 

Adding a franchise tag (like in the NFL) would allow NBA teams to keep star players. 

NBA small market teams have basically become minor league clubs for the Lakers, Celtics, Mavericks and other franchises willing to increase salaries north of the league’s luxury tax threshold.

Imagine the Hornets have the ability to ‘franchise tag’ Chris Paul for an additional year…if that were the case, CP3 would probably be more inclined to sign a long term deal in New Orelans than play on a one year deal and risk injury.      

If the NBA fixes itself and makes the league more competatvie than the future of the Hornets in New Orleans seems more certain.  If the NBA continues down the path it’s on (catering only to a handful of big market franchises) than the Hornets could be relocating soon. 

NEW OWNERSHIP

If the NBA can put together a new financial model that keeps small market teams competative I believe that New Orleans will be able to secure a local owner and the team will remain in New Orelans long-term.  My belief is that Galliano based billionaire Gary Chouest is the guy that will purchase the team if the NBA busniess model shows small market franchises have a chance to win, keep their star players and be successful.  I’m not sure Chouest even needs or wants to make a profit on this investment…he simply does not want to buy a $300 million dollar busniess that loses $10 million dollars anually…as is the case right now. 

If the NBA does not find a way to help small market teams in the new labor deal than finding a local buyer for the Hornets will be nearly impossible and the team could be sold to someone like Larry Ellison and moved to San Jose, California.   

CONTRACTION

As the labor battle between big market and small market owners heats up expect to hear lots of chatter about the Hornets being contracted by the NBA.  The threat of contraction scares me because the league owns the team and contraction would be easier because of this situation.  But contraction in major professional sports is like the death penalty in the NCAA.  In the 1980’s The NCAA popped the SMU football program with the death penalty and not only killed football at one University but started the collapse of the entire Southwest Conference.  No other NCAA Division I football program has been given the death penalty since SMU.  Contraction is something that is used as a threat in professional sports (Montreal & Minnesota in MLB in ’94) but contraction has never become a reality.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has grown the league from 23 teams to 30 teams and contraction would be a huge sign of failure.  His entire tenure would be remembered for the contraction of teams and nothing else.

So, while contraction might be discussed and used as a threat I cannot see it becoming a reality.    

FREE AGENCY

Talking about free agency this summer is a total waste of time because their will be no free agency.  The NBA lockout will start before free agency.

If and when the players and owners agree on a new labor deal their will be a brief window for free agent players to sign with new teams but don’t expect the Hornets to be active.

The NBA still owns the Hornets and will not allow the team to take on a big bloated contract (or even a medium sized contract). 

Taking on long term debt while you’re trying to sell a team is not going to happen.

Plus, Dell Demps and Monty Williams come from the San Antonio system.  No one does it better than the Spurs when it comes to drafting and developing players…the Spurs never go out and make a crazy play in free agency…and Demps and Williams won’t either. 

DAVID WEST

Hornets star David West will be picking up the player option on his contract and returning to the Hornets.

West is of course recovering from a torn ACL and won’t be able to play until February.

If West opts out of his contract and becomes a free agent he walks away from $7.3 million in guaranteed salary.

How many teams out there are willing to pay a soon-to-be 31 year old with a torn ACL 7-plus million?

ZERO!

West might not even get a contract from another team until he can prove he’s healthy.

So any talk of West not picking up his option is pure insanity.

West will remain a Hornet, rehab and return in February.  If the season has started and the Hornets are winning then the team gets an all-star type player for a late season playoff run.  If the Hornets are losing then West can be traded to a playoff contender for young players and draft picks.   

THE DRAFT

The Hornets traded away their 2011 1st round draft pick to acquire Jerryd Bayless from Portland.  Bayless was a less than perfect fit in New Orleans so the Hornets used him to acquire Jarrett Jack.  Jack is a perfect fit with the Hornets.  In what is considered a weak class, I doubt the Hornets could get a player of Jack’s ability and swagger in the 1st round this year.

The Hornets have a 2nd round pick and it would not surprise me one bit if Demps goes for a euro player who can stay over seas for a year or two and then come over and help the Hornets.  The Spurs have been doing this for years with great success (Ginobili, Parker, Splitter).   

That said, the Player I think the Hornets should take in the 2nd round of the upcoming 2011 NBA draft (45th pick overall) is Spanish SG/SF Xavi Rabaseda.

  • Rabaseda stands out amongst this year’s crop of European prospects first and foremost because of his intriguing physical profile. Standing 6-5 without shoes, with an excellent frame, he looks the part of an NBA wing, and plays like one too. Fluid and mobile, Rabaseda has a nice first step and shows the ability to play above the rim, taking the ball strong to the basket and often finishing with an emphatic dunk. Fuenlabrada has a couple of lob plays they like to run for him and, although he won’t be competing in a dunk contest any time soon, he’s definitely a lot more explosive than your typical European shooting guard.From DraftExpress.com http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Xavi-Rabaseda-5876/#ixzz1LyMfpg7v

REBRANDING

Matt Biggers and the Hornets marketing department do an amazing job.  The ‘I’m In’ campaign is awesome in my opinion. 

With all the promotions, entertainment and hoopla at the New Orleans Arena…going to a Hornets game is a great experience…you truly get bang for your buck. 

But the Hornets need a new identity. 

My good friend Jeff Duncan once wrote:  “New Orleans is the most proudly provincial city in America, and there’s no room for fence-sitters in post-Katrina New Orleans. You’re all in or you’re all out.”

The Hornets have never seemed all in.

Over the past 10 years the franchise has called Charlotte, New Orleans and Oklahoma City home.

So, if the NBA fixes itself, and if the Hornets can secure a local owner…please change the name of the team.

New Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has filed to change the name of the Nets as soon as his franchise relocates to Brooklyn (many believe the new name will be the Brookyln New Yorkers).  The Maloof brothers were going to change the name of their franchise from Kings to Royals if the move from Sacramento to Anaheim had happened. 

For all our in-fighting in New Orleans we do love and respect the democratic process.  So, let the greater New Orleans area vote on a new name.  My suggestions are:

The New Orleans Soul

The New Orleans Krewe

The New Orleans Pelicans (Tom Benson owns the copyright to this name but in a goodwill gesture I’m sure he’d give it to the NBA team).

Also, like sports franchises in the city of Pittsburgh who all share the same colors (Steelers, Pirates, Penguins)….our NBA team should be black and gold!

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