A 72-game NBA season beginning December 15. One missed game check.
That is the prospect of basketball for players, owners and fans this season if Stern’s latest, and most likely “last, best” offer is accepted.
“We made our revised proposal, and we’re not planning on making another one,” commissioner David Stern said late Thursday night, following an 11-hour session of negotiations. “There’s really nothing left to negotiate about.”
Now all the players have to do is accept the proposal. And therein lies the hard part.
The offer centres on a proposed 50-50 BRI split. A concession, down from the 57 per cent player’s received in the previous bargaining agreement, that the union has reluctantly accepted. All the union asked in return was for owners to concede their proposed restrictions on free agency and player movement. To which the owners wouldn’t exactly oblige.
“It does not meet us entirely on the system issues we felt were extremely important to try and close this deal out,” said Derek Fisher, union president, regarding restrictions including the mid-level exception and sign and trades. “So at this point, we’ve decided to end things for now, take a step back.”
The question is: does this proposal concede enough to convince the players to reach an agreement?
If players agree to the deal, fans will rejoice at the potential for nearly a full NBA season. If they don’t, Stern will revert to the 47 per cent revenue split and flex cap offer he threatened last weekend. A decision the union would almost certainly reject and respond by filing for decertification.
There already beliefs that this could happen as early as Friday. Dissolving the union would nearly ensure the cancellation of a season, as courtroom battles could take months to sort out. Though this process wouldn’t preclude the union from still accepting the owner’s offer.
So now we wait. Player representatives from all 30 NBA teams will meet Monday or Tuesday next week to process Stern’s latest proposal and decide if it’s palatable to sign. The probability of which is entirely unpredictable.
“It’s not the greatest proposal in the world,” said Billy Hunter, the union’s executive director, flanked by members of the player’s executive board. “But I have an obligation to at least present it to our membership. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
What happens next is anyone’s guess.
Philosophical differences remain the biggest issue separating the league from their players. The NBA is demanding the restriction of player movement to increase competitive balance throughout the league. Players don’t want to see their free agency rights threatened.
But ensuring a level-playing field is an issue the league simply won’t concede.
“We believe we will be proven right over time that this new model, if the players were to agree to it, will create a better league,” said Adam Silver, the NBA’s deputy commissioner. “It’s a difficult pill [for players] to swallow right now, but – once again over time – we will be proved right. This will be a better league for the players, the teams and the fans.”
Silver may be right. But it won’t matter if the players never take the floor.
We should learn early next week whether that happens this season. Players can accept Stern’s latest offer. They could reject it. Or they could always ask Stern to return to the negotiating table. But that is a possibility Stern says is no longer an option.
Even if the union agrees to this deal, there will need to be one final session sorting out 30 to 40 “B-list” issues including draft age requirements and player discipline. So negotiations aren’t entirely over.
The lockout has lasted 134 days. It’s spanned over 150 hours. 20-three of which took place over the previous two days.
“It’s been a long haul, man,” a visibly exhausted Hunter said. “We’re coming near the end of it. We’re trying to this thing done.”
But will they? We should find out next week.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Stern said. “I just have the ability to hope.”
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