Owners threaten voided contracts if the union decertifies

This weekend, Yahoo!'s own Adrian Wojnarowski discussed some of the intra-union intrigue going on between Billy Hunter, the players and their agents. As Woj noted, many agents think Hunter lacks direction and that owners are just waiting for the chance to seize on players' fear of not getting paid and force them into agreeing to a laughably terrible collective bargaining agreement. In this view, if Hunter doesn't get his act together soon, then players will end up as big losers in the lockout.

One of those hopeful purposeful actions would be decertifying the union, a move that would serve as a precursor to filing an antitrust suit against the league and starting a union fight in earnest. The NFLPA did it, and it ended up getting a halfway decent deal now that its lockout is over. NBA owners understandably do not want to have to deal with the events that decertification would bring on. As such, they're making some serious threats. From David Aldridge for NBA.com (via PBT):

Keep one number in mind as powerful agents beat their chests about decertification: $4 billion. That's the total amount of guaranteed contract money in the system that the NBA and its owners insist will go poof if the players decide to dissolve the National Basketball Players Association. The only reason to decertify would be to hit the owners with an antitrust lawsuit that could, conceivably, net the players a huge financial windfall (treble damages, remember) that would then entice owners to the bargaining table. But it's a gamble. [...]

As far as the $4 billion goes, the league's contention that the contracts would disappear is true only to a point. At some point, the league will reach a deal with the union, and would almost certainly have to reinstate the players' contracts once the union recertified. The alternative would be either implementing work rules on the players without a deal, which would leave the league vulnerable to a potential players' strike, or additional antitrust penalties if players sought redress while they continued to play under the imposed rules.

At any rate, the agents do not believe that the league would actually go ahead and void all of those contracts. Such a move could, at least theoretically, make every player in the league a free agent, able to go wherever they wanted. And owners like, say, Miami's Micky Arison, might have a problem with that.

Aldridge's last point is a good one, because there is no way that owners would agree to void every contract unless they were sure they'd be able to hold on to certain players. Any such pre-arranged agreement would constitute collusion, so it's just not going to work out. Jerry Buss isn't going to let Kobe Bryant become a free agent just so he can rid his friends in Orlando of Gilbert Arenas' contract. Buss would only be that kind if Richard DeVos introduced him to a troupe of local bikini spokesmodels.

So, why won't Hunter decertify? Does he think that Stern will miraculously come around to the players' way of thinking and give them a decent deal? If he does, then he's a bit of a dope, especially given the hardline stance of Stern's offers so far. Decertification is likely going to be a necessary tactic in this battle, and it should probably be carried out as soon as possible to get things rolling.

If Hunter is worried about the potential ramifications of that decision, including a lessening of his power, then he may not be the right guy to lead the union. The players aren't going to come out of the lockout with a solid deal just by hoping things go their way. Right now, they're at the mercy of the owners' whims. If they don't start moving, they'll never get the leverage they need.

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