NBA owners give players drop-dead offer

Adrian Wojnarowski
The Vertical
Yahoo! Sports
NBA owners give players drop-dead offer
Union president Derek Fisher says he's not ready to take the owners' proposed offer to the players for an official vote

NEW YORK – NBA commissioner David Stern delivered the Players Association a take-it-or-leave-it offer, threatening the owners' proposals will become substantially worse if the union doesn't accept the deal by the close of business Wednesday.

"We've been given the ultimatum," union president Derek Fisher said, "and our answer is, that's not acceptable to us."

Union officials scoffed at Stern's depiction of the proposal, saying the commissioner is merely trying to "strong-arm" the players into accepting a bad deal.

"The players will not be intimidated," union attorney Jeffrey Kessler said. "They want to play, they want a season, but they are not going to sacrifice the futures of all NBA players under these threats of intimidation.

"It's not happening. It's not happening on Derek Fisher's watch, it's not happening on [union executive director] Billy Hunter's watch."

If the players don't agree by Wednesday to accept the proposal – which Stern described as including a revenue split that could give the players as much as 51 percent and as little as 49 percent – then the owners' new offer would drop to 47 percent of basketball-related income for the players and include a "flex" salary cap.

"We want to allow the union enough time to consider our most recent proposal, and we are hopeful that they will accept," Stern said, after acknowledging Kessler had already rejected the offer.

After reports that Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan had become one of the most vocal of hardline owners, union officials were anxious for him to speak up in Saturday night's meeting. Union officials, just as they wanted to do back at the last labor meeting that Jordan attended on All-Star weekend, were determined to throw back at Jordan many of his old anti-ownership screeds from the 1990s.

As one official said, "He never opened his mouth, not once."

The two sides didn't spend a great deal of the 8½ hours engaging each other, but rather had the federal mediator shuttling back and forth between rooms, a source said.

"I kind of feel like we as a union extend ourselves in so many different ways," said New York Knicks guard Chauncey Billups, who joined Saturday's talks. "To not get that reciprocated was tough to see. We came off a lot of stuff. We were very, very willing to negotiate. The economics, the BRI, we were willing to negotiate it. Truthfully and honestly, they weren't on anything. It was disheartening."

Stern's ultimatum comes with the backdrop of player agents actively canvassing their clients to determine if there were enough votes to move forward with a decertification vote on the union, agent and player sources told Yahoo! Sports.

[Related: Michael Jordan's hardline stance could lengthen lockout]

Before proceeding, agents and players were waiting on the outcome of the weekend’s labor talks. Several agents and players believed support would grow for a vote on dissolving the union without significant progress on a deal.

Agents and players took part in two conference calls this week on the subject of decertification. Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce(notes) has taken a lead in spearheading those discussions, sources said.

"I've been ready to sign a decertification petition since July," New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams tweeted early Sunday. "Can't believe we are just now going this route!"

Several agents believe there’s enough support to get the necessary 30 percent of players (about 130) to sign a petition for a formal decertification vote, but agents and players are dubious about the ability to get more than the 50 percent of the union's 450 members needed to eventually disband the union.

After the petition is filed, a 45-day waiting period is required before an actual vote. For the players, it’s a risky proposition, at best. The eventual dissolving of the union could lead to an antitrust lawsuit in federal court against the NBA, or merely the threat of it could push the owners to a more favorable agreement out of the uncertainty of how a court ruling could adversely affect the league.

"I'm kind of at a loss of words to be honest with you," Billups said. "I was thinking we were moving in the right direction, forward and getting close. And obviously after [Saturday] I don't feel that way any longer. We will have to see. We will just have to regroup and talk about next steps."

After the league's owners met in the morning to discuss their revenue-sharing plan, Saturday's negotiating session was overseen by federal mediator George Cohen and lasted until 1:30 a.m. ET Sunday. Fisher said the players submitted a new proposal in which they would receive a 51 percent revenue split – down from the 52.5 percent they had been seeking and the 57 percent they received in the previous collective bargaining agreement – if they could reach agreement with the league on specific system issues. The players also suggested devoting an additional 1 percent of revenue to improving benefits for retired players.

Stern said the league's latest offer was derived from compromises the mediator proposed in Saturday's negotiating session and included a revenue split that would range from 49 to 51 percent for the players. Among the other issues in the league's proposal:

• A "mini" midlevel exception for teams that cross the luxury-tax threshold that would be available every other year and have a starting salary of $2.5 million with a maximum of two years.

• A midlevel exception that would allow teams to give a player a starting salary of $5 million. The maximum contract lengths would alternate from four years to three every other year.

• No sign-and-trades for tax-paying teams.

[Related: NBA players consider decertifying union during lockout]

Fisher said Cohen didn't present any formal ideas, instead making "what if" suggestions. The union also disagreed with the league's description of its proposed revenue split, saying the players would never realistically receive 51 percent because the trigger mechanisms were too high.

"We just never had the sense they came in here trying to get this deal done," Fisher said of the league's owners.

With their ultimatum, the league's owners hope to sway enough players into convincing the union to accept the deal. But Fisher said the offer isn't even worthy of presenting to the players.

"There's not a deal we can present to take a vote on," Fisher said.

Union officials think the owners' latest proposal continues to be pushed by a group of hardline small-market owners that includes Jordan. The union considers the penalties for tax-paying teams too restrictive and that the current proposal would take some of the league's biggest-spending teams out of the market.

"It was a very frustrating, sad day," Fisher said. "We, for sure, unequivocally made good-faith efforts to try to get this deal done tonight. We're at a loss as to why we couldn't close it out."

Yahoo! Sports NBA reporter Marc J. Spears contributed to this report.

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