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Steve Aschburner

NBA labor ultimatum puts players to test


Posted Nov 8 2011 9:45AM

NEW YORK -- Given the flurry of activity already under way by the close-of-business Monday on the players' side of the NBA labor dispute, and allowing for what likely would continue for the next 48 hours or so -- with anticipated counter-moves by the league -- it's too bad this energy and urgency weren't applied back in July.

The Dallas Mavericks would have their rings by now and the NBA season would be a week old.

Instead, the season remains on the brink, teetering between the owners' latest tough stance and the players' emotional reaction to it. Ever since NBA commissioner David Stern and the owners dropped an ultimatum Video offer on the union early Sunday morning -- take this deal by Wednesday evening or face a severely diminished offer going forward -- the players have scrambled in search of a proper response.

Initially, union president Derek Fisher Video spoke of sadness and frustration. Next came further consideration of the harshest end-game possible: decertification of the union that could throw the season and the NBA's future into an anti-trust court battle.

Then came reactions from somewhere in between, including no small number of rank-and-file players who seemed willing (or worn down enough) to accept what was on the table: A deal in which the owners and players essentially would split basketball-related revenues 50-50, with a number of system changes that would favor management -- but slightly less so than what the owners originally had sought.

Houston guard Kevin Martin was among the first to publicly support voting for the 50-50 proposal, based on text messages sent to SI.com. "If you know for sure [the owners] are not moving, then you take the best deal possible," said Martin, who has two years left on his current contract worth $24 million. "We are risking losing 20 to 25 percent of missed games that we'll never get back, all over 2 percent [of BRI split, based on the union's recent request for 52 percent] over an eight- to 10-year period. And let's be honest: 60 to 70 percent of players won't even be in the league when the next CBA comes around."

The math is indisputable: Each one percent of BRI is worth about $40 million annually or about $480 million (based on four percent growth projections) over a 10-year agreement. But with each month of missed games, the players lose about $400 million. And few of the current group will be around to spread out the damage over 10 years.

Lakers star Kobe Bryant and teammate Steve Blake also expressed views contrary to the union stance that Stern's ultimatum a) was not worthy of a membership vote and b) left no room for further negotiations. According to Yahoo! Sports, Blake contacted numerous players in an effort to push for a vote on the 50-50 deal by Wednesday. He was said to have roused some support, though many players went public via Twitter and other social media backing union leadership's perspective.

Bryant told Yahoo! Sports he hoped the two sides would talk again before Stern swapped out offers. "We need the two sides to get together again before Wednesday, because we're too close to getting a deal done," Bryant said. "We need to iron out the last system items and save this from spiraling into a nuclear winter."

It would be a cold, grim winter if the league failed to build on its record popularity from 2010-11. Already November has been wiped from the season and, factoring in the turnaround time needed after any settlement to get documents, players and teams ready, December is facing a serious gouge as well.

A gouge might seem like a paper cut, though, if the two sides back away from bargaining and turn to litigation. A mandatory meeting of the 30 NBA teams' player representatives was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in Manhattan, with each of the reps charged with voicing his teammates' views on the lockout and possible resolution at hand.

It's likely that the players will discuss holding a formal NBPA vote on the proposal. It's certain that they will talk about the risks and rewards available through decertification, a process that could give them leverage for further negotiations even as it ground through its formal stages. The first step: A vote to put the tactic in play, requiring the support of about 130 players. The next step: After a 45-day period, another vote with a simple majority of union members needed to decertify.

The strategy, with its uncertainty of outcome (including triple damages that could cost the owners $6 billion), could give the players much-needed bargaining leverage and potentially get an injunction to lift the lockout while talks continue. It also could smack the players down, if the NBA prevailed in its lawsuit or subsequent appeal challenging the move. It almost necessarily would cost everyone at least two months and possibly a year or two before any sort of resolution.

So what will it be: Earn? Or burn?

"Being for decertification does not mean you want the season to be cancelled," Cleveland Cavaliers player rep Anthony Parker said. "Even if we decertify there will still be plenty of time to get a deal done and that's our hope."

The NBA has brushed aside questions about the union decertification or, in a slightly different move, disclaiming interest. Stern, a couple of weeks after making media appearances to tout the owners' position then, was back at it Monday, urging the players to take what he has portrayed as the best offer they'll see.

"We think that there's a great offer on the table and what we told the players is, it's getting late," Stern said on ESPN's "SportsCenter." "The only rational thing to do is for us to make that deal because given what's going on in our business and our industry, it'll get worse from there."

The current offer of a near 50 percent share of BRI, Stern has said, would drop to 47 percent in the next proposal. Contract lengths would get shorter, free-agent options would become more restricted for big-spending teams and, in place of a more severe luxury-tax system to rein in runaway payrolls, a hard salary cap would be installed, at least among the terms from which the owners would negotiate next.

But even the commissioner couldn't rattle his saber when asked how close he was to canceling the entire 2011-12 season. "I wouldn't want to say when we would call off the season," Stern said, "because clearly we're not there yet and I don't want to make an idle threat."

All threats in their time, with the current one in play till Wednesday.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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