NBA Players Choose The "Other" Court

[From the FanPosts, hilliard breaks down the latest legal phase of the lockout launched by the NBA players in an effort to pressure NBA owners into ending the lockout. -TL]

Ding Dong! The Union is dead!

Well, for the time being at least. But what happens now that the two sides are no longer meeting in hotel conference rooms and instead are arguing their cases to a judge? Do the players really have a chance to strong-arm the owners? If the NFL players just lost their anti-trust suit, what do the NBA players expect to gain? 

All of these questions are pertinent to understanding the current state of the NBA lockout and more importantly to determining when it will be over.

What happens now is the players will file a lawsuit claiming that the lockout is illegal and asking for an injunction to block the lockout and for treble damages. In other words, they'll ask for the lockout to be lifted and to be compensated with three times their wages plus any other financial harm the lockout has caused them. This is the same tactic that the NFL players used and, despite what you have read, had a certain amount of success with. In return, the NFL owners defended themselves with three main arguments: they claimed federal courts don't have the authority to enjoin (lift) lockouts, that the disbanding of the union was a sham and therefore they are still protected from anti-trust suits, and that NLRB should rule whether the player union's disclaimer of interest is valid before continuing with a trial. Basically, the owners defense tactic was to stall a decision and prolong the lockout for as long as possible. However, the players originally won the suit and the lockout was lifted. Nevertheless, upon appeal, a panel of three judges ruled 2-1 to stop the court's ruling, and then later ruled that the federal court did not have the authority to enjoin a lockout.

So what should I take away from all that?

Out of four judges that reviewed the case, two sided with the owners and two sided with the players. Needless to say, that's hardly a slam dunk for the owners. Moreover, they only ruled that federal courts do not have the right to lift lockouts, not that the lockout was legal. The players and owners reconvened and got a deal done before the whole lawsuit played out. Therefore, the only way that the NFL case really affects the NBA case is that it sets a precedent about the authority of federal courts enjoining lockouts.

Furthermore, that precedent is only binding for courts in the 8th circuit (where the NFL case was held). It is all but an absolute certainty that the NBA trial will not be held in the 8th circuit because neither side wants be there. The NBA filed suits against the players in a New York court back in August, essentially claiming that the union was using decertification as a threat and weren't negotiating in good faith. Whether or not these suits have much merit to them is really unimportant, their true effect is that they direct the hearings to NY (2nd circuit) and they delay any resolution to the suits the players will file (an additional layer of stall tactic). The NBA wants to hold the hearings in NY because the court has a history of siding with them over the players and it essentially gives them a "home court advantage". Obviously, the players will try and get the hearings moved somewhere else, but even if they are successful, this will take more time. 

What this whole legal process comes down to is a war of attrition. Neither side is interested in seeing a final court ruling because that will take years upon years. Unfathomable amounts of money will be lost and nobody wins. The players will have priceless years of their careers gone for good and the courts aren't going to force the players to accept a hard cap or a smaller MLE. Really, the owners are out of proactive means to force the players into a bad deal while appearing to "bargain in good faith". Now they are simply playing chicken; who can last longer without the NBA.

One would have to give the edge to the owners in this game simply because they have more money. Not only are they all billionaires to begin with, they still get the money from the TV contracts whether or not there is a season. Without a season the money is considered a loan and the owners have to pay it back with interest, but the owners will each get 31 million dollars this year regardless. The majority of NBA players cannot survive multiple years without the league and the notion that the league will collapse and something will take its place is ridiculous. It's a multi-billion dollar organization that has far too much influence and infrastructure to simply wilt away. Therefore, its likely the players will want to resume talks first. 

So in summation, neither side has much leverage to get a better deal other than holding out for so long that their opponent comes crawling back begging for a deal, any deal. In my opinion, that seems unlikely considering the amount of money at stake. What seems realistic to me is that they play out this legal charade for a few more months, until a few more paychecks are missed, and a few million more dollars of league revenue are lost. Then they'll meet again signing an offer that is eerily similar to the one that was just offered. The players will boast that they called the owner's bluff on the reset offer. The owners will be happy with a CBA that is unbelievably more friendly than the previous one.

And the fans....well, true to the NBA labor process, we get the shaft. We'll get 2 or 3 more months of boring labor articles, of writing blog posts about legal proceedings rather than the team we love. We'll get 40 games of basketball that won't answer any of the questions we had about our promising team going into the year. We'll have whole new questions to deal with. Did Brandon Rush outplay Paul George because we overrated him or because Rush always wakes up from his blunt nap in March? Roy Hibbert looked good, but was that one of his famous peaks or did he really hit the next level? George Hill showed some flashes but was frustratingly inconsistent. Training camp and time to adjust to a new system would have fixed that...right? Either way its a shame that all the NBA action is taking place in court instead of on it. Here's to hoping they're back on the hardwood soon.

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