January 09, 2010

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Any potential NBA lockout related to collective bargaining remains a season and a half away, but as early negotiations proceed, it appears the players' association is firmly against the league's asking its players to reduce their portion of overall income.

Billy Hunter, the union's executive director, spent the past week on the West Coast meeting with player representatives, as well as player president Derek Fisher of the Lakers.

What Hunter is preaching, 18 months before the fact, is that the players need to remain unified in case the owners impose a lockout for the start of the 2011-12 season.

The underlying message, of course, is that if Hunter is rallying his players 18 months ahead of time, he fully expects some sort of labor dispute once that season arrives.

Hunter said he has had two formal and one informal negotiating session with the league, which was represented by commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt. Hunter, Fisher and a Hunter aide represented the players. The last session took place three weeks ago.

Hunter said he expects to receive a formal proposal from the NBA in the next few weeks, after which the sides will sit down again at All-Star weekend in Dallas in mid-February.

Though he could not be certain of the contents of the proposal, Hunter said he expects the league to ask the players to reduce their take of basketball-related income from 57 percent to 50 percent.

"They obviously indicated what their concerns are, how they feel they are being impacted economically," Hunter told SI.com after meeting with Warriors players. "We looked at it. We don't necessarily agree with their interpretation of the facts and numbers. Their primary concern is that the percentage of the revenues that the players are receiving is too high under the current economic circumstances.

"I would suspect they would like to see it somewhere closer to 50-50. I don't want to give any indication where I am. But clearly I am nowhere near anybody's 50-50. Where I am is I propose we extend the current deal. I have already offered that to the owners."

Because the league says as many as half the teams are losing money, there is little chance of Stern's allowing the current collective bargaining agreement to be extended.

In fact, league sources indicate that some general managers are so convinced there will be a lockout that they allowed players to have an additional year on their current contracts because they don't think that year will have to be paid out because of a lockout.

The prevailing thought in league circles is that this will be the final agreement that the 67-year-old Stern negotiates before his retirement. It will be his legacy, and because of that, he will take a hard line.

"I don't know about that," Hunter said. "I thought the last one was going to be the last hurrah. In terms of him putting his stamp on it, he put his stamp on every one -- 1998, 2005. And here we are now in 2009-10. If he hasn't put his stamp on it by now, I don't know whether that is going to occur in the next round.

"My fear is that the last thing the league can withstand is another lockout, particularly in today's economic climate. It doesn't make sense. They contend that they have teams losing money. There is a strong possibility that those teams may not exist after a lockout. They may no longer be a part of the league. You may be looking at something worse than what it would be if you could strike a deal. The only deal we are going to do is an equitable deal. There is not going to be any imbalance. I would never be inclined to recommend that the players accept anything unfavorable to them."

Sacramento Kings center Spencer Hawes is his team's player representative. He was in middle school and high school during the last two negotiations. But he has always been politically active and has educated himself about the nuances of the agreement.

After meeting with Hunter, Hawes said the players are preparing themselves for a drawn-out fight.

"There are a lot of things they continue to take out of the CBA over the last few negotiations, so there are not a lot of things left we can give up," Hawes said. "They can try to chip down [our percentage of basketball-related income], but I don't know how much further the guys are willing to go down. They have already gone after a lot of stuff. I can't say what number we'd accept, I don't know where we are with that, but I don't know that the guys are going to be too happy about conceding too much more.

"Whatever happens, there has to be unity. Regardless of the numbers, from the superstars all the way down to the minimum guys, everyone has to stay together."

Hunter said he is preparing the players today for the eventuality 18 months from now.

"The one thing I always advise the players -- and this is why I am on the road now -- what I have told them is we have to stay together," Hunter said. "We have to be cohesive. We can't let the same thing happen to us that they let happen in hockey, where, after they confronted the lockout, they splintered and went their separate ways. We have to have unity. And they have to trust that we are going to do what is best for them."

What exactly that is remains to be seen. Though the league has given indications of its primary concerns and what it wants, Hunter said he has not yet told the league his stance.

"I can't negotiate a deal with you," Hunter told SI.com. "I can't tell you what my position is going to be. They [the NBA] wish they knew what my side was. So I can't make that disclosure to you because I have not yet made it in the room yet.

"What we are going to do is meet. We will get their written proposal and then we will sit down and meet at All-Star [weekend]."

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