Hope for season fades as players mull unfavorable options
The NBA lockout had just taken its latest, not-so-greatest turn when a prominent agent went the all-caps route to express his frustration.
"Offer is not good," texted an agent who had been open-minded just hours before. "Owners' arrogance and GREED is going to cost them more than just the season. Players will now move to decertify [the union]."
Unfortunately for the fans who deserve better, you can expect more of this over the next few days. The roller-coaster ride will continue, only this time without actual consequence as it relates to the process. Players and agents will be vocal as they attempt to contemplate another ultimatum from owners, and we have union head Billy Hunter to thank for letting all this fun unfold before the meeting he will hold with player representatives on Monday in New York.
That one agent's angry reaction isn't any sort of formal stand, and perhaps that's precisely why Hunter is taking all this time and commissioner David Stern is allowing him to do so. Let the emotions settle. Cooler heads might even prevail, although even they seem likely to vote down this deal that was being received with resounding criticism a day later. Sources close to Hunter say he knows it will be a tough -- if not impossible -- sell, even to the players who are desperate to get back to work.
"He'll lose all credibility if he pushes this deal," the agent later said.
We're off to an inauspicious start, though, and I certainly don't see it getting any better.
According to sources involved in the potential process, more than 200 player signatures have been collected in support of a possible decertification vote that only requires approximately 130. This risky strategy is two-pronged, with the initial intent to provide the players with badly needed leverage in these negotiations during the 45-60-day window that would come before the actual vote (which would only take place if the National Labor Relations Board approved it, and that's not a given). Phase two would be the vote itself. A majority is required for the union to decertify, but players are more than welcome to vote it down should they reach that cliff and decide the fall is just too far.
If decertification does take place, negotiating would continue under different leadership (good luck guessing who that might be). Players would file an antitrust lawsuit against the league, with the hope of a ruling that the lockout is illegal and possible treble damages coming their way (good luck, period). The reality, though, is that the ones pushing hardest for decertification are focused far more on the short-term gain than anything else.
According to a source, pro-decertification agent Arn Tellem has recently been telling the tale of the 1998-99 lockout and how the thought of decertification was said to have scared Stern into making a deal. But in my opinion, this mix of owners is far more ferocious and in control than the ones back then.
Hunter said all along that he would consider all options so long as the timing was right. If this proposal isn't accepted by next week, the owners say they'll bring back their "reset" offer with the "flex cap" and 47 percent share of basketball-related income for players.
Voluntarily dissolving the union would almost certainly result in a lost season, but it would also speed up the legal process by allowing players to immediately file antitrust lawsuits as opposed to waiting a month or two to possibly reach that point. The potential legal obstacles here are trickier than those in decertification, but it's worth considering so long as they're going for the extreme measures.
Puzzling though it might be to anyone who listened to Stern's assessment, a source close to the negotiations said it is a possibility that the talks simply drag on with no end in sight. If the threats of more lost paychecks and Stern's reinstituted ultimatum don't result in the players either accepting the deal or taking the legal route, they may simply fine tune their demands.
In other words, they may make an attempt to call Stern's bluff even when there seems to be no evidence that he's bluffing.
"We've gone as far as the labor relations committee is going to go," Stern explained when asked why he would bring back the harsh offer if he knew it would almost assuredly guarantee a lost season. "And now, we await their response. There comes a time when you have to be through negotiating, and we are."
The fans who simply want this all to end should be rooting for Option No. 1, and chances are we'll know if a vote is coming before Monday even rolls around. Players will hear the details of the proposal from their agents and union officials, and will form opinions that will make or break this season. Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver will watch and wait, wondering like the rest of us when this madness will end.
"We've spent the last two and a half years meeting with the union ... hoping that we could come to common ground," Silver said. "I'm hoping, personally, that's where we are right now and that we can get back to playing. But I understand from the union's standpoint it's a difficult pill to swallow right now."
Those who negotiate for a living often say deals are usually done when neither side is content with the outcome. And while any player who has been paying attention would double over in laughter at the notion that the owners can complain, Stern is hoping this will all be over soon.
"We don't expect them to like every aspect of our revised proposal," Stern said. "I would say that there are many teams that don't like every aspect of our revised proposal. But I did tell Billy that the proposal has the support of the chairman of the labor relations committee, Adam, me and the labor relations committee itself.
"We await the response from the union."