Suns owner Robert Sarver throws monkey wrench into possible deal
The NBA and NBA Players Association just wrapped up another round of labor meetings this past week, and despite all the optimism regarding a deal that preceded the meetings, both sides remain far apart on a new deal.
However, it seems that the current impasse may be a result of a few owners taking a hard-line stance in negotiations, and one of those owners at the forefront is Phoenix Suns majority owner Robert Sarver.
According to an ESPN.com story, the Players Association made significant financial concessions to the NBA during a meeting Sept. 13, agreeing to take around 52-53 percent of basketball-related income versus the 57 percent the players took in the prior agreement. NBA commissioner David Stern and Peter Holt, who is the owner of the San Antonio Spurs as well as the head of the owners’ executive committee, believed it was a fair proposal and even were reportedly willing to drop their demand of a salary freeze along with allowing players’ future earnings to be based on the league’s revenue growth and allowing the players to keep their current salary figures, sans rollbacks.
But when Stern and Holt returned to meet with the other owners to report the details of the negotiations, Sarver, along with Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, took issue with the details. Apparently for them, they will settle for nothing less than rolling back player salaries to around 40 percent and a hard salary cap.
Sarver’s stance is not surprising. He has been widely regarded as one of the most frugal owners in the league since buying the Suns from Jerry Colangelo in 2004. He notoriously balked at paying then-Suns guard Joe Johnson $45 million over six years before the 2004-05 season, instead challenging him to go out that season and earn more. Johnson did just that, and Sarver traded him to the Atlanta Hawks, effectively breaking up Phoenix’s best chance at a title since the 1992-93 season. That was followed a few years later by the exit of Steve Kerr, who was serving as team president at the time, because Sarver reportedly wanted him to take a pay cut after assembling a team that made it to the Western Conference Finals.
In Phoenix, fans are well aware that Sarver the businessman often makes the decisions at U.S. Airways Center while Sarver the team owner and sports fan takes a back seat (unless he’s sporting his infamous foam finger). His other ventures, specifically his banking interests, have suffered in a down economy, and those monetary concerns, more than anything else, are likely the driving force behind his desire to scale back player salaries and create a system in which every team makes a guaranteed profit.
But his desire to ensure that his team is in the black no matter how poorly managed it is has not won him many friends around the NBA. The same ESPN.com story stated that New York Knicks owner James Dolan and Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss were unhappy with Sarver’s stance over the most recent round of negotiations. That shouldn’t be surprising since the Knicks and Lakers stand to lose the most if the season cannot be saved. But even commissioner Stern has been irked from time to time by Sarver’s antics, from waving the foam finger to speaking over him in previous negotiations with the Players Association.
And now it appears he may be the ringleader of a group of NBA owners who are more concerned with crushing the Players Association and creating a system that guarantees profits than with doing what is in the best interests of the league as a whole, creating a whole new group of people who will detest his actions in the process if his greed shortens or cancels the 2011-12 season.
In an even worse sign of his deteriorating standing, a Tweet by ESPN’s Bill Simmons deriding Sarver and his lockout stance was supported by none other than Suns point guard and face of the franchise Steve Nash. Considering Nash’s contract expires at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season, blasting the owner (or supporting the blasting of the owner in this case) does not bode well for the chances of Nash finishing his career in purple and orange.
If Sarver’s intentions were in creating a system that creates and preserves competitive balance across the board for all 30 NBA franchises, then taking such a hard-line stance would be understandable. Unfortunately, Sarver would likely be just fine if the Suns turned a profit but wallowed at the bottom of the standings.
These owners looking to implement a hard cap do not care whether the NBA is competitive; they want to see less red ink in the accounting ledgers.
So now it comes down to this: While the owners have been hoping that the players will start to splinter once paychecks cease to arrive in the mailbox in November, it may be the owners splintering first over what constitutes an acceptable deal. This lockout battle may end up being a war of attrition, with the winner being the side able to keep the fraying cohesiveness between its constituents together the longest.
By: Eric Lorenz
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