Players meeting Friday, will be ready to sit if owners don't budge
Union chief Billy Hunter called NBA superstars, top union reps to a meeting
A formal negotiating session with NBA owners is expected to follow on Friday
Players will be prepared to sit out season if owners don't make major concessions
While talks between NBA players and owners have been productive recently, the gap between the two sides is narrowing very slowly. And with time running out for the start of the regular season to be saved, the two camps are in danger of moving in opposite directions by week's end.
Two sources close to the situation confirmed Newsday's report that the National Basketball Players' Association has asked stars like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant to join the efforts on the public front by meeting in New York on Friday. The rank-and-file players are expected to be represented as well, with one source saying that NBPA executive director Billy Hunter wants "as many guys there as possible." The negotiations are also expected to continue on Friday, with as many as 15 owners reportedly planning to attend the next session.
Unless major concessions are made by the owners by then, the sources said players are prepared to show a united front and express their willingness to sit out the entire season -- if not more. There is a growing sentiment that missing the start of the regular season could mean missing the entire season, one that was recently reflected in the comments of agent David Falk. There has even been renewed talk of players starting a league of their own, which may or may not be realistic but is certainly indicative of their level of frustration and the types of strategies being considered.
There were hints of this we-determine-our-own-destiny approach in the latest letter from NBPA president Derek Fisher to the league's players, which was first obtained by ESPN.com.
"We are a group of some of the most talented, savvy businessmen and business owners in the world," Fisher wrote. "We have built our own brands, launched our own and other people's companies, helped our communities. I keep that in the forefront of my mind each time we go into a negotiating session.
"If a Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or Russell Simmons were in this, there is no way they would take a deal that is unfair. Not when we are the talent, the most coveted asset, the most valuable resource that drives this business. Keep that in your mind as we walk down this road shoulder to shoulder."
And the talent is far from happy.
According to sources who have been briefed on the talks in New York this week, the discussion over basketball-related income and how it is divvied up is the most maddening for the NBPA. While the owners have shown a willingness to give between 46 percent and 48 percent to the players (depending on other components of the deal that are in play), it is believed that the players -- who received 57 percent in the previous deal -- won't accept anything less than 52 percent (again, depending on other aspect of the potential agreement). With the league's revenues totaling about $4 billion last season, each percentage point represents approximately $40 million.
As for the owners' reported softening on the hard-cap concept that Hunter had deemed a "blood issue" two weeks ago, the concession was met with a collective eye-roll from some of the league's most prominent agents.
"Big deal," one agent said. "That's like me saying I want a max deal for [a nondescript player] and then acting like I'll come down to an $80 million deal."
While a hard cap would not be in place in the proposal, the owners are offering a luxury-tax system that would be far more punitive than the current one and would essentially serve as a hard cap. Teams have been paying a dollar-for-dollar penalty for exceeding the luxury-tax threshold ($70.3 million last season), but sources confirmed reports that the system would potentially tax teams as much as $4 for every $1 they spent over the tax. Sources said there would be incremental increases before it reached that point.
"There might be a dollar-for-dollar at $65 million, then two dollars per dollar at $70 million, three dollars at $75 million and four dollars at $80," one source said.
You know what else there might be if commissioner David Stern can't persuade the league's owners to seriously move off their mark? A lockout that wipes out the entire season.