One week into a lockout that so many expect to last much, much longer, Wizards guard and National Basketball Players Association vice president, Maurice Evans, candidly spoke about the labor situation with SI.com.
SI.com: As you look back at last week and the final meeting before the lockout, did you have any optimism at all that this could get resolved at the 11th hour? What's your outlook now?
Evans: I didn't have much optimism throughout this process. I've been in every meeting for the last two years, and the hard-line stance that the owners have taken has been clear from the start. Even with the record season-ticket sales, the great support from the fans, the record ratings, etc., their position never changed. It has been evident that, in their minds, they decided a long time ago that they were going to implement a lockout.
SI.com: Commissioner David Stern probably captured some public support with the $62 million flex cap, as if it were a huge concession. How did the players' view the proposal and the support it received?
Evans: I think the owners are very intelligent. Most of them own businesses, and they're very unified, and David Stern does a great job of making sure they keep a united front. It's easier for those guys to kind of manipulate the public to make their concessions seem bigger than they really are. For example, the $500 million to $600 million they say they gave us [for the 2010-11 season] ... still didn't even bring us up to the current salaries, which total $2.17 billion. [Their concession brought it up] to $2 billion, without even counting insurance and benefits. So we take another $160 million back, and you can see where we fall.
I don't think this is a matter of trying to win the support of the public, because we're not fighting for the support of the people, we're trying to fight for what's right for everyone, what's right for the game, for all the people who have come before us -- the Magic Johnsons, Michael Jordans, Dr. Js, all the gentlemen who played in the ABA and merged and believed in this league to make it what it is today. I don't think any of those people saw the NBA attaining this type of popularity and success that we've achieved, and we've done it through a partnership. But it seems at this moment in time that the owners want to deviate from that partnership and try to implement a hard-cap system, they want to play with the guarantees to where they may give you a guarantee but it's still not fully guaranteed. They want to reduce years, they want to add escrows, they want to do things that don't lead to competitive balance, things that don't lead to improving the game as a whole. It's things that lead to increasing their profitability.
They're preaching to us that it's two years where they're losing hundreds of millions of dollars, but I've read many an article that proves that they're making a significant amount of money. Every franchise isn't [able] to attain the amount that the Lakers are, or the Knicks are, but for the Lakers to be able to sign a $3 billion television deal shows you that the game is obviously headed to unchartered places, so we should be able to go there together.
SI.com: There has been a lot of discussion about the accuracy of the league's reported losses. How much questioning of the numbers is going on in-house?
Evans: I personally don't believe the numbers. The NBPA, we don't believe the numbers. They haven't been open with us in opening up their books. For example, the Pistons were just sold and ... the NBPA doesn't have the opportunity to review the sale and see what the player costs are, just see the numbers so that we can try to remedy the situation.
SI.com: That was 57 percent for the players down to 54 percent. Correct?
Evans: Exactly. And we still had options in there where we could play with it in terms of future growth and not accepting future growth until they were able to reach a number that allowed them to cover a certain number. We were working toward building a way in the system to help them be even more profitable than what they already are, taking out of consideration the fact that each team has to work to manage a franchise properly to max out its respective market. Retaining their big players, marketing their team, making proper coaching decisions, employing two or three [head] coaches at the same time (when the firing of one coach and the hiring of a new one lead to multiple coaches on the payroll), paying those expenses -- those are things they control.
We talked about players having the opportunity to try and maximize our market value. That's all we want is the opportunity. Not a guarantee. It's not a guaranteed right for each player to go in and make the average salary, which is around $5 million [annually]. But most players don't fall in that $5 million range. Most players fall in that $1 million range or below, with bi-annual [exception] players and things like that. Then you have your max players, who take up the bulk of that money, and they still soak up the bulk of that money as they slide down in their career. They're the ones who are getting the full mid-level, on average. What we're saying is that we're still unified because players just want to have the opportunity to play.
Even when they don't reach their value because they're misevaluated by certain GMs or ownership, players aren't complaining about that. So we're not sure why owners try and complain about not being able to be profitable as if that's the players' responsibility to build that into the system.
SI.com: There's this feeling out there that once this got past July 1, the players wouldn't start feeling some urgency until many of them started losing paychecks in November. Is that a fair assumption to make?
Evans: We're used to getting the bulk of our money for six months, and come May or April we're not getting any more checks until November. There are some guys who get paid year-round. But it's not a matter of financial stability and seeing if guys can outlast the owners before they're hit in the pockets when they miss a check. It's about guys being passionate and really enjoying playing the game.
We all only have a certain window to play basketball, so it's not smart to just sit around and waste it trying to resolve economic issues that players have been trying address for the past two years. Of course players are going to seek employment elsewhere. But again, it's not about the money. It's about the passion, and about playing. Guys want to stay sharp, want to stay in shape.
SI.com: Perhaps the biggest news since the lockout went into effect was Deron Williams agreeing to play in Turkey with Besiktas. What kind of stance does the union have on his decision?
Evans: We support each and every player, so take your hat off to Deron Williams for making a decision to show off his talents in another country and to work with another team that's willing to utilize his services. He's an All-Star in his prime, and to be forced to sit out is a waste.
It's unnecessary for us to be in this situation when a resolution is staring us right in the face. There's no reason we shouldn't be able to sit in a room and come up with a way to divvy up a pie that's worth more than $4 billion. It just doesn't make any sense. We have all these great players who are allowing the league to have so much parity, more than we've had maybe ever, and now you're forcing guys -- especially guys at the end of their careers -- who might be proposed some lucrative offers to finish off their careers in Europe.
SI.com: Did Deron consult with the union about his decision?
Evans: I have no idea. I think that Deron made a decision for himself and his family. For himself, it's to keep his body in shape so he can be the best possible player for the New Jersey Nets when this lockout ends.
SI.com: Does the fact that the NFL appears to be closing in on a deal put pressure on NBA owners to come down off this cliff a bit with their demands and get something done?
Evans: I can't speak to football and how the NFLPA is handling their situation. From the outside looking in, you can only assume they're getting close. But from my understanding of the situation as far as being in every [NBA meeting, I don't believe there's a such thing as "close." It's either you have a deal, or you don't, and one issue can prevent an entire season if you can't come to terms.
SI.com: How unified are the players? We've heard from you, from NBPA president Derek Fisher, from executive director Billy Hunter, from union representative Dan Wasserman, but I've talked to some players who seem to already be itching to just get something done. How loud is that group right now?
Evans: The NBPA worked really, really hard for the past two years trying to get a deal so that the players can play and build upon the momentum from this season. So there's extreme disappointment on behalf of all the players. [But certain players aren't as informed about the CBA and what's being proposed as others, so you could ask just one random guy who's not informed and he might say, 'Ah, let's end the lockout and let's just play, let's just ball.' But the guys who are informed ... understand that it's better to have a lockout than to accept the proposed CBA offered by the owners. It's so restrictive and it sets us back so far from all that has been fought for over the years by players.
SI.com: Where is the union at with the hard cap?
Evans: We honestly don't feel that a hard cap is in the best interest of the NBA. We don't feel like the game will continue to grow and the product will be the best product possible if you place a hard cap system in place in basketball. There's really no room for it. The opposite, like baseball with no salary cap, would almost be the system needed for us to continue to grow the game the way it's necessary. Owners don't have to pay everybody what they pay. They don't have to sign the contracts. So there's no reason to police them and tell them they can't do this and they can't do that, you can't sign a player for more than four years, you can't pay a guy this amount. I don't think they have a problem with us having a rookie-wage scale.
SI.com: Are the owners moving at all when it comes to revenue sharing and bringing that into the discussion?
Evans: They haven't even addressed it, because they understand that if they were able to get the players to cave on the system and accept [their proposal], revenue sharing would cease to exist because it wouldn't even be necessary. Franchise values will probably be the most lucrative things ever to exist. They tell us they're going to address it, but then they put it on the second tier of items to talk about so it never gets discussed.
SI.com: Whenever the next negotiation session is, will the union be coming with another new proposal since you didn't last time?
Evans: Generally in negotiations, it goes tit for tat. They propose, we propose. But again, that's how it goes when you're negotiating in fairness. But when one person assumes a position so far and so extreme and unrealistic and then they inch back to reality, you just don't make a lot of progress. So if that's the same kind of negotiating we're going to engage in from here on, then there probably won't be much progress, in my opinion.
SI.com: Is there any chance the two sides don't meet in the next couple of weeks?
Evans: No, I'm confident that we're going to meet. The NBPA is going to continue to make ourselves available and continue to engage the owners because, again, we're hungry to play. We want to play, to get a resolution, for the fans and for ourselves.