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The league's view is that teams willing to keep spending above the luxury tax level have an advantage over teams with payroll constraints. And indeed, teams such as the Lakers and Mavericks, who won the last three NBA titles, are annually among the top spenders.
So owners want a system under which teams with means can't keep blowing off the cap. Their initial proposal was for a hard salary cap like the NFL has, removing the exceptions that NBA teams possess to spend above the cap.
Players rejected that and the league has since focused on strengthening the luxury tax to deter spenders. But players believe it would become so restrictive, saying in some cases the current $1 for every $1 over the threshold penalty would become $6 or higher, that it would act as a hard cap. And the sides are also clashing over the Bird exception, which allows teams to exceed the cap to re-sign their own free agents.
"And we just said, 'Wait a minute, you're creating a hard system. You're creating a hard-cap system and we've said to you that's the one thing we don't want,'" union executive director Billy Hunter said.
Players fear that a hard cap would eliminate guaranteed contracts for all but the top players. And they disagree that making teams spend equally would determine how well they compete.
"As athletes we don't believe that competitive balance is completely decided by an economic system or how much payroll exists on one team or another," Fisher said. "We believe that there are tons of other variables that impact success on the court, so we cannot just address competitive balance through the control or reduction or lower percentage of player salary or a hard tax system that essentially prevents most if not all teams into going into the tax. Those things don't create basketball wins by themselves."
The system emerged as such a difficult issue that the sides spent all of their last two meetings discussing it, never getting back to the split before Stern's deadline for canceling games. Soon after came word the unexpected reason for their failure.
"That did surprise me. Both sides said publicly that the holdup is the system. I thought for sure the big deal was the BRI either made us or broke us," said Anthony Tolliver, the Minnesota Timberwolves' player representative.
The sides have discussed a 50-50 revenue split, so perhaps settlement on the finances is there. But that won't be good enough.
"While we understand their position, we understand change is difficult, it makes no sense for us to operate under the current model where taxpayers, especially those taxpayers who are willing to spend $10, $20 (million) and often even more money above the average team in this league has a huge advantage over the other teams," Silver said.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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