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Players far from optimistic heading into next meeting with owners

NBA players won't be waving the white flag anytime soon, but they are looking to meet with league officials next week for just the second time since the lockout began on July 1.

And that, for anyone holding out hope that the season might be started on time, counts as welcome news.

National Basketball Players Association vice president Maurice Evans revealed that and much more in a wide-ranging interview with SI.com on Wednesday evening. The veteran free agent had just landed in Chicago after meeting with approximately 10 players in New York, with both locations part of a six-city tour designed by the NBPA to educate and update their players on the status of the negotiations.

But Evans and his NBPA colleagues have spent much of the time discussing NBA Commissioner David Stern's recent podcast with ESPN's Bill Simmons. Evans claims the interview was filled with inaccuracies and even lies, from the purported percentage of salary rollbacks players are being asked to accept to the much talked-about issue of Stern's salary.

The owners' proposal, Evans made clear, will simply never be accepted even if its means losing "this season and more."

SI.com: So no white flag is coming, huh?

Evans: The deal we've been offered would so drastically alter the game as we know it today. The offers have been so pathetic that it's hard to even talk about it when we're informing the guys. We're $7.6 billion apart [over the life of the proposed deal]. Again, when you realize all the components that they're trying to take away, and trying to take out of the [collective bargaining agreement] that's already in effect -- the guaranteed contracts, grandfathering in [contracts], the [salary-cap] exceptions, Larry Bird [rights]. You and I have already talked about this many times, but [players] are really starting to get it and they're willing to sit out for as long as necessary to get us a fair deal.

SI.com: My thing is simply about the owners and the fact that I honestly believe they're not going to crack, that they're just fine missing the season, no matter if they're a large-market team or small-market owners.

Evans: They're unified, and as unified [as the players], and that's great for them. It's not about who's more unified and having a battle of wills. It's about knowing what's right. We've earned the right to compete. We're the ones playing. You can't tell me their sponsorships and the package that they're selling is what has allowed the game to grow to what it is. That's not what increased basketball-related revenue 4.8 percent. We can go down the list about record television ratings and all kinds of different things. And for those guys to jeopardize that, you can't tell me that the owners aren't going to be hurting as well. They've made commitments to sponsorships and things that are contingent on us having a season. We're not holding that over their heads. We've never walked into negotiations and told them about all the things they're going to be losing. We've only walked into negotiations and tried to get deals.

The last [players'] offer was [a giveback of] $630 million over a six-year period. That's over a $100 million a year and they told us that it was pathetic. ...If they think that's what this negotiation is about, then they're miscalculating. Again, even with the 57 percent of BRI -- when you total out the total revenue, we receive 50 percent [in the old system]. We allow them to deduct expenses and deduct things, so when they overpay coaches and fire them and then they have three coaches on payroll that, in effect, goes into BRI. We've never told them that they could take that out, even though it's one of the highest expenses.

We don't want anyone to take a loss, not even the owners. But they seem to be hellbent on contracting [teams] and, as David Stern said, have a huge reset [of the entire system]. If we're going to reset ... then they're going to have to reset the entire league. And even they're going to have to take a reset. We're unified with the agents. We're getting them back on track, getting the players back on track, so now we just need to get the owners back on track.

SI.com: You mentioned the Stern podcast and how you took exception to some of the claims he made. What are you referring to, specifically?

Evans: The major, if not the most, misleading thing was him saying that if Billy [Hunter, NBPA executive director] just tells the players that all I'm asking for is eight percent salary cuts that there would be resolution. That eight percent is actually 40 percent over 10 years, and the actual total is $7.6 billion that he's asking for. Even if you're saying, 'We already make $2.17 billion [annually] in salaries.' That hasn't grown. That's why we got our entire escrow back and then some.

To say that it's the players' salaries [causing the problem] -- it's not our salaries. Our salaries are the main constant. If [owners] take back another $160 million, keep our salaries at $2 billion, then you're not even guaranteeing the $2 billion. And then secondly, that $2 billion, if you're keeping that for 10 years, you've got to account for the growth that takes place each year. The NBA grew by between 3 and 6 percent every year, and we didn't even take [into account] the full growth. If you take the full growth, it's over 40 percent [in salary reductions they're being asked to accept] and it's over $7.6 billion total. For 10 years, that's not even a reality to think that we would accept a deal of that notion.

We don't share in that growth [of the owners' proposal] until that eighth year. And that's when the national TV deal has already come into effect by then, the Lakers' 20-year, $3 billion TV deal -- and that's minimum numbers -- we don't share in that. ...The league is healthy. There's nothing that says that the league is unhealthy.

SI.com: The fans just want the bottom line, which is basically the question of when you're meeting again right now.

Evans: We haven't nailed down a date, but I'm hearing next week. I'm not sure if that's after Labor Day or what, but Stern is supposedly coming back from his two-week vacation and then we'll get back in the process. The players are ready, man. We're just getting ready for them to re-engage, set the time and the place, and we'll be there willing to try and hash this thing out.

SI.com: I've talked to some players who were bothered by the fact that Stern took a vacation right now. How did you see that?

Evans: Of course it does rub you the wrong way a little bit when the guy doesn't seem to have a sense or urgency. And then when you hear about his $20 million-plus salary, and he tries to justify it and go on and have an hour-long podcast that you could say is misleading or you could also say lying. Those things are the most disappointing. We had all these meetings, and the guy has yet to come in and truly bargain in good faith. They have yet to truly engage us and work toward getting a deal. Each time we come in, we're offering significant amounts of money and then they're not even supporting the losses with real claims. That part is what has been disappointing.

SI.com: You mention his salary, but he was pretty adamant in saying it was less than half of what was reported.

Evans: So that's his base salary, and then you get all these incentives. First of all, in dealing with Stern, I've learned that even the base of $9 million is probably somewhere around $12 million. Then you add bonuses and all that and it shoots up to $20 million-plus. But it's not my job to critique his salary. I want him to make money. That's the whole point is we want everyone to make money. But he's the one who wants everyone to suffer losses. ...The guy tells us it's the recession and all these different things, yet they want to experience all the growth over the next 10 years while we experience none. When you look at it that way, it's extremely disappointing.

SI.com: What's the latest on the National Labor Relations Board case?

Evans: We're still waiting. We're in the process of getting the decision and that's when they filed the hypothetical lawsuit against us so they could try and stop us from reaching a verdict and delay the decision. [Stern] accomplished his goal because it delayed our decision by another three weeks.

SI.com: You sound pretty prepared to miss the entire season. Is that where it's at right now?

Evans: Our guys are willing to miss this season and more. We're willing to do what it's going to take because accepting a deal at the numbers that they're asking for will be worse than missing the season.

SI.com: Where are you at in terms of possible decertification?

Evans: That's not on the table right now. That has never been a ploy. If we decertify, then it will be because that's what's best for all of our guys. Right now is not the time for that. Right now we're trying to negotiate and trying to bargain and engage the owners to try and save the season the same way the NFL did. I went to NFL preseason games and their fans are so excited to have football back. We want that same excitement for our fans.

SI.com: When you guys meet next week, I would assume you expect the owners to come equipped with a new proposal?

Evans: We expect them to give us a real proposal and finally really engage us the way they should have been engaging us the last three years.

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