How the next few days could unfold as regular season hangs in balance
Without a deal by Monday, the NBA will cancel the first two weeks of the season
Competing interests, agendas could complicate the union's ability to move quickly
Union options: Push for more meetings; call the owners' bluff; move to decertify
Of all the rhetoric and reasoning shared by both sides on Day 95 of the NBA lockout, one particular sentiment from lead player representative Derek Fisher said it all.
"Today was not the day to get this done," Fisher said Tuesday.
Because waiting until the 11th hour isn't enough.
As much as fans would love for this labor battle to end with one of the down-the-middle offers discussed, there is still the slimmest of hope for the full regular season to be saved because there is still time left on the clock. Commissioner David Stern made it clear after the latest failed negotiation that midnight comes on Monday, when two weeks of regular-season games will be slashed if an agreement isn't reached.
And rest assured, the players will be using the next few days -- and possibly even more, unfortunately -- to sort through all these complications coming into play and threatening their ability to avert this hoops crisis.
While Stern has the luxury of dealing directly with just enough owners to fill two teams' rosters (30), the National Basketball Players' Association has an infinitely tougher challenge of corralling its constituents. There are 400-plus players and dozens of agents who want to be heard, their views varying wildly and their collective pulse impossible to gauge. It's problematic at this stage, when the ability to act deliberately and swiftly is key to both parties.
Right about the time players like LeBron James are insisting that the union is "all together on 53 [percent BRI], right?" as he reportedly said to a group of 15 players on Friday, rank-and-file players who might very well represent the majority are saying privately that they're willing to accept much less if it means they can go back to work. Agents like the ones who sent a warning letter to players on Monday want to decertify the union, but plenty of others are against the risky approach and would prefer sustained negotiations to dangerous legal tactics.
"Too many cooks in the kitchen now," one agent said in a text message late Tuesday night.
Now comes the question of who sets the prices on the menu. With no meetings scheduled but the likelihood that some form of communication will take place before Monday, I see this going one of three ways as far as the players are concerned:
1) Encouraged by the fact that the owners appear to have moved drastically off their long-held stance of 46 percent basketball-related income to players by suggesting a guaranteed 49 percent and a maximum of 51 percent, union officials request more sessions with Stern to capitalize on the momentum and continue to close the gap (key note: Yom Kippur, which begins Friday night and concludes Saturday night, will effectively eliminate one possible day of negotiations).
2) Convinced that the owners do not want to put the entire season in harm's way, union officials let the pressure build as the Monday deadline approaches and wait for the league to make more concessions. In essence, it's calling the owners' bluff and insisting that the players are willing to miss the entire season rather than accept the current proposals. The first two weeks of the regular season would almost certainly be lost in this scenario, but a number of agents who have been longing for some serious pushback would be satisfied.
3) Call this one the more serious -- if not sane -- pushback. Players begin the push for decertification of the union (either with or without the union's support) and hope the threat of antitrust lawsuits, a prolonged court battle and possible damages of up to three times the amount of contracts owed is enough to scare a better deal out of the owners. (As I've discussed before, this approach is consistently dubbed "nuclear" for a reason.)
The owners' part at this point isn't nearly as convoluted. From the softening of their position on the hard cap to the proposed length of the deal (they went from 10 years to a seven-year deal with a mutual opt-out after the sixth year on Tuesday), they've already shown more of a willingness to move off their mark than I foresaw back in late August. Now we wait to see if they'll help make up this relatively marginal difference even more.
While many issues beyond BRI will also take time to resolve, there are logistical challenges that -- stop me if you've heard this before -- could delay any possible deal. The voting process was one of many talking points in the aforementioned letter, with the agents imploring players to demand ample time to review any proposal and conduct a full and formal vote. It's a fair point, to be sure, especially considering the fact that only 184 players voted on the collective bargaining agreement when it was ratified in 1999 and they did so by a show of hands. A private vote with every player could slow the process.
One way or another, the day will come when a deal gets done. Here's hoping it comes before midnight strikes on Monday.