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NBA AM: Players Have New Leadership, Now What?

The NBA Players Association named a new executive director last night, so what is next for the NBA and its players and is there a new fight on the horizon?

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A Lot To Get Done:  The NBA Players Association elected a new Executive Director last night in Las Vegas. Amid reports of division and dysfunction, Michele Roberts won the process with 32 of 36 votes, making her the first woman to lead a major North American sports union.

Roberts is a career litigator with an extensive background in trial law and labor law, which was appealing to many who cast a vote.

The NBPA had fired former Executive Director Billy Hunter on February 16, 2013; long-time NBPA attorney Ron Kempler had been holding the position as interim-director throughout the search for a new permanent director.

This search is said to have included contact with more than 700 candidates, including more than 70 who were phone interviewed, resolving down to three candidates that presented to the Players’ Association in Las Vegas yesterday.

Long time Dallas Mavericks executive Terdema Ussery and Silicon valley tech executive Dean Garfield also presented, but were beat out by Roberts.

After the vote, Roberts addressed the media and may have established her tone as the new leader of the NBPA, saying she planned to have a team of “gladiators.”

“They’ve got their union back, and I’m going to make sure that they are empowered to take their union exactly where they want their union to go,” Roberts said.

“I am a bad woman, but I’m not that bad. We are going to have a team, a very strong team, what I call a team of gladiators, that’s going to help these men and women, again, go in the direction they choose to go. It’s a new day.”

The NBA and the NBPA have a long list of issues related to the compromised Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2011 that are often referred to as B-List items that both sides agreed to revisit. With Adam Silver now the Commissioner of the NBA there are many things the NBA would like to get resolved. Here are the big ones:

Age Limit:  Commissioner Silver has labeled increasing the age limit in the NBA as his top objective, which means it’s likely to be the first order of business when the NBA and the new leadership of the NBPA meet.

The NBA has real and practical concerns about the age limit, and historically the NBPA has sold out the younger players in favor of concessions for the current players, and it’s likely that’s how this gets resolved as well.

The NBA would like to see the current rule – one year removed from your high school graduating class and you must turn 19 during the calendar year of your draft – increased by a year.

The current rule is generally called “one and done” as it prompts players to spend at least one year somewhere else and come into the NBA a year later. The NBA would like a so-called “two and through” rule.

Commissioner Silver’s stance has nothing to do with a player’s on-court ability, rather their off-court shortcomings. Expressing concerns about players coming into such an intense business environment. This primarily isn’t about basketball as much as a social engineering and more importantly marketing and promotion.

The NBPA has always fought the good fight on this front, favoring no age limit at all, but in the end they have always conceded this issue.

A compromise might involve the growing the D-League.

Currently the D-League offers players three slotted salary spaces and a very rigid salary cap. The most recent estimates peg a top level D-League salary to be worth $25,500 a season, with the next tier being $19,000 and the lowest tier being $13,000 with teams being capped at $173,000 per season.

Given how much the NBA needs the D-League to be flush with talent, increasing those numbers dramatically as part of an age limit compromise might make the most sense.

Several players who are currently playing overseas told Basketball Insiders that the D-League would be more attractive to players if the money were better. Suggesting that a pay scale even 75% of what’s typically available in Europe ($100,000 per season) would work because of the security of payments and the chance to stay in the US and showcase to NBA teams.

Getting the top level salaries into the $75,000 range while getting the bottom tier to $30,000 would make the D-League a viable alternative for those players that want to earn a living for their families in place of the sham that is college basketball.

To put the compromise idea into perspective there are currently 16 D-League teams, if each had a team salary cap of $520,000 (three times what is currently being allocated) that’s a league wide player expense of $8.3 million, which would impact 208 players a year based on a 13 man roster versus the 8 to 10 players a year an increased age limit would impact.

This is a subject the NBA wants to address, it will be interesting to see if the NBPA new leadership will go along, or simply push this idea back as part of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2017.

HGH Testing:  The NBA and its players say they want HGH (Human Growth Hormone) testing. However, it was not resolved in 2011 and it remains unresolved today.

The big issue isn’t so much that either side is not willing to test, it’s arriving at the right testing method.

Almost all of the HGH tests currently in use require blood tests, and the union for the most part has been resistant to approving anything that allows the testing of blood.

There are conspiracy theorists who say the delay in testing is to allow players who may have used HGH in the past as part of a rehab from injury regimen to cycle out, but that seems to fly in the face of the prevailing belief that the issue on HGH is more about a testing method rather than the premise of the test.

Every time this issue is raised to the NBA, the answer is usually the same, and that is the players have expressed a desire to have an even playing field and no one wants there to be an unfair advantage and that testing is uniformly agreed as necessary.

Given that both sides seem to believe HGH testing is not a problem and that agreeing on a testing method is all that is needed, this issue should get closure fairly quickly, if the new NBPA leadership wants to make a deal.

It’s clear in hiring a trial lawyer that the NBPA is preparing for another round of fighting with the NBA. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement allows either side to opt-out of the current agreement after the 2017 season.

Given the rampant dissatisfaction most players have with the current deal, especially with how free agency is currently handled, and the possibilities of a new mega TV contract, it’s clear the NBPA is ramping towards another massive fight in 2017.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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