NBA Lockout: It's Up To The Players To Put Brakes On Agent-Union Strife

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - AUGUST 19: Agent Drew Rosenhaus looks on during an NFL game between the Miami Dolphins and the Carolina Panthers at Sun Life Stadium on August 19, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

As Tom Ziller said earlier this week in The Hook, the agents hijacking the NBA lockout is a terrifying thought. Here we have a group of individuals with practically zero accountability poised to derail a rapprochement before it's even begun. This is a dangerous group to keep in the dark if the union knows more than they're saying about what bargaining concessions they're willing to make. To that end, agents are simply protecting their investments, wanting to ensure their clients' financial future is bright as possible. And as I've discussed before, David Stern put their backs to the wall in the first place.

But there's a fine line between, say, making sure your concerns are meaningfully acknowledged and shoving the navigator off the ship's wheel in the middle of a storm. That's a leap in judgement Evel Knieval might balk at. Make no mistake, this is a powerful minority likely convinced they can do a better job conducting negotiations. I saw Sanctum recently, and am strongly reminded of the scene(s) where the billionaire is calmly confident (while out of his mind with fear in a crisis) that he is making better leadership decisions than the lifelong cave diver. I mentioned zero accountability earlier, but that's not exactly true. There is a one group that can exert control over the agents, and that's their clients.

The players are demonstrating their desire to play ball, and unless their agents have presented an airtight case that their interests are going to be shortchanged by the union, they should be doing so once again. Do it behind the scenes, nothing is gained by a public schism there, but if the players fail to extract a measure of restraint from their agents, the public is going to hold someone to account, and in this case it won't be David Stern.

Of course, in the Machiavellian world of megasports, the reports of union-agent strife may have come from the union itself in a bid to publicize an agent power play. The agents themselves may have done it. Whoever is the instigator there, it only weakens the players' side when leadership is not strong and unified. But in any case, we must tend to what we know. The machinations of superagents and personalities like Worldwide Wes make fans of the league (and competitive balance) a little queasy at the best of times. A lockout is pretty much as bad as it gets, and with the faintest glimmer of hope on the horizon, someone has to do their utmost to protect it. This time, the responsibility falls to players, and if the rumors of agent-led decertification coup die down, we can collectively exhale, for now.

There may be a point when decertification is the way to go (Bill Russell forbid, at this late stage), but not now. It looks the season (at least part of it) can be saved for the first time since the lockout started in earnest. Yes, I'm clutching at straws like a scarecrow in a hurricane. But if the agent dissension escalates once again into rhetoric, it's likely the NBA will refuse to offer any concessions before they're sure who they're dealing with, and the 2011/12 season will be well and truly lost.

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