The duality inherent in big days like this has been in place for weeks. The NBA could take a giant step toward losing the entire 2011-12 season on Wednesday. Or it could make significant inroads toward a deal, with a handshake agreement seeming somewhat feasible despite the stubborn stances from both sides.
One side's a little more stubborn than the other, if we're honest. We're aware that we've come across as shills for the NBA players in the months leading up to and during this lockout, but the fact remains that the NBA and the players developed a sound enough system to succeed with the 1999 and 2005 collective bargaining agreements (the 1995? Not so much), and all the players did was take advantage of pitiful decision-making by team owners and general managers on their way toward a hoped-for doomsday scenario led by a batch of newly "established" NBA owners.
The players are the face of this, they're the only ones that are talking to their fans, and they're getting their tails handed to them while still somehow losing the support of the public. To owners, there is sanctuary to be found in NBA enforced cowardice silence.
The NBA has set a technically artificial but still quite enforceable deadline for 5 p.m. Eastern for the league's players to agree to the deal that they've been offered as of last Sunday morning. The NBA made no concessions in its current offer, and has threatened to roll back that offer significantly should the players continue to decline. The players are haggling over some terms that seem quite reasonable, but to their credit they've also copped to being amenable to agreeing to the proposed 50/50 split of basketball-related income as the two sides prepare to at least talk on Wednesday.
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 [NBA commissioner] David [Stern] and [NBA PA executive director] Billy [Hunter] for anything to happen."
The union wants teams that cross the luxury tax threshold to still be allowed to use sign-and-trades and the regular midlevel exception to acquire players. Union officials also want the financial penalty for repeat tax offenders decreased and changes in the owners' proposed escrow system.
"There are things in the system … that we have to have, in order to be able to get this season going again," [NBA PA president Derek] Fisher said.
The union is clearly going all out to prevent the whiff of what could be termed an "artificial hard cap." An agreement that allows for teams to go over the salary cap to sign players, but presents enough roadblocks along the way to make anything above the technical salary cap limit so punitive (with luxury tax penalties) and/or illegal (by denying teams the chance to round out rosters with smaller contracts) that the soft cap limit serves as a de facto hard cap limit.
The problem with this is that these are largely symbolic fights, at least amongst the sign-and-trade deals involving luxury tax teams. There just haven't been enough of those over the last few years to convince anyone that this is something the players will truly miss. It seems, after handing over billions of dollars back to the NBA in terms of concessions so far in negotiations, that the players just want a few perks that the NBA, already having squashed its opponent, seems stubbornly opposed to giving into. Despite this obvious blowout win. Despite the players seemingly being ready to move down from a guaranteed 57 percent of basketball-related income to 50 percent.
If that doesn't tick you off enough already, delve into this aside from CBS Sports' Ken Berger:
But something else significant rings true about the Hard-Line Nine: all but one -- Milwaukee -- received public financing for construction of their arenas, according to data compiled by the Marquette National Sports Law Institute.
Five teams -- Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, Minnesota and Portland -- received public funding that accounted for more than 80 percent of their arena costs. The Timberwolves, one of the biggest economic drains on the league, received a perfect score in this dubious contest by receiving public funds covering 100 percent of their arena construction costs, according to the Marquette data. The Hawks, whose ownership transfer from the disastrous Atlanta Spirit LLC contingent that fell through last week, were a close second with their 91-percent publicly financed Philips Arena.
The least of the offenders are the Wizards (23 percent publicly financed arena), 76ers (11 percent) and Bucks (0 percent). Of course, when this is over and the owners get a far more favorable labor deal, brace yourselves for the continued push in Wisconsin to trick citizens into paying for an arena to replace the Bradley Center.
Think about those teams, fans who are still on the fence.
There's Atlanta, which bid against itself to hand Joe Johnson perhaps the worst contract in NBA history. There's Charlotte, which for years has attempted to break the bank and bring in so-so talent making eight-figures a year in order to shoot for a .500 record and a quick one and out in the playoffs, rebuilding be damned.
There's Memphis, which attempted the same thing in the middle part of the last decade. Minnesota, which for years refused to rebuild and deal Kevin Garnett while missing the playoffs, before trusting David Kahn to take over a rebuilding process that seems ages away from even starting. And Portland, which had no qualms about tossing out one of the league's biggest payrolls year after year after year despite playing in one of the league's smallest markets.
And now Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen wants to make money on an NBA team? That's like him expecting his fleet of yachts, once sub-let, to turn a profit.
Lest you believe that it's only the NBA owners that don't care about you, the fan, or their communities, take in this report from ESPN's Marc Stein:
Hunter [...] acknowledged in a Tuesday night interview with NBA TV that a fast-moving decertification push driven by agents and frustrated players -- most notably Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce -- has "close to" 200 players in the process of signing a petition that would call for a decertification vote.
The movement, sources said, has grown to include more than the original seven agents (Mark Bartelstein, Bill Duffy, Dan Fegan, Leon Rose, Jeff Schwartz, Arn Tellem and Henry Thomas) who have been advocating decertification for months.
"I think you'd be surprised how big it's gotten," said one source, who added that "the wheels are in motion" and that signatures are already "coming in pretty quickly."
Pierce, you may have noticed, did not stand with his fellow players following their meeting in New York on Tuesday, as the Boston Celtics went unrepresented. They were the only team out of 30 to not have a representative.
Decertification is the height of hubris, because nothing sound will come of it from the players, and yet their egos (apparently led by mainly stars and agents fanning the fire) somehow think that NBA owners are going to back off on some of their more hardline stances. Forgetting, of course, that a good portion of NBA owners would have no problems canceling the season Thursday. Or Wednesday, even.
Petitioning to vote to decertify the NBA PA would involve a 45-day waiting period that would then act as a prelude to all manner of in-court shenanigans. Just securing the petition, in effect, would cost the NBA the 2011-12 season.
Or they could smile and shake on it. You know, like has been the case for weeks.