WNBA & WNBPA to announce new CBA this week

Facing the looming October 31st deadline of a new collective bargaining agreement, the WNBA and WNBPA agreed to extend the current CBA 60 more days. The new CBA is expected to be announced this week on the 15th and will carry significant changes, most importantly one that deals with the WNBA’s most contentious issue, player salary.  Revenue sharing is one of the principle reasons that the WNBPA chose to opt out of the previous CBA in 2018. The new agreement will go into effect immediately as teams adjust to the new regulations in preparation for the start of free agency which begins on February first. So, what exactly does this new CBA mean for the short-term future of the WNBA?

The central issue revolves around the pay and respect WNBA players rightfully feel is long overdue. Many players, even stars such as Brittney Griner, go overseas to earn fair compensation immediately after the conclusion of the WNBA season. In fact, this very problem caused the Washington Mystics to cancel their championship parade last season because so many players had already committed to play for international clubs.

However, the salary problem is only half the issue as the lack of respect WNBA players are afforded is equally troubling. Last season, the WNBA refused to give first-class plane tickets to those playing in the All Star Game and poor travel conditions were responsible for the forfeiture of a game by the Las Vegas Aces who missed the playoffs by one game. These disappointing WNBA norms have some reminiscing about the glory days of women’s college basketball where they routinely fly private and never face game cancellations.

Of course, both of these problems rely on the WNBA’s revenue which in and of itself is a whole other conversation. According to Forbes, the WNBA and its teams are not required to share their financials and have made no effort to do so. Moreover, they claim that the WNBA loses $10 million each year leaving little flexibility for increases in player salaries and job benefits. However, one study estimated that the WNBA’s revenue has grown to $60 million since the last CBA and figured that the league shares about 20% of its revenue with the players, whereas the NBA splits its revenue 50/50 with its own.

In either event, it is clear that the lack of transparency should be the definitive starting point in navigating this disparity; accordingly the new CBA should redistribute a much more fair percentage of the revenue the league generates. Moreover, the league should also see this as a good thing for a few reasons beyond just ethics.

The first is that several of the leagues best players are unrestricted free agents meaning they can sign with any team when free agency opens in a couple weeks. Among this group are stars such as Elena Delle Donne (2nd in points per game last year with 19.5), Courtney Vandersloot (1st in assists per game with 9.1) and Jonquel Jones (1st in rebounds per game with 9.7). Besides filling up box scores, these players are the faces of the league. In a similar way that NBA players dominate offseason headlines with record contracts, the WNBA and WNBPA can benefit from endorsing and sensationalizing the players with their own record salary agreements.

On top of this free marketing, the NBA and WNBA are teaming up with media networks to step up their WNBA promotion efforts. Similar to the NBA, the WNBA gained another revenue stream with the addition of jersey sponsors, and A’ja Wilson’s 2018 endorsement agreement with Mountain Dew represents a step in the right direction. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and WNBA Commissioner Lisa Borders have been outspoken about improving the marketing of the league, and just last year the WNBA announced a partnership with Sylvain Labs for a long-term growth strategy.

These are both encouraging signs for the WNBA as it prepares to pave the next generation of interest in women’s professional basketball. However, the best opportunity for the WNBA’s big break may not arrive until close to 2030, when Kobe Bryant’s 13 year old daughter, Gigi, becomes eligible to sign a professional contract. Despite the young age of “Mambacita,” as many are already calling her, she receives just as much, if not more, media coverage than any WNBA player does. I mean, just check out her highlights and you can see that she’s on the fast-track to the league. Given her talents and notoriety as Kobe Bryant’s prodigy, it is not hard to imagine that Gigi Bryant’s impact could drive the WNBA’s popularity just as Lebron James did as coming out of high school as the future face of the NBA. However, until that dream becomes a reality, the WNBA would be best served by prioritizing the pay and respect of its players, and hopefully, the announcement of a new CBA this week reflects exactly that.

 

NFLPA’s consequential victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars prompts Tom Coughlin’s firing

The holiday season came early for linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. this year as he had  $700,000 in fines rescinded on behalf of the NFL Player’s Association. Those fines were issued by Fowler’s former team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, which has traded away back-to-back top-five draft picks in Fowler (#3 overall in 2015) and star cornerback Jalen Ramsey (#5 overall in 2016). Both ex-Jaguars now play for the Los Angeles Rams and have had choice words about their time in northern Florida; as for the source of their resentment, the team’s former Executive Vice President, Tom Coughlin, is the overwhelming culprit.

Fowler’s case was brought to the NFLPA’s attention when the Jaguars asserted that the Florida native had missed 25 mandatory appointments with a team trainer last season, resulting in the aforementioned fines. However, because the appointments were made during the offseason, they were in violation of the CBA which clearly states (Article 4 section 9f), “salary may not be subject to forfeiture for missing voluntary offseason programs or voluntary minicamps…” The NFLPA also released a statement saying as much and added that the Jaguars had recently decided that they would require all injured players to get their offseason rehab at the Jaguars’ facility, however this policy did not render those rehab programs mandatory.

For his part, Fowler was rightfully animated over the news of his exoneration and let the world know on Twitter, and as it turns out he is far from the only ex-Jaguar to take issue with his former team. Jalen Ramsey, the only First-Team-All-Pro Jaguar in over a decade,   loudly griped his way out of Jacksonville over similar frustrations with management, specifically Tom Coughlin, who was responsible for the fines handed down to Fowler. However, more interestingly, since the club’s 2017 AFC Championship run, more than 25% of player grievances have been filed against the Jaguars.

As for Jacksonville, while their sudden fall from the NFL canopy has been ugly, their reputation around the league has become even uglier. For one, the decision to trade two franchise players in Fowler and Ramsey has left a bad taste in the mouths of their teammates, especially given the public nature in which it unfolded. Ramsey was instrumental to that 2017 run and Fowler would lead the Jags in sacks if he were still on the team. However, though team owner Shad Kahn took steps this week to mitigate these disasters by firing Tom Coughlin, there is still widespread distrust toward the club that could hamper Jacksonville’s attractiveness in free agency.

In the wake of its victory against the Jaguars, the NFLPA sent a letter out to every player in the league notifying them of Fowler’s case and warning them of potentially signing with the team. The statement said that players, “continue to be at odds with Jaguars management over their rights under the CBA far more than any other clubs.” For the second year in a row, the team failed to win more than six games and figure to be in an even tougher spot for the upcoming season. As it stands now, the Jaguars have the third-lowest cap space to operate with for the pending offseason and have many holes to fill. Time will tell just how far back Coughlin’s policies have set the Jaguars’ timeline to contending again and how players around the league will view Jacksonville as a potential landing spot this offseason.

Spencer Dinwiddie butts heads with the NBA over his “crazy idea”

Whispers of a potential legal dispute between Spencer Dinwiddie and the NBA became real this past week as the league officially hired outside counsel to navigate ongoing discussions with the sixth-year guard and his plan to turn his contract into an “investment vehicle.” The NBA’s decision to bring in the Debevoise & Plimpton law firm signals the league’s expectation of a larger legal conflict in the near future.

The controversy first arose when Dinwiddie conceived an interesting way to capitalize on the three-year, $34.4 million contract extension he secured last winter with the Brooklyn Nets. The 6th-year guard had the idea to convert his contract into a digital investment, which would allow investors to purchase stock in Dinwiddie as professional athlete investment tokens, or “PAInTs.” However, Dinwiddie’s plan goes even further as he has created his own company, DREAM Fan Shares, that would expand this investment vehicle to other professional athletes and their contracts as well.

The profitability of these tokens is derived from the ability of the athlete to “out-play” their contract and earn more on their next. For example, Dinwiddie has consistently improved over his last couple seasons, averaging 12.6 points per game in 2017 to 16.8 last year and is right around 19 to begin this season. His contract also contains a player option worth $12.3 million in his 2021 season, meaning he can play for that amount or opt out with the expectation that he will earn even more. So, if investors accurately predict that Dinwiddie will be in a position to opt out for greater money, both parties will stand to net a huge return.

The LA native’s creativity in this venture stems from his fascination in cryptocurrency. In 2017, Dinwiddie invested in Bitcoin just before it boomed and spent any time off of the court learning as much as he could about crypto technology. Two short years later, he’s partnering with Ethereum, a blockchain similar to the decentralized platform of Bitcoin, and now envisions a future in which crypto currency is the primary medium of investment. However, the innovative athlete is going to have to gear up against the NBA before anything can get started.

Despite two meetings between Dinwiddie and league officials over the last month, the two sides seem extremely far apart on reaching any resolution on this issue. The most recent collective bargaining agreement states, “no player shall assign or otherwise transfer to any third party his right to receive compensation from the team under his uniform player contract,” seemingly rendering Dinwiddie’s idea defunct. Moreover, NBA EVP and Deputy General Counsel, Dan Rube, told media outlets that the league has reviewed variations of the digital token plan and arrived at the conclusion that all versions would violate the CBA.

Dinwiddie, however, remains steadfast on launching his company and plans to move forward in spite of the league’s position. In response, it was reported this past week that if the Nets’ guard continues with his investment platform without league approval, he could be subject to fines, suspension or even the termination of his contract. It is unclear in which direction Dinwiddie will go next, but it seems that he will need to get a lot more creative in navigating his way through the case that the NBA and its legal team will be looking to make against him.

Does Andre Iguodala have a way out of Memphis?

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Lots of buzz surrounds the Grizzlies heading into the 2019-2020 season given the offseason moves that has brought in an infusion of exciting young talent. However the biggest storyline in Memphis right now deals with the 35 year-old Andre Iguodala. After being jettisoned from the Warriors in a salary cap-clearing trade, Iguodala has expressed his desire to be waived in order to play for a title contender – which the Grizzlies are not. It is easy to understand the perspective of the 2016 Finals MVP who spent the last six years with Golden State, playing in five NBA Finals and winning three. However, it is equally understandable as to why Memphis would rather keep Iguodala, rather than just simply release him.

For one, despite the fact that Iguodala’s minutes and points hit career lows last season, he remains an extremely productive contributor off the bench, bringing quality defense and rebounding. Moreover, he understood his role well as evidenced by a career-high 50% field goal percentage. He is also said to be a great teammate and locker room leader, the likes of which any championship team thrives upon. All of this comes together to highlight just how valuable Iguodala could be to the Grizzlies come the February trade deadline. Add in the fact that the 15-year veteran would be serving as a role model to the futures of the franchise in Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., Iguodala is clearly more than just a draft-pick asset.

So, is there a way out for Iguodala? There are rumors that this may be his final NBA season and he wants control of his destiny. Meanwhile, Memphis apparently is “refusing” to buyout his contract and wants him to show up to training camp so the two sides are at a standstill. Just ten years ago, the answer likely would have been an emphatic “NO,” but a lot has changed in such time. Gone are the days when players felt emotionally and now, even contractually beholden to a team. Ever since “The Decision,” the control a player has over their own destiny has boosted substantially. This is due in part to changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that was introduced in 2017 that included a Designated Veteran contract.

The contract permits players between seven and nine years of service time to sign a contract worth 35% of the salary cap if those players reached certain criteria, such as making All-NBA Teams. While this allows a given team to offer the most lucrative max contract to its own player, it also inflates the price tag a team may have to assign a player to represent a competitive offer. The end result has placed more power in the hands of the player, especially those veterans who are a year or two away from reaching free agency. Teams must decide if they want take on the risk of losing a player to free agency who they are unsure will resign and in doing so, lose them for essentially nothing; or trade that player with a year or two remaining in their contract for other talent or draft picks, ensuring that they receive some return on the player’s value.

This understanding of the shift in control has motivated some stars in the league to make their free agency intentions known to the team, often times in hopes of being sent to a better team or preferred location. In turn, this has produced numerous trades that many would have previously been considered unthinkable like a team trading away someone of Paul George or Anthony Davis’ caliber. Other stars have flat out drove their way out, either by ruining rapport with teammates or management (see: Kyrie Irving) or simply refusing to play (see: Kawhi Leonard). In any case, stars now have a greater avenue in forcing a general manager’s hand and can often do so with considerable success.

That brings us back to Andre Iguodala. While he is greatly respected throughout the league, he does not possess “star power” at this point in his career, much less will he be offered a max contract any time soon. However, he may still be able to wriggle his way away from the Grizzlies within the confines of the CBA.

The agreement states various reasons in which a team may discipline a player, included among them are missing practices and more importantly, “failure to report following a trade.” In this circumstance, the penalty is at the discretion of the league and the player’s team. If Iguodala is steadfast in his desire to play on a contender, this is likely his most effective route in doing so. Considering the fact that Iguodala has netted over 140 million dollars worth of contracts in his career, the fines for his failure to report would be minimal. Memphis likely would not want the headache, storylines, and cap hit associated with a dragged out dispute especially as the first season under a new coach unfolds, so there is a chance that they decide to move on from Iguodala altogether.

However, there is also the risk that the league and the Grizzlies make an example out of Iguodala, because his situation is markedly different from the other mentioned above: Iguodala may consider not reporting because of not liking a team he was traded to, instead of already on, like many of the successful cases. A better comparison is the way in which Jimmy Butler was traded from the under-achieving Timberwolves last season after being acquired just the season before. His frustration with the environment in Minnesota was publicly known, specifically his question of Karl-Anthony Towns’ and Andrew Wiggins’ desire. He requested a trade, skipped practices and preseason games, culminating in the infamous scrimmage, which represented the final straw in deciding to trade Butler.

It was a messy situation, the likes of which Iguodala isn’t likely to want to entrench himself in as the Vice President of the NBA player’s association, especially if this is truly his last season. Moreover, if Iguodala wants to be traded to a contender, it wouldn’t hurt to build goodwill with the management on his way out the door and potentially have some say in where he would like to go. So, I would imagine that a compromise will be made that can benefit both parties – something along the lines of the Grizzlies agreeing to be active in finding trade partners, while also clearing any deal involving Iguodala by him. In exchange, the veteran will be expected to buy into the Vince Carter-mentorship role to some degree, while hopefully boosting his trade value at the same time. If all goes well, I would expect the Grizzlies to trade Iguodala after the first 20-30 games, presumably for a 1st round pick to a contender of his liking (Lakers, maybe?). This is the trade within the trade and should result in both sides mostly getting what they want, without having to tangle themselves in an ugly tug-of-war in the headlines.