With NBA commissioner David Stern claiming the owners are done negotiating and threatening to drastically worsen their offer if it is not accepted by the players, Monday's meeting will likely determine the fate of the 2011-12 season. Players are faced with a host of unappealing options, from taking the proposal to a league-wide vote, to the lengthy legal battles that could come by way of decertification of the union or disclaimer of interest of the union, to continuing to negotiate with the owners. While a consensus of some kind won't be reached until Monday's meeting, one union source said the NBPA executive committee is expected to have a meeting Sunday night as a precursor.
There were indications Saturday night that the committee was in favor of taking the disclaiming interest route, a process by which executive director Billy Hunter would submit a letter to Stern saying the NBPA was no longer the bargaining unit for the players. Antitrust lawsuits potentially worth treble damages on existing player salaries could be filed soon thereafter, with players sending the immediate message that they would be willing to lose the season. Negotiations would continue with the pressure shifting to the NBA, but not before the structure of the union and role of lead negotiator would first have to be determined.
When reached on Saturday night, however, Hunter told SI.com that his intention was to have the player representatives vote on a revised version of the NBA's latest proposal before moving forward.
"We will vote on the NBA's proposal," Hunter wrote in a text message. "The proposal will be presented with some proposed amendments."
Despite Stern's threat that this was a take-it-or-leave-it situation, players could simply ignore the parameters he has set forth and give the league a deal that they claim could be done. But numerous agents who spoke with SI.com were frustrated by the lack of information coming from the union at such a crucial time, as they were attempting to educate their clients but often doing so with either incomplete or inaccurate information. There were no widespread updates on the proposal, the union's strategy or its stance beyond private conversations between members of its executive committee and player reps with their innumerable colleagues.
Thus, agents and players spent Friday and Saturday scrambling to piecemeal the details of the deal.
"System issues" that players say will strictly limit their freedoms in the market remain at the root of the disagreement. But widespread anger among players and agents alike is also threatening the process, especially in light of the way the owners handled the last negotiating session when players offered yet another significant concession on the economic front.
When players, who received 57 percent of basketball-related income in the last collective bargaining agreement, informally lowered their BRI offer from 52.5 percent to a 50-50 split on Tuesday, there was an expectation that they'd receive significant system concessions in return. But the owners didn't move on their proposal nearly as much as the union hoped, and NBPA officials were left privately fuming once again in these negotiations that have already been widely considered a lopsided victory for the league.
The owners' threatened offer should players not accept the current one was detailed by Stern in a letter obtained by the New York Times. It would include a drop in players' BRI to 47 percent, salary rollbacks of existing contracts, shortened contract lengths and a hard salary cap similar to the one used in the NHL.
With the league saying for months that it lost $300 million last season, the economic givebacks from the players already (with the proposed 50-50 split) equate to $280 million annually based on last season's revenue. In the absence of an agreement, though, large factions of frustrated players are strongly considering the decertification route that is so dangerous.
And Stern told reporters in a phone interview on Saturday that the crowds pushing for decertification are the ones that concern him most.
"By some combination of mendacity and greed, the agents who are looking out for themselves rather than their clients are trying to scuttle the deal," Stern reportedly said. "They're engaged in what appears to be an orchestrated Twitter campaign and a series of interviews that are designed to deny the economic realities of the proposal."
"No one talks about the rise in compensation under the deal, no one talks about the amount of money being spent. ... I just think that the players aren't getting the information, the true information from their agents, who are banding together, sort of the coalition of the greedy and the mendacious, to do whatever they can not to have fewer opportunities for the agents to make money."
Sources say more than 200 players are prepared to submit a signed petition for a decertification vote, a number that's more than enough since only 30 percent of the league's 400-plus players (roughly 130 players) is required. The strategy was initially supported by a group of seven influential agents but has since grown significantly.
If players do decide to file for decertification, it would take 45 to 60 days for the National Labor Relations Board to consider their petition. Players hope the pressure of an antitrust lawsuit would be enough for the league to change its stance. But they would be forced into a precarious position if that strategy failed since it would entail a lengthy legal battle that would likely sacrifice the entire season.
The NBA in August filed a lawsuit with the NLRB, asserting not only that the lockout is legal but also that decertification of the union is not and would result in the possible voiding of existing player contracts. All of which has Stern concerned.
"Yes, I am worried," Stern said, "because they're talking up this thing called decertification which is not a winning strategy on the one hand. On the second hand, it'll take three months to teach them it's not a winning strategy, which would not augur well for the season.
"The agents misunderstand it and all it does is delay things. They themselves think that if the players decertify, then the league will change its offer. And that will not happen as a result of decertification. It's a losing strategy for them."