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First real test of player resolve

10/28/2011

Here's the worst-case scenario: The players would genuinely rather lose the season than accept less than 52 percent of BRI, and the owners would really rather lose the season than pay more than 50 percent of BRI.

It could be so. And if it is so, this season is toast already, and it's time to start worrying about next year.

The last time players were very vocal in the process was when stars like Kevin Garnett made clear that they would not accept less than 53 percent.

A certain religion developed around that number, with players who had never previously shown an interest in the process vocalizing the importance of holding firm there. Perhaps this would be a stand players would take for reasons of history, of race, and of asserting their supremacy as not just participants, but the epicenter of this sport. Maybe it was time to show the owners who's boss, and maybe the split of BRI was the chance to say "enough already" to overreaching owners.

That was the feeling a month ago, and you can still detect some of that in Billy Hunter's talk, saying the owners' "eyes got bigger and they wanted more and more and more. Finally you just had to shut it down and say it can't be."

But what if over the last month players have lost their zeal? Weeks ago Hunter said his players were more strident than him. What if, now, Hunter is more strident than them?

David Stern swears that Friday's talks ended when Hunter stormed out. And before Hunter did that, Stern says "he said his phone and pager are ringing off the hook with agents."

Stern's point: Agents? You're listening to agents? It's tough to make a case that Hunter represents their interests. In some cases it's tough to make a case that agents and Hunter are even allies -- if there's a threat to Hunter's leadership, it's from those same men. For instance, agents can earn back lost revenue over however many decades they want to keep working. Players, though, play for just a few years, and may never earn it back.

Stern said the word "agents" with notable disdain, and to highlight that the most strident voices in Hunter's ear don't belong to players.

A half-hour earlier, I had asked Hunter to describe how the union went about measuring the mood of the 400-plus players. If they wanted to make a deal, how would Hunter know that? Did they poll?

I asked because I have heard from a player or two recently. Those involved in the talks are fired up in keeping with the union's position. But the others who have made their opinions known to me ... they just want to play. They care to play more than they care to win on the remaining issues. I wonder what a poll would find.

If a majority of the players were, in fact, ready to make concessions in the name of playing, how would Hunter and the union know? And wouldn't it be absurd to lose games that a majority of players would happily play for what the league has already offered?

Hunter didn't really address the information-gathering question head-on, but did remind us that players have not missed paychecks, and what's more will be receiving at least $100,000 per player this fall in funds they earned last season.

Later a union official said that they hear from players all kinds of ways, all the time. Phone calls, e-mails, texts, meetings ... even podcasts.

Union vice president, and Spurs forward, Matt Bonner is one of the people charged with assessing the mood of the rank and file. He, for one, says the union is strong. "As disappointing as today is, we made progress," says Bonner, who is on the union's executive committee but was not in these small-group talks. "It's a process and hopefully it will continue again soon. In the meantime, I think the players are united and prepared to hold strong. We've made significant gives in every system issue and on BRI, so now it's the owners' turn to step up and make a move!"

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, there are now free and easy ways to poll hundreds of people anonymously. You could even do that daily or weekly.

If you polled players this weekend, I'd be fascinated to see the results. If most want to play, who cares what any agent, union official, or anybody else thinks? It's game on.

If, on the other hand, Bonner is right and even the disappointment of this week is not enough to crack the players, and the union has a poll to show that ... then sharing those numbers with the owners would be a strong way to inspire the NBA to make the next move.