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Thursday, September 15, 2011
Derek Fisher: Rift among owners

By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com

Before the NBA's owners and players' union returned to their respective corners on Thursday -- the owners in Dallas, the players in Las Vegas -- to regroup following Tuesday's negotiating session that ended with the lockout still very much intact, union president Derek Fisher sent out an email to his colleagues asking for solidarity.

The email, first printed by SI.com, challenges the faction of player agents who wish to decertify the union and it also hints that there may be some division growing between the league's 29 owners.

"The most recent meetings in New York were effective," Fisher wrote. "What you have been told by your agents, representatives and the media is probably speculative and inaccurate.

"What actually happened in those meetings was discussion, brainstorming and a sharing of options by both sides. The turning point this past Tuesday was not a disagreement between the players and the owners. It was actually a fundamental divide between the owners internally. They could not agree with each other on specific points of the deal and therefore it caused conflict within the league and its owners."

Sources confirm to ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard that there were disagreements among owners.

Owners and players initially found reason for optimism during Tuesday's meetings. Commissioner David Stern and Peter Holt, the head of the owners' executive committee, felt that the players' proposal to take 52 or 53 percent of basketball-related income, compared to 57 under the previous agreement, was basically fair, sources said.

Owners were seriously considering coming off of their demand for a salary freeze and would allow players' future earnings to be tied into the league's revenue growth, a critical point for players. The owners also were willing to allow the players to maintain their current salaries, without rollbacks, sources said.

But when the owners left the players to meet among themselves for around three hours, Cleveland's Dan Gilbert and Phoenix's Robert Sarver expressed their dissatisfaction with many of the points, sources said. The sources said that the Knicks' James Dolan and the Lakers' Jerry Buss were visibly annoyed by the hardline demands of Gilbert and Sarver.

Owners now are working on ironing out those differences Thursday in Dallas.

Meanwhile, with decertification surely to be a hot-button issue at the union's Vegas meeting, which was expected to draw more than 70 players, Fisher used his letter to challenge the motives of the agents seeking to disband the NBPA.

"What would be appreciated by the 400-plus players would be the support of our agents and constructive ideas, suggestions and solutions that are in our best interests," wrote Fisher. "Not the push for a drastic move that leaves their players without a union, without pensions, without health care. We just aren't there."

Broussard and ESPN.com's Henry Abbott reported that five of the league's most influential player agents -- Arn Tellem, Bill Duffy, Mark Bartelstein, Jeff Schwartz and Dan Fegan -- spoke Monday about the process of decertifying the union.

With the lockout reaching 2½ months and union executive director Billy Hunter telling reporters Tuesday that he has already cautioned players to expect to miss up to half of the upcoming season, Fisher made another move in addition to the email to try to inspire trust and patience among his players.

According to Broussard, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith spoke to the players in Las Vegas at the behest of Fisher. Sources said that his message centered around the pros and cons of decertification.

The union had hoped that Smith's story of the NFL players enduring a 4½-month lockout before securing a season-saving deal will convince NBA players that the same outcome can be achieved if they, too, stay unified.

A source who was at the meeting told Broussard that both Fisher and Smith stressed the importance of being unified, and players took the message to heart.

Some players who had been on the fence about decertifying learned that they had been misinformed by agents who had said that the union wasn't even considering decertification, the souce said. The union clarified that decertification has always been an option, but it's not something the leadership is considering right now because they have a plan in place and progress is being made, according to the source.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.