09 December 2010
Update: Nate McMillan remembers the last NBA lockout back during the 1998-99 season.
McMillan had just retired as a player and was serving as an assistant with the Seattle SuperSonics, when the lockout forced the season to be shortened to 50 games. So what did McMillan do with time off between July 1998 and January 1999?
"Nothing. You can't work out with players, so there's not a lot going on," McMillan recalled.
Flashforward to the current NBA lockout quagmire, and McMillan - like the other 29 head coaches around the league - can't really comment on the situation and for good reason.
"That's really between the league and the players. I know something was addressed early with the Commissioner (David Stern) talking to the coaches at our meetings [before the season] and let us know where everything was and how things were going. Basically, it's really none of our business."
Late last week, Deputy Commissioner, Adam Silver, noted the lockout is "not inevitable" and that the two sides have a lot of time to finalize a deal before the current collective bargaining agreement expires June 30.
"When you are talking about a lockout and a stoppage of work, it's serious. But you know it's eventually going to be solved," added McMillan.
With current negotiations at a stand-still, chances of a lockout happening remains unfinished business around the NBA. The league wants to cut salary costs by $700 million to $800 million annually (roughly 40%) and is estimating it will lose about $370 million this season. Some players fear a lockout will occur, while others don't seem too worried about matters out of their own control.
"Right now I don't really pay attention to that (news about the lockout), because we are focused on what's going on right now," said Rudy Fernandez, who now maintains he wants to stay in Portland despite some early season feelings and comments.
"I'm sure some guys may be thinking about the lockout. But today we have a job and it's about this season and not about next year."
So what's Rudy's plan if next year at this time the NBA is knee deep in a lockout?
"I don't really have a game plan. I know everyone is talking about it, but I don't know what's going to happen. I've really never been in this situation before. We've talked with the Players Association and I know some guys want to play in Europe, but right now I have a contract with Portland - this year and then the next year - and I don't think about those other teams," Fernandez explained.
"I'm focused on my contract and playing for the Blazers right now."
Enjoy the NBA season while you can, because next year at this time the league could be mired in their first lockout since the 1998-99 season.
It's a scary thought and even harder for some players around the league to fathom during the rigors of another NBA season, where guys have a hard enough time looking ahead to the next game let alone next year. But the reality of a work stoppage is even hitting close to home in Portland these days as concerns grow about the faltering negotiations between the NBA player's association and the league.
And right now, the two sides appear headed for a divorce unless progress is reached by the All-Star break in February.
"Both groups are kind of at a stand-still. We are really far apart," said Blazers center Marcus Camby, who is the player representative for Portland, about the pending 2011-2012 NBA season lockout.
"It's really not looking good."
NBA players' association executive director Billy Hunter said late last month he is "99 percent sure" there will be a lockout next summer. As of Wednesday, the league and players association didn't really appear to change their stances much about the looming lockout. While the players' association is open to negotiate, they are firm in their belief about the league forcing players to accept a hard salary cap or to rollback salaries (as much as 40 percent overall).
The owners aren't budging on their demands for cuts in salaries, contract lengths and guarantees, annual raises, and the rookie salary scale and league reprentative recently said the NBA's goal remain the same.
Somewhere in between, players are cautiously navigating the waters and waiting to see how the negotiations play out.
"We have to do what is right for us and the owners have to do what is right for them. Hopefully an agreement is reached or else the league isn't going to happen [next season], so we just have to be prepared for whatever," said Wesley Matthews, who inked a lucrative five-year contract with Portland last summer.
Last month, Hunter's advice to the some 400 players in the league was for them to start saving their money and prepare for a lockout. Camby can only hope his teammates and especially the young players around the league [ perhaps even growing younger; the union is also suggesting a reduction of the age limit back to 18] are heeding Hunter's words and bracing for what could be an ugly divorce.
"There really hasn't been a lot of progress and it's frustrating because I've been through a lockout before, and I know how it can be especially on these young players today. They are coming in to the league and don't have a lot of money saved up. I was in that position when I came into the league, so I know how frustrating it can be," added Camby, who said he receives weekly emails from the union keeping him updated on the latest collective bargaining discussions.
"We've been informed about this for the last two years and the players' association has really informed us about the right way to save our money. I can't speak for everyone else, but I know I've been doing that. We are definately well informed and that really puts the onus on us to really follow through."
While Camby is preparing for the worst, others remain hopeful Hunter and Stern can do what is best for both sides, the fans and of course the game.
"It's too early to really say how it's going to go, so all we can do is wait. All I can do right now is focus on the season going on and then once the season is over we can deal with that," explained LaMarcus Aldridge.
"You never know what's going to happen."
At least Hunter and David Stern can at least agree on one thing: the two sides aren't any closer to reaching an agreement then they were nearly two years ago when murmurs started about the collective barganing agreement. In the meantime, a few players around the league are keeping their future options open. Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings - who played in Italy two seasons ago - was one of the first to say that if there is a lockout, he would be open to heading overseas to play basketball until a resolution is met.
It could be part of a growing trend as the season goes on.
"I would think about it [playing overseas]. I love playing and you have to stay in shape some way, and the best way is by playing. So, if they say there is a lockout, then we'll have to take it from there," Matthews explained.
Camby believes that is merely part of a player guarding their bests interests.
"I can see how guys would go overseas and play, and that's an option that players are going to have. It's an option. I can see guys doing that," Camby started, "but we were also talking about making sure guys have opt out clauses in their contracts, so if or when the lockout finally breaks they can get out of their contract and come back to play."
The two sides could meet again to discuss the CBA at the end of the month, but a formal date has not been set.
Until then, guys are praying for the best.
"I hope it doesn't happen," Aldridge said softly.
Even that may be wishful thinking right now.
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