With NBA commissioner David Stern threatening to erase months of negotiating progress by Wednesday if players refuse to accept the deal that is on the table, Rockets guard Kevin Martin -- an eight-year veteran who is owed $24 million over the next two seasons -- believes it's time for players to get back to work.
"If you know for sure [the owners] are not moving, then you take the best deal possible," Martin wrote in a text message to SI.com. "We are risking losing 20 to 25 percent of missed games that we'll never get back, all over 2 percent [of basketball-related income] over an eight- to 10-year period [of the eventual collective bargaining agreement]. And let's be honest: 60 to 70 percent of players won't even be in the league when the next CBA comes around."
Martin's profile is a fascinating one in the current context. His agent is Dan Fegan, widely known to be among the group of seven agents who have spent recent months pushing for decertification of the union. Martin is also a member of Michael Jordan's team of players on the Jordan Brand, a group that includes Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Ray Allen.
Jordan, who as a player once famously told Washington owner Abe Pollin during the 1998-99 lockout that "if you can't make it work economically, you should sell the team," was painted as the hardest of hard-line owners in a New York Times report last week, and numerous players were quick to criticize his perceived hypocrisy. But while Martin did not discuss Jordan, he clearly sees the risk of decertifying or refusing the proposal as greater than any possible reward.
"When [players] are negotiating as free agents, we're always saying, 'Well I'm going to do what's best for my family,'" he wrote. "So now we're lying, because right now, losing money isn't helping our families at all. I'm not criticizing the fight our union is doing, because they have been in every meeting adding up to countless hours and have been breaking down every number possible. I believe in them and know they have the best interest for us. My opinion -- which is just one of 450 players -- is that if it comes down to losing a season and 100 percent of the money, we all definitely have to sit down and think about reality. That doesn't sound smart to possibly become part of the [country's] growing unemployment rate."
Martin's premise, of course, would change if he thought Stern wouldn't follow through with the owners' threat. But even the most ardent Stern critics don't see this as a bluff, leading some to believe that the entire season is unofficially on the line long before it was expected to be.
The 1998-99 lockout ended on Jan. 7 and a 50-game season was still salvaged, but the owners who have spent the last two years longing for a major overhaul to the system clearly have different plans this time around. Those owners, and not Stern, are clearly in control at the moment.
"There's no doubt in my mind that David Stern would be jumping for joy at this deal [if he was in control]," said an agent who has been involved in the push for decertification. "There's no way he would want to do the damage to the league he's going to do with all the concessions the players have made. He would look at this like a home-run deal and be done with it. It's pretty amazing that he has lost so much control of it."
Martin, who ranked ninth last season with 23.5 points per game, is hardly the first player to voice his desire for the union to cut its losses and get back to work. Two agents who spoke with SI.com on Monday and who represent a combined 19 players said that every one of their clients believes the players should accept the deal. However, a third agent said that all 12 of his clients would opt to decline the proposal and vote for decertification. The agent was not among the group of seven originally pushing for decertification.
As confirmed by SI.com on Saturday, the Lakers' Kobe Bryant has made his feelings known to the union and fellow players that he would strongly consider a 50-50 split depending on the nature of the agreed-upon economic system. His believed bottom line, much like Martin's, is that the season was not worth sacrificing if the negotiations came down to a couple of percentage points on BRI.
Wizards center JaVale McGee said after a regional players meeting in Los Angeles on Oct. 14 that "there's definitely some guys in there saying that they're ready to fold." Cavaliers forward Samardo Samuels tweeted on Oct. 28 that he was just fine with 50-50. Celtics big man Glen Davis shared his similar view via Twitter on Nov. 2, writing, "Take the 51 percent man and let's play."
Davis' premise was off, as the owners had not -- and still haven't -- offered 51 percent of BRI for the players. As it stands, Stern is threatening to drop the current BRI of, in essence, 50-50 to 47 percent if this deal isn't accepted by Wednesday while also instituting salary rollbacks and a hard-cap system much like that of the NHL. He detailed those threats in a letter to the players that was obtained by TheNew York Times. The NBPA executive committee was scheduled to hold a conference call Monday to discuss its next move, and player representatives from all 30 teams will meet in New York on Tuesday to get a broader consensus.
As first reported by Yahoo!, NBA and NBPA officials are discussing the possibility of meeting on Tuesday in an attempt to broker a deal before the deadline arrives, but it has not been finalized yet. Meanwhile, the "silent majority," as one agent called players who want to take the owners' current deal, may finally be mobilizing. According to a source, Lakers' guard Steve Blake has been actively calling on his colleagues with the hopes of having the current proposal taken to a vote. Portand's LaMarcus Aldridge is also believed to be in that camp.