As David Stern tries to hold off his most rabid hardline owners, the NBA's commissioner has expressed a willingness to meet with the Players Association with the possibility of relenting on some system issues that are important to the union in reaching an agreement, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.
Nevertheless, union executive director Billy Hunter was still deciding late Monday whether he wanted to take the meeting, two sources involved in the talks told Yahoo! Sports. The reason for Hunter’s hesitation was unclear.
As one ownership source told Yahoo! Sports on Monday night, "If there were a couple of tweaks needed around the edges – not fundamental deal points – I believe there could be a deal if everything else is agreed upon. But there needs to be a meeting with David and Billy for anything to happen."
“We need for the two sides to get together again before Wednesday, because we’re too close to getting a deal done,” Bryant told Yahoo! Sports. “We need to iron out the last system items and save this from spiraling into a nuclear winter.”
The owners are threatening to pull their current offer at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday and return to proposing a 53-47 revenue split in favor of the league, as well as a hard salary cap and contract rollbacks. This act would almost certainly move the players to decertify the union, and could cost the NBA the entire 2011-12 season.
The Players Association offered to drop its revenue split to 51 percent on Saturday, but wanted several system items – including sign-and-trade deals and full midlevel exceptions for luxury-tax paying teams – as part of a new CBA. It remains to be seen how far the owners would go to remedy the players' concerns and move closer to an agreement. Hunter surprised some in Saturday's mediation session when he suggested the players might be willing to drop to a 50-50 split, even when they had just stated their position as 51, sources in the room told Y! Sports.
One of the union's lawyers quickly corrected Hunter, saying he meant to say a 51-49 split, but officials on both sides believed Hunter meant what he said: 50-50. All along, the belief has been the players would eventually accept the 50-50 split if they could get satisfactory resolutions on the system issues that would protect middle-class salaries and not stifle player movement, especially to the big-spending, big-market teams who are typically over the salary cap.
Some hardline owners didn't want to even give the players until Wednesday to make a decision on accepting or rejecting Saturday's offer, sources said. They wanted to force a decision within 24 hours, but were talked out of it.
"There's an intense feeling among the teams who are not on the labor committee as to how a 50-50 deal doesn't fix the economic model," the ownership source said. "They’re adamant that 50-50 is too high and that the labor committee should’ve never gone that high. Stern wouldn’t be able to overcome such strong and wide resistance however much he tries to lead here."
Player representatives of the 30 teams are meeting at 1 p.m. ET Tuesday in New York to discuss the union’s next steps.
Lakers guard Steve Blake(notes) has been canvassing peers throughout the league over the past 48 hours, pushing them to contact team player representatives to push the Players Association to let its 450-plus membership vote on the owner’s ultimatum offer, sources said.
Blake hasn’t been pushing players to vote “yes” or “no” on the deal but has gained a groundswell of support with players throughout the league. Nevertheless, Blake is a proponent of accepting the league's current offer, sources said.
The agents and players pushing for decertification of the Players Association believe they’re on the way to getting 50 percent of the league’s players to sign a petition this week, sources told Yahoo! Sports.
"We want a show of force with the percentage who sign the petition," one agent told Yahoo! Sports.
Sources within seven of the most prominent agencies – including the agents and players themselves – said they have overwhelming support to march toward dissolving the union. The agents are selling decertification to the players as a leverage tool to get a deal done to salvage the season, as much as a long-term threat to take the owners to federal court with an antitrust lawsuit.
Agents working on the decertification include Mark Bartelstein, Arn Tellem, Jeff Schwartz, Bill Duffy, Leon Rose, Henry Thomas and Dan Fegan.
Another agent outside of those said his firm, which includes a dozen clients, is "100 percent on board" with voting for decertification.
After at least 30 percent of the league’s players – approximately 130 – sign the petition, the players must wait 45 days before the 450-plus members vote for decertification. A simple majority is needed to decertify.
"Everything thrown our way is a threat and an ultimatum," Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo said.
Yahoo! Sports NBA reporter Marc J. Spears contributed to this report.
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