So What Did We Learn Here? Struggling to Make Sense of the NBA Lockout

So What Did We Learn Here? Struggling to Make Sense of the NBA Lockout

A more punitive luxury tax?

That's it? That's the best you could come up with?

You threw away 16 games worth of revenue and untold amounts on this season's ticket and merchandise sales in favor of a more punitive luxury tax?

I couldn't be happier! Nor more bewildered…

To speak as if there is one central takeaway from the now almost-officially-resolved NBA Lockout would be to lie. There are actually an untold number of takeaways that are almost all—at least—half-right.

Sure, there's more to this deal than just adjustments to the tax—accompanying restrictions to the sign-and-trade, modifications to the Bird Rule, anywhere from 7-9% of BRI—but the biggest changes have rung hollow over the past few days because fans already knew they were coming. It was generally assumed that we were in store for something more. And that's why the lede of perhaps the least sexy labor resolution of all time begins with "a more punitive luxury tax."

It was no secret that the 50-50 split had been on the table since the league first cancelled it's preseason in October. The players conceded 4% of their original 57 right at the start, and the owners—you know, the ones with all the leverage—seemed to be pushing further toward half with every new meeting.

Indeed, this 51.2%-49% moving split was on the table two weeks ago when the players balked and moved to sue the owners in federal court as their only way of gaining any ground in negotiations they were quickly losing.

So what changed in the intervening 12 days between the players moving to sue and Billy Hunter and David Stern taking pictures in matching holiday sweaters?This is where things begin to break down for anyone hoping to make sense of either a) why they've been thus far deprived professional basketball or b) why they're now deprived of the lockout for which they were cheering.

To clarify, those who fall into the latter camp are not those who have an adamant distaste for the NBA and wish to see it go away in favor of, let's say, the advancement of hockey. Those who fall into the latter camp are those fans who were willing to pass up on this season in the name of actually improving the product. And, so, I ask you—if you were in that camp—what about this is any better than before? I'll assume you agree that the answer is, in short, "nothing."

Where are the restrictions on player guarantees? Where is the hard salary cap? Where is the increased revenue sharing not between players and owners but owners and owners? Where are the rules that help to prevent a LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony or Dwight Howard from holding a small market hostage? Where are the rules meant to improve parity? Where is the expansion proposal that would make the D-League both look and function more like the AHL? What in the hell, if anything, did we just accomplish?

To that final question, I have no good answer. See, I—and I fully acknowledge this as a nearly incomprehensible position—love this agreement, because I happen to relish all the worst things about the NBA. If there was ever an epitome for liking "object x" for all the wrong reasons, it would be my fandom for the NBA. Nothing gets my blood pumping more on a Tuesday afternoon than hearing rumors on Twitter that a four-way deal might be in the works and that Ramon Sessions might be a key add-in for salary reasons.

Four years ago, I fell in love with current Washington Wizard Rashard Lewis on the sole basis that his 6-year, $110 million sign-and-trade from Seattle to Orlando was the worst contract I had seen in my life to that point. Whenever anyone asks why I'm such a fan of such an ostensibly awful product, I point to that deal as my primary motivation, and never expect anyone to fully understand.

Outside of actually liking basketball, I'm a fan of the NBA because of its so clearly unsustainable financial mess-making. This is a league who has had a higher minimum cap for 12 guys than the NHL has for 23 and needs a "trade machine" just to tell you which deals are and are not allowable under its system. In no other league is player movement this wildly captivating. Free agent signings and player transactions are like a sport in and of themselves. This is why I love the fact that the new CBA addresses literally none of the things that keep invested in the NBA for "all the wrong reasons," and this is why both you and I should be so bewildered that this league is nearly no better off than when this lockout began on July 1.

Though I've written on multiple occasions that both sides are equally at fault in this stupefying lockout, I have privately sympathized with the players—another wildly unpopular position. I'm sorry, but I refuse to hold Rashard Lewis to a standard that he should tell Otis Smith, "You know what Otis? I'm really only worth half of that salary. Why don't you pay me about 55 million dollars less?"

I don't buy this business about needing to "save the owners from themselves." How is the NBA the only North American sporting league with this problem of needing to spend money to appease its rabid fans? No, stop it, you didn't give Ben Gordon $58 million because you had a gun to your head; you did it because you have poor managerial skills and a weak constitution for financial responsibility. With that in mind, the CBA's new amnesty clause just presents an even greater moral hazard moving forward.

As for the fans who have every right to complain about the likes of Chris Webber, Glenn Robinson and the first two season of Elton Brand, you wouldn't turn down money and neither should they. They shouldn't "know better."

And, hey! That's it. There it is. In a nutshell, we have solved the NBA lockout. None of these guys—neither the owners nor the players—should know any better, because no one is forced to cede any more ground than absolutely necessary. I don't mean to compare the NBA to improving public schools or cleaning up the environment, but what is a collective bargaining negotiation other than a collective action problem?

We all want nice things—quality education, clean drinking water, an equal opportunity for both the Clippers and the Lakers—but it's rare to reach a consensus on how to pay for it.

Make no mistake, the NBA is still as broken as it ever was. But this deal ensures that we will soldier on under a new, though nonetheless outrageous, status quo for at least the next six years.

So what did we learn? What's the final takeaway? It can't really just be a pack of greedy owners taking it to the players and telling the common fan to "go screw," can it?

That can't be said for sure. What can be said for sure is that this process lasted nearly five months and accomplished little but the owners taking money back from the players. No meaningful cap changes, no expanded revenue sharing between teams, no sponsors on the jerseys as a way to find alternate means of revenue.

It turns out that all the owners needed to fix their irreconcilably broken system was anywhere from $280-360 million from the players. Funny, weren't they out a total $400 million last year? Granted, I studied philosophy, and their future revenue projections are always subject to change, but you and I both know that doesn't add up to a definite financial clearing.

So are we, after all this time, finally to believe the players when they argued that owners' financial accounting was illegitimate? Are we as fans to believe that we were cost not only 16 games, but also the opportunity to improve this league for the long-term when the owners decided $320 million worth of BRI was more important than the product itself?

I don't know.

I told you there were plenty of takeaways. And I told you they were all half-right. I wish I had the answers as to why they wasted all this time, and why we will enjoy the benefit of almost nothing in the
way of legitimate change. The best I can guess is that we were lied to—"we" being both the players and the fans.

As such, I really wish I had the will power to tell the NBA that I'm taking my sports-related spending money and buying Los Angeles Kings season tickets, or whatever kind of fraudulent claim I want to make about how aggrieved I really am. But I don't have that will power, and if you're a fan of professional basketball, then neither do you.

Your passion for basketball, my passion for basketball, means nothing to those owners, and yet it means everything. Because when all is said and done, there's nothing that makes me happier on Christmas than watching the National Basketball Association. And they know that. And that's why they know you and I will come crawling back. And that no matter what they do, no matter how selfish they are, no matter how badly they alienate us, we'll keep coming back.

So, what did we as fans of a bad product with no intent on improving learn about rich people who control said product when we're absent any ability to say "no more, we've had enough?"

That's knowledge the owners knew from the start.

Video NSFW

Best of MLB: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

Best of MLB: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor pushed an RBI single through Washington's drawn-in infield with one out in the ninth inning, and the Cleveland Indians rallied for three runs in their final at-bat to stun the Washington Nationals 7-6 on Tuesday night in a matchup of two first-place teams with sights on October.

Down two runs and three outs from their losing streak reaching a season-high four games, the Indians rallied against Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon (2-4), who did not get an out before he was pulled by manager Dusty Baker.

With the bases loaded, Lindor fisted his base hit into right field and danced his way up the first-base line as the Indians celebrated an improbable victory.

Bryan Shaw (2-4) got two outs in the ninth and picked up the win as Cleveland won its first home game since July 10 (see full recap).

Cardinals take first game of doubleheader with Mets, 3-2
NEW YORK -- Jedd Gyorko homered again, hitting a two-run drive off Noah Syndergaard that sent the St. Louis Cardinals over the New York Mets 3-2 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.

Gyorko connected for the sixth time in eight games, giving him 13 this season. The Cardinals lead the NL in home runs with 137, matching last year's total.

The Mets played at home for the first time since the All-Star break and lost in a matchup of NL wild-card contenders. Citi Field was nearly empty at the start, a day after a rainout forced the twinbill.

Carlos Martinez (10-6) gave up a two-run homer to Rene Rivera and left after the fifth inning with a 3-2 lead. Three relievers finished, with Seung Hwan Oh getting his fifth save in six chances.

Syndergaard (9-5) has won only one of his last five starts (see full recap).

Colon, Mets top Cards, 3-1, for doubleheader split
NEW YORK -- Bartolo Colon pitched three-hit ball for seven sharp innings and the New York Mets overcame another home run by Jedd Gyorko to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 Tuesday night for a doubleheader split.

Gyorko homered in both ends and has connected seven times in nine games. His two-run shot helped St. Louis win the opener 3-2.

Colon (9-5) struck out eight and walked none. After Gyorko homered in the second and Alberto Rosario doubled in the third, Colon set down 14 of his final 15 batters.

Addison Reed worked the eighth and Jeurys Familia closed for his 36th save this year and 52nd in a row during the regular season.

White Sox avoid Chapman, down Cubs 3-0 behind Shields
CHICAGO -- James Shields allowed four singles in 7 2/3 innings, Adam Eaton homered and the White Sox stayed unbeaten since Chris Sale's suspension by beating the Cubs 3-0 Tuesday night in Chicago's crosstown rivalry.

The Cubs lost their second straight and never got to use new closer Aroldis Chapman hours after he joined the team and struggled answering questions related to an altercation last year with his girlfriend.

Shields (5-12) struck out five and continued an impressive turnaround from a terrible first three starts after being acquired from San Diego last month. Nate Jones finished the eighth and David Robertson worked the ninth for his 24th save in the White Sox's fourth straight win since their ace was sent home for destroying throwback jerseys.

Jose Abreu had two hits, including an RBI single in the first off Kyle Hendricks (9-7) that ended his streak of 22 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run (see full story).

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — The Phillies enjoyed a three-week stretch before the All-Star break when they were the best hitting team in baseball.

In the final 19 games before the break, they hit .308 with a .871 OPS. Both marks were tops in the majors over that span. They averaged 5.63 runs per game in that stretch.

The run of sturdy offense created some excitement and anticipation heading into the second half of the season. But that excitement and anticipation has now dissipated. Since coming back from the break, the Phillies’ offense has retreated back to invisibility.

The Phils were blanked, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night, wasting a terrific start from Jerad Eickhoff (see Instant Replay).

After the game, manager Pete Mackanin was peeved.

“The only thing positive I can say about this game is Eickhoff,” Mackanin said. “He was outstanding. He had a great curveball, hit his spots, pitched well. It was a pitchers' duel up until the end. I’m real happy about that. 

"But that’s about all I’m happy about.”

Marlins starter Tom Koehler and a trio of relievers held the Phillies to just four singles.

Phillies hitters struck out 10 times. They have averaged 9.5 strikeouts in 12 games since coming back from the break and hit just .208. They are averaging just 2.75 runs in the 12 games since the break and carrying a 4-8 record.

“Poor plate discipline,” Mackanin said. “Poor plate discipline. Swinging at too many bad pitches. We get ourselves out too often. That’s about all I can think of.

“Koehler pitched well. But we helped him out a lot. We didn’t give him a chance to walk us. We swung at too many bad pitches. That’s our problem. We just get ourselves out too often. That’s what it boils down to.

“If you’re a free swinger who’s going to hit 30-plus home runs and drive in 100 runs, that’s acceptable to me. But if you’re not a power hitter, it’s unacceptable. You’ve got to make adjustments. You’ve got improve on it. You’ve got to work on it.”

Peter Bourjos offered his thoughts on the Phillies’ offensive struggles since the All-Star break.

“It's almost like it was probably bad timing for that break,” he said. “Everything was rolling. We were swinging the bats really well. Everyone looked comfortable in the box and feeling good and it's tough right now. You can see what there was with the offense. I think it's going to come back. We just need to get back into the rhythm that we had and everything's going to be all right.”

Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight, a big improvement over his previous start when these same Marlins tagged him for nine hits and six runs in five innings.

“I was more aggressive,” Eickhoff said. “It’s amazing what being aggressive will do for your game and how hitters will react. I threw my fastball inside and that set up my curveball so much more.”

The poor run support was nothing new for Eickhoff. He entered the game receiving an average of just 3.53 runs per game, 10th worst in the majors.

It was a scoreless game until there were two outs in the sixth. That’s when Giancarlo Stanton swatted a two-out RBI single to right, scoring Martin Prado from second. Stanton’s hit rolled untouched through the second base area because the Phillies’ defense was shifted to the pull side.

“We’ve got to play a shift on him,” Mackanin said of baseball's most fearsome power bat.

The game got out of hand when the bullpen was tagged for four runs in the eighth. Ichiro Suzuki stroked career hit No. 2,997 to get the Marlins’ late rally started.

In the first inning, Suzuki launched a long drive to the gap in right-center. Rightfielder Bourjos ran the ball down and made a terrific catch while crashing into the wall. He left the game with a jammed right shoulder and could miss some time (see story).

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jerad Eickhoff pitched seven innings of one-run ball, but still came away with a loss as the Phillies were shut out, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night.

Giancarlo Stanton drove in the Marlins’ first two runs with a single and a double.

Stanton gave the Marlins a 1-0 lead with a two-out base hit to right field against Eickhoff in the sixth inning. Stanton’s groundball hit rolled through the second base area, which had been vacated by the shift.

The Marlins blew the game open with four runs against the Phillies’ bullpen in the eighth.

The Phillies are 4-8 since the All-Star break and 46-56 overall.

Starting pithing report
Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight.

Miami manager Don Mattingly pulled Tom Koehler after the right-hander pitched six shutout innings and had allowed just three hits. Koehler walked one, struck out five and threw just 73 pitches. He exited with a 1-0 lead.

Koehler pitched eight innings of two-run ball in a win over the Phillies last week.

Bullpen report 
Andrew Bailey was charged with three runs in the eighth.

Mike Dunn, David Phelps and Nick Wittgren completed the shutout for the Marlins. 

At the plate
The Phillies had just four hits, all singles, and struck out 10 times. They were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position and are 1 for 13 the last two nights.

Stanton had been just 3 for 35 against the Phils this season before his shift-beating RBI hit in the sixth. He hit the ball much harder in the eighth inning when he clouted an RBI double to right-center against Bailey.

Adeiny Hechavarria padded the Marlins’ lead with a two-run single in their four-run eighth inning.

Ichiro Suzuki’s eighth-inning single left him three hits shy of 3,000 in his big-league career.

Health check
Rightfielder Peter Bourjos injured his right shoulder making a catch against the wall in the first inning and left the game (see story).

Minor matters
Ranger Suarez, a 20-year-old left-hander from Venezuela, pitched a seven-inning no-hitter for the Phillies’ Single A Williamsport club on Tuesday night.

Up next
The series concludes on Wednesday afternoon. Zach Eflin (3-3, 3.40) pitches against Miami lefty Adam Conley (6-5, 3.58).