According to a source close to union president Derek Fisher, NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith is expected to address a group of about 70 players in Las Vegas on Thursday morning. It's a creative and well-timed wrinkle that came as a result of Fisher's invite, with the NFL's equivalent to National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter sure to relieve some of the tension in the room.
The hope, as Fisher sees it, is that Smith can help buoy the players' spirits after discussions with the owners broke down on Tuesday, while also educating them on the complex issues involved in this process.
The owners are meeting in Dallas on Thursday. The chance remains that commissioner David Stern could persuade his hard-lined contingent to relent on core issues like a hard salary cap as long as they receive the sort of financial givebacks from players that allow them to be profitable. Union officials were encouraged by last week's progress and surprised at the immediacy with which it all came to a halt, but there is some optimism because the economic disagreements -- if not the systematic ones -- haven't appeared as insurmountable as it might have appeared recently.
Phoenix Suns player representative Jared Dudley indicated on Wednesday that the players had offered to lower their portion of basketball-related income from the previous 57 percent to approximately 53 percent. "If 52 or 51 gets the deal done," Dudley added, "I'm almost positive we'd do that. But the [owners] are trying to go in the 40s. We're not willing to go 40s."
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The players meeting was sure to be short on substance and long on drama, as numerous agents continue to call for Hunter's head and players travel here to take the pulse of the situation. Enter Smith, who remained unified with his constituents throughout the NFL's recent lockout and knows plenty about the option so many NBA agents are pushing for: decertification.
Yet as NBPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler told SI.com last month, the NFL and NBA situations are vastly different when it comes to that possible strategy. Even if players gathered the required 30 percent approval to decertify without the NBPA executive committee's consent, the voting process, which is conducted through the National Labor Relations Board, would take approximately two months and the legal obstacles would grow even more challenging from there. The NBA has already filed a preemptive lawsuit seeking a ruling that decertification is illegal in the Southern District of New York. Because that's a court that has ruled in the league's favor before, the NBPA is in the process of filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. That move will only delay the process further.
As Dudley made clear, these are the sorts of details that players are eager to learn more about.
"I asked Billy one time, I said, 'What are the negatives of decertification? 'If two months from now, four months from now, we had no deal done, would it be a negative to decertify but you still talk to [the owners]?' " said Dudley, whose agent, Mark Bartelstein, is known to favor decertification. "It was kind of iffy on the answers. That's something I'll bring up to him [on Thursday]. He's very open to discuss that, and he needs to discuss that. He's our leader."
On a day when Hunter seemed destined to be under an intense and unwanted spotlight, there will be another leader there too to help provide some answers.