Wednesday November 9th, 2011

Come Wednesday night, the NBA will likely begin a "nuclear winter."

Sure, things can change with the sides set meeting Wednesday afternoon. The NBA could ignore or extend its own deadline (it's done it before) or the players could suddenly decide that a 50-50 split of basketball-related income, a punitive, incrementally increasing luxury tax and an overall system that makes it unlikely even the uber wealthy teams will want to exceed the luxury tax threshold is OK by them. Then again, the owners could budge on the system issues (as Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski hinted they would) enough that players give in and agree to a deal.

More probable, however, is the following two things will happen:

• The NBA will withdraw its current offer and present a new one highlighted by a 47 percent share of the BRI for players, a hard salary cap and rollbacks of existing contracts, among many other indigestible items the union is sure to reject.

• The NBPA will formally begin the process of decertifying, a process that, according to executive director Billy Hunter, has already informally begun.

After that, pack your bags and mothball the uniforms. The season will be over. Yes, there is a window of 45 to 60 days before the National Labor Relations Board would even consider letting the union decertify, a window that, in theory, could be used for further negotiations. But for what? If Stern and his owners are determined to permanently replace the current, back-bending deal with a new, back-breaking one -- and there are no indications that isn't exactly what the NBA is going to do -- any further negotiations will be fruitless. The board room will give way to the courtroom and the league will lose a full season for the first time in history.

And it will be entirely the owners' fault.

This is not meant to be an impassioned defense of the union, which has bungled this process every step of the way. While the NBA was massaging the national press, the union was printing T-shirts. When the NBA flooded the airwaves with a carefully choreographed media blitz, players clogged Twitter with hash tags. While the NBA has delivered its message in simple, understandable language ("The system is broken" ... "22 out of 30 teams are losing money" ...), players have annoyed fans with not-so-pithy catch phrases like "Free Basketball" and "Let Us Play."

It's a prizefight, and only the NBA is a polished heavyweight and the union is a tomato can.

Reality has been blurred, when it shouldn't be. Because the simple fact is that the NBPA has made concession after concession and gotten nothing in return.

Think about it: In the NFL labor talks, commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith did some serious horse-trading. We give you a bigger piece of the revenue split, you reduce organized team activities and padded practices and eliminate two-a-days. We let you reduce rookie salaries, you impose a salary floor for the veterans.

That's not happening in the NBA. The NBA's relationship with the union is parasitic; it takes and gives nothing back. Sure, there are things the union wants -- incentives for rookies, higher qualifying offers -- but it probably won't get them. Right now, the players' priority is stopping the bleeding, getting Stern & Co. to quit gashing their share of the BRI while at the same time creating a luxury tax system so punitive an owner would rather stick a fork in his eye than exceed the limit.

They should stop, too. It's enough already. The NBA claims it has been losing around $300 million, annually. The players are willing to hand $200 million per year back now and another $80 million a season (in a 50-50 split scenario) if the owners will budge on a few system issues. That's $280 million funneled back into the owners' pockets that, when coupled with revenue sharing, should infuse every team in the league with enough cash to be competitive.

Will it guarantee profitability? No. Then again, it shouldn't. It's amazing how some of the owners have escaped being held responsible for their own foolish mistakes. Struggling financially? Don't give Darko Milicic $20 million. Problems with your payroll? Maybe it's because Gilbert Arenas' $110 million is eating it up. Deep in luxury tax territory? Rashard Lewis didn't force you to write $113 million on the contract. These were bad decisions that should not be allowed to be collectively bargained away.

So take a deep breath, David Stern. Reflect for a minute Robert Sarver, Dan Gilbert and Paul Allen. Think about what you are doing. You have already won. History will record that you crushed the union, winning unprecedented concessions while giving virtually nothing back. If you haven't solved the problems that plagued the league the last few years, you have at least given the owners the means to fix it themselves.

Yes, you have already won, NBA. But before you blow up the season, ask yourself this: Is it really necessary to run up the score?

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