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Old 07-16-2011, 12:52 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Berger: Solution for NBA should be to get smaller

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In Sacramento, Mayor Kevin Johnson -- a three-time NBA All-Star -- mobilized lawmakers and business leaders to stave off the threat of the beloved Kings moving downstate to Anaheim. He did it with promises of increased ticket sales and corporate sponsorships, as well as a new downtown arena -- the final price tag of which, and who's paying, remain a mystery. In Indianapolis, city leaders caved to the threat of the Pacers abandoning city-owned Conseco Fieldhouse for parts unknown and agreed to fork over $33.5 million to a team that loses money every year (while living virtually rent-free) and hasn't had a winning season in seven years.

And in New Orleans, the Hornets moved off life support and into the warm bosom of Stern's NBA last December when the franchise was taken over by the other 29 owners in a last-ditch effort to avoid having its relocation to the Big Easy in 2002 go down as an abject (and costly) failure. Leaked, audited financial statements from 2009 provided little hope any investor capable of understanding a balance sheet would want to buy the hopeless franchise, much less keep it in a market that features the smallest television audience of the NBA's 30 cities.

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Now, the latest boondoggle perpetrated on the tax-paying public is the shutdown of the NBA, a lockout that appears so nasty and irretrievable that there could be no pro basketball in any of those cities, and those far more viable, for a long time. In a search for compromise, we have explored altering the split of revenues among owners and players (Part 1), a new cap system that would restore competitive balance (Part II) and a revenue-sharing plan that could help struggling teams catch up (Part III). Now, we tackle the elephant in the room, the ultimate form of NBA taboo: the C-word, contraction.

And the question is: If the NBA is losing so much money -- $300 million last season and $1.845 billion during the six-year collective bargaining agreement that just expired -- then why continue to pour good money after bad into markets that have proved beyond any doubt they cannot support an NBA team without massive transfers of wealth that have failed to make them viable?
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Since its heyday as a 23-team league in the mid-1980s, the NBA has steadily expanded -- to 25 (Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat), to 27 (Orlando Magic, Minnesota Timberwolves), to 29 (Toronto Raptors, Vancouver Grizzlies), and finally to 30 (Charlotte Bobcats). Of the seven most recently added teams, two (Vancouver and Charlotte) no longer occupy the cities they expanded to and only the Heat and Raptors are considered money-makers for the league. (The Magic have been successful on the court, twice advancing to the NBA Finals, but according to Forbes Magazine lost $23.1 million in 2009-10, their final season in the old Amway Arena before moving last season to the new, $480 million, city-owned and financed Amway Center.)

The Hornets are in New Orleans, where they may not survive, and the Grizzlies are in Memphis, where they have wallowed near the bottom of league gate-receipts tables -- though last season's run to the Western Conference semifinals could provide a spark, if not a cure-all.

The Timberwolves somehow are still in Minneapolis, where they have been a drain on the public coffers ever since the city agreed to assume the debt, operational expenses and renovation responsibilities associated with the 20-year-old Target Center in 1995.

"It was one of those gun-to-your-head kind of deals," said former Minneapolis councilman Paul Ostrow, who wasn't on the council at the time but subsequently was a frequent and strident opponent of the city going further into debt to support the team and its aging arena. "It was like, 'We're going to leave town unless you do something.' "

Though both the league and players privately acknowledge that contraction has been discussed during collective bargaining, it has not been seriously considered, according to sources on both sides. Thirty player jobs would be lost, an anathema to the union, and no one would wish job losses on the dozens of basketball and non-basketball staffers whose livelihoods would be harmed.

But job losses already are being incurred league-wide since the lockout was imposed. This week, the NBA laid off 114 employees across an array of departments and closed its Tokyo and Paris offices in what it described as an unrelated cost-cutting move aimed at saving $50 million. The Pistons (15) and Bobcats (seven) are among the teams that have laid off employees, with more cuts undoubtedly on the way.

Most logical fix for NBA would be simply to get smaller - NBA - CBSSports.com Basketball
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