By Mike McGraw
This summer's NBA lockout has been anticipated for years.
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It's one reason South Florida friends LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh chose to become free agents in 2010 instead of this summer.
Negotiations figure to putter along at about the same pace a basketball loses air. Until the scheduled start of preseason arrives in October, there will be no sense of urgency and, by all accounts, the two sides are miles apart.
The owners are under a league-imposed gag order, while the players have been making some odd comments about being better prepared for this lockout than they were in 1998-99, when the season was delayed until February.
"I think in '98-99, we didn't think it would be a long, drawn-out process," said Cleveland forward Antawn Jamison, a rookie at the time.
"You had guys saying one thing, you had other guys going behind their backs and saying another thing, and the owners knew then that eventually they would buckle and we could get this deal going."
Comments like those make it sound as though the players caved in and agreed to whatever the owners wanted in '99. On the contrary, the collective-bargaining agreement that resulted from those talks was terrific for the players.
In basketball terms, it was a 5-point play -- 3-point basket, foul and a technical for arguing the call. The players had some freedom, they collected huge raises, and most contracts were fully guaranteed.
Then, in some ways, the players squandered their good fortune. That's not to suggest NBA players are a bunch of slackers. The vast majority work hard, care about winning and dedicate themselves to charitable causes.
But too many either collected millions for doing nothing or behaved badly enough to harm the teams writing their paychecks.
The "money for nothing" list would start with Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis and Tracy McGrady, who earned $20 million or so in seasons they barely played.
But it goes on and on, with Eddy Curry, Eddie Robinson, Jerome James, Marko Jaric, Jamaal Tinsley, Larry Hughes, Marcus Banks, Adonal Foyle and Brian Cardinal among those whose hefty contracts were passed around like credit default swaps in the past decade.
It didn't help the cause when Ron Artest and several Indiana Pacers teammates started the infamous fan brawl in Auburn Hills, Mich., or Indiana's Stephen Jackson was cited for firing a gun outside a strip club, or Chris "Birdman" Andersen served a two-year, banned-substance suspension.
Sure, everyone has an excuse and every story is different. Injuries were a factor in many of the careers listed above.
But, really, how many of those players could truthfully say they did everything possible to maximize their talents and make their team successful? Managing fabulous wealth requires discipline, and not everyone has it.
Orlando guard Gilbert Arenas signed one of the league's most regrettable contracts in recent years. He's owed roughly $62 million over the next three seasons.
Arenas addressed his situation in a series of Twitter messages. His basic argument is it's not his fault he's overpaid.
"I know people are like, 'You make 20 (million) and are not worth it," the message read. "TRUE. But the man who paid me thought I was to him. You're worth what someone gives you."
Arenas has a point, but the Wizards originally offered that deal thinking he would help them be a consistent playoff contender, and that didn't happen.
The injuries weren't Arenas' fault, but the suspension for bringing guns into the locker room certainly was his own doing. Did he set an example for professional behavior with the Wizards, or act like an immature goofball?
Arenas was traded last year to Orlando for a player who might be even more overpaid, Rashard Lewis. Wizards management made a poor decision to give Arenas $111 million, but ultimately the fans end up paying for it and also suffer when the team stinks.
The point is, the players need to give something back in these negotiations. Runaway salaries plus a recession makes for a bad combination.
The players association knows this. It has talked about giving back $500 million over time. A reduction in current salaries and drastic decrease in yearly raises are in order.
The two sides also should make the final year of all contracts longer than three seasons a mutual option.
In a perfect world, this would be accompanied by a decrease in ticket and concession prices.
Next week we'll look at how an idea that seemed logical might have turned out to be one of the NBA owners' biggest mistakes.
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