When Billy Hunter says that "collective bargaining has completely broken down" it's easy to believe.
The union is lawyering up. The league is lawyering up. The players will not be shoved around and are willing to walk away from vast piles of cash to prove it.
David Stern has an enormous collection of scary phrases at his disposal, and he rummaged through them to come up with "the nuclear winter of the NBA."
The idea of these two parties sharing a conference table and ironing out their difference seems foreign.
But that's precisely what will happen and here's why:
The two sides are incredibly close to a deal. The fight is over things that -- compared to what has been agreed to -- are trivial.
NBA has billions in revenues -- more than just the $4 billion that makes up basketball-related income (BRI). The league drives further value to broadcasters, corporate partners and the like. There are big economic forces in play, and they all prefer that the league be operational and driving those revenues.
The players are losing huge amounts of money that they won't ever get back, even if they get everything in their last proposal.
The money-losing hardline owners can complicate things. But their influence would seem to be finite now that the league and players have traded offers at 50 percent of BRI for active players. More revenue sharing is on the way. Barring a vast new effort by owners to get players to knuckle under -- an effort by the way, that would undermine the league's claims of bargaining in good faith -- the relief for those owners would seem to be set. In other words, the increased money the owners want is not on the table anyway.
The strident agents had a big hammer over Billy Hunter and the union. If they decertified the union, the union would disband and Hunter would lose his salary. By disclaiming the union, the Hunter has removed the agents' ability to affect things much. Now agents will have to exercise their influence through their clients, presumably by having them named as plaintiffs.
It would be an understatement to say the NBA anticipated this move. Indeed, they filed a lawsuit in August predicting it. That suit, however, has no chance of winning a new CBA for the league. Instead it is designed to minimize the leverage players could gain from such a move. In other words, the NBA always expected this as a negotiating tool, not as a permanent shift in the nature of the debate.
Seeing an antitrust matter all the way through to its final resolution could take years, costing players $6 billion or more in salary if it lasts three years. It makes little sense that this would be the players' plan. On Monday their new attorney, David Boies, seemed to confirm that the players envision a quicker resolution. He said that his clients were not going to seek an injuction because that would take a long time and "what the players are focusing on right now is what is the fastest way to get this resolved." Similarly, Derek Fisher says "we continue to want to get to work, to get back to work, to negotiate, but that process has broken down."
There is no other way for it to end. Even if the process does reach the point where a judge makes a ruling, the judge is still not going to write a new agreement to govern the operation of the NBA. That will be negotiated sooner or later, as all parties involved know.