While the total dollar amounts may be the same, the fact that the NBA Players Association is suggesting players spread their money out over more paychecks is an early warning sign that we might be heading for another lockout.

In an email sent to players by acting union Executive Director Ron Klempner obtained by Bloomberg News, the NBPA warns “As we have learned in the past, the owners have made provisions with the TV networks to continue to receive rights fees throughout a work stoppage, and there is no reason the players should not make every effort to take the same precaution.”

Here is a copy of the second portion of the letter, with the first half redacted:

letter

The letter advises that, for the 2016-17 season, the players receive their salary over an 18 month period, rather than the traditional six or 12. This change would allow players to continue being paid even if the entire 2017-18 season were canceled due to a lockout. The NBPA had worked this provision into the new CBA to protect themselves in the event of a lockout, one of the few “wins” the union could claim from the contentious 2011 negotiations.

The owners and players can opt out of the current CBA after the 2016-17 season, and given the huge reduction in players’ net of basketball-related income (from 57 percent to 50) coupled with the explosion in franchise values, it seems likely that the players will bail. It will undoubtedly open up a new, heated round of negotiations, and we very well could end up with another ugly lockout.

By utilizing the 18-month pay provision, though, it eliminates one of the owners’ huge pieces of leverage. As was often cited in the previous negotiations, the players needed their paychecks more than many realized. That meant that the internal pressure to end the lockout and get back to basketball was much greater, and to a degree splintered the players’ union. Without that internal pressure, though, the players may be prepared to hold out longer for a better deal this time around.

For fans, this isn’t great news, as we too will need to begin emotionally preparing ourselves for another painful, protracted negotiation.

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