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Steve Aschburner

With owners done negotiating, players ponder revised offer


Posted Nov 11 2011 1:37AM - Updated Nov 11 2011 6:07AM

NEW YORK -- The last time the NBA owners made a formal labor proposal to the players in hopes of expediting a new collective bargaining agreement and salvaging what they can of the 2011-12 season, the negotiating dance went like this:

-- Offer.

-- Union huddle.

-- Clock stopped to fend off a tougher "reset" deal from the league.

-- More talks to tweak what was on the table.

So the owners, after two days and nearly 23 hours of meetings that ended late Thursday, got to the point, again, of making another formal proposal. Only this time, the dance had better be a two-step. As in:

-- Offer.

-- Union huddle to vote yea or nay.

The crazy, Groundhog Day time loop aspects of the league's four-month-old lockout is at an end. Whatever maneuvers each side made from that previous offer have been embedded in this new one. And that apparently is that.

"There comes a time when you have to be through negotiating. And we are," NBA commissioner David Stern said. "If this offer is not accepted, then we will revert to our 47 percent proposal."

Oh yeah, that 47 percent proposal. The last time around, Stern had told union president Derek Fisher, executive director Billy Hunter and the rest of the National Basketball Players Association reps that if the league's offer -- based on essentially a 50-50 split of basketball-related income -- weren't accepted, it would be replaced by a tougher one (including a hard salary cap, rollbacks in current contracts and a 47 percent BRI share for the players).

Well, this time, that iron fist truly does reside within the velvet glove, based on Stern's portrayal of the situation. Invoking the owners' "reset" contract this week would have been "mean-spirited" once they requested to meet, the commissioner said. But having heard the NBPA's concerns and suggestions, the clock is about to start again.

It awaits only another meeting of the player-reps, either Monday or Tuesday, and their willingness to put it to a vote of the full union membership.

"There's really nothing left to negotiate about," Stern said. "This is the best attempt by the [owners'] labor relations committee and therefore the NBA to address the concerns the players expressed."

So without calling it their "last, best offer," the owners made what sounds like their last, best offer. This one comes with one very tangible benefit: The prospect of a 72-game NBA season that would start on Dec. 15.

That would mean just 10 games lost off the traditional 82-game model, just 10 games worth of salary despite a season that would start six weeks late. The league had game-planned for this, along with other scenarios based on the players' verdict on the offer.

"It will require moving the playoffs back roughly a week," deputy commissioner Adam Silver said. "It will require moving The Finals back roughly a week. We have been in touch throughout with our arenas and our teams so that, literally every day, we create a new permutation of schedule so we would always be in this position to begin playing as soon as possible."

The trick is to get a deal wrapped up in a week. The league has said repeatedly that a turnaround time of 30 days will be needed from handshake agreement to regular-season tipoff, allowing for free agency, training camps and, as Silver said, "possibly a short preseason."

If, that is, the union goes along with the NBA's terms and timetable.

Fisher, Hunter and the members of the NBPA's executive committee who met with reporters after Thursday's bargaining session did not look enthusiastic. Whether they were resigned to the proposal in front of them or whether they planned to turn it down, that wasn't clear.

"We want to get back on the court," Fisher said. "We want to get all of our members back to work. We want to get our fans back in the buildings. And there are some important issues that we feel we need to close this out in order to get a deal done, in particular when you consider the economic concessions that we've made thus far."

The players, who got 57 percent of BRI in the old CBA, have been pulled down to a 50-50 split. They kept budging in hopes of improving some system issues that, in their view, would affect player movement and maintain a robust marketplace for free agents. Specifically, they have resisted new, tougher limitations on teams whose payrolls exceed the luxury-tax threshold as they relate to the mid-level exception, sign-and-trade deals, "repeater" penalties on frequent free-spending teams and so on.

For instance, the union disagrees with the owners' view that tax-paying teams should not have access to the full mid-level exception for pursuing free agents. Rather than $5 million to offer each year in a deal as long as four years, the league was offering a two-year deal starting at $2.5 million -- and then just every other year for tax-payers.

During the talks Wednesday and Thursday, the players got that boosted to a $3 million starting salary for up to three years -- but still every other year. And so it went on other issues, with the two sides butting heads over how a tax-paying team is defined: before or after using the mid-level.

"On the main six or seven issues," Fisher said, "I'm not sure if we can say that on any one of them, the NBA came all the way to what we'd like them to come to."

A big reason for that is that the owners felt they had gotten, and given, as much as they could. Thus it was time to present the deal, backed up by the nastier alternative.

The union's options now are streamlined: Meet early next week with player-reps in New York, either before or after they talk to teammates about the offer. Then put it to a vote or, possibly, consider the uncertain, more strident path of decertification of the union. No one on the players' side was flexing that prospect Thursday night.

"Well, it's not the greatest proposal in the world," Hunter said. "But I have an obligation to at least present it to our membership."

Fisher and Hunter did talk about a long list of ancillary issues -- 30 or 40, Hunter said, worth about six pages in a contract -- that still need to be addressed if the bigger points get settled. These range from the entry age for NBA rookies to days off allotments for current players, even to the number and quality of All-Star tickets the players receive.

Why burn up three or four days waiting to convene in New York, when the player-reps conceivably could hash things out in a teleconference over the weekend? The issues are many and complicated. Said Spurs forward Matt Bonner: "I think the feeling is there needs to be give and take, face to face."

The union isn't the only one that has to sell a deal based on the current offer to its constituencies. Stern, Silver and the labor relations committee would have to do likewise, though the commissioner felt that was likely if this proposal were accepted by the players.

"We both recognize the seriousness of what we're facing," Stern said. "Both sides would like to begin the season on Dec. 15 if that's possible. I think our teams want to start playing, and that desire is matched by our players. And we've done the best we can to cause that to happen.

"I'm optimistic that the NBA owners will approve it if the union approves it. We await the response of the union. We've done our best."

Without quite knowing, though, whether they're really done.

NBA.com's David Aldridge and John Schuhmann contributed to this report.

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

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