One man’s forecast on what happens next in the NBA’s labor mess:
• Sources close to the process say leaders of the decertification movement -- with Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce most noticeably at the forefront -- can and will find the required 130-ish players needed to sign a petition to vote on decertification by Monday or Tuesday. And that's when the clock would really start in terms of saving the season … unless you believe that the league is truly prepared to take the villainous step of canceling the season if there’s no deal by Wednesday. (For the record: I don’t believe that.)
• After the petition to vote on decertification is filed, there would be an estimated 45 days from that point -- while the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rules on whether a decertification vote should actually take place -- for the union and league to keep negotiating. The union is not immediately dissolved and it is during those 45 days, sources say, that decertification backers believe that the owners can be nudged away from the hard-line stance they’ve maintained for four months. And here’s why: Decertification by no means guarantees success for the players, but the prospect of taking this dispute to the courts injects a level of uncertainty into proceedings that they believe makes the league side nervous after it held virtually 100 percent of the leverage to this point. Fear of the unknown and all that. “Decertification is risky and messy [for the players],” says one backer, “but it’s the only thing that scares the owners. Because then they lose total control.”
• My ESPN.com colleague Henry Abbott made the astute observation that the NBA has given the union until Wednesday to respond to its latest offer in hopes that a huge segment of players will go to their union leaders between now and the middle of the week and insist on a vote. But union president Derek Fisher made it clear in the wee hours of Sunday morning that the Players Association finds the owners’ latest offer to be “unacceptable” and that it will be not be put up for a vote. As powerful as Twitter megaphones can be in 2011, I struggle to envision a sufficiently large group of players publicly lobbying for an immediate vote in direct defiance of their own union. The decertification movement, at this stage is a lot stronger. As this Sunday morning tweet from Deron Williams suggests.
• Bear in mind that there’s a big difference between rounding up the 130 players needed to sign a petition to vote on decertification and finding a 50 percent-plus-one majority in a union of roughly 450 members amenable to actually voting for decertification. Because decertification is “risky and messy,” as established above, there is undeniable skepticism around the league about how many players would be willing to go all the way through with it. And maybe that’s why some ownership sources insist that the decertification process won’t have nearly as much impact as its supporters contend. But if it merely gets as far as a vote -- no matter what would happen when decertification ballots are passed out -- that’s when you’ll know that there’s really no hope for a 2011-12 season. If the union ultimately does decertify fully, there won’t even be time at that point to do what NBA commissioner David Stern does not want to do and stage another 50-game season. The reality, though, is that we’re still some distance removed from that crossroads. Wednesday is the deadline announced by Stern for the union to take the deal as currently constructed, but this sad saga can rumble on for at least another good month -- and probably longer -- unless Stern can convince the union that they better take Saturday’s offer because he’s serious about canceling the rest of the ’11-12 season before Thanksgiving.