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Monday, November 14, 2011
Season is on the brink, time to say "yes"

By Stephen A. Smith
ESPN.com

As the clock ticks ominously with another deadline rapidly approaching, threatening to eradicate both the 2011-12 NBA season and all the affection the league's mustered over the years, the time has come for its players' association to stop messing around.

The National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) needs to stop acting like it has leverage when it doesn't. They need to stop leaning on some pipedream that has them thinking commissioner David Stern will make a deal in their favor. Above all else, president Derek Fisher and executive director Billy Hunter absolutely must submerge their egos and take the latest proposal to a vote by their 400-plus rank-and-file members -- in the interest of common sense.

Now! With player representatives from all 30 teams in town to view the deal Monday. Not after their foolish ploy of holding out for a better offer lands them flat on their collective faces.

If most basketball lovers are completely turned off by the latest turn of events, they should be. The season is being delayed over pure nonsense.

After holding out on agreeing to a 50/50 split of Basketball Related Income (BRI) for weeks, the players finally capitulated to that bottom-line number last Wednesday. That means no matter what system issues they are haggling over, the players have still conceded to giving back $1.1 billion over the life of this collective bargaining deal and are not getting a penny more than 50 percent.

So to continue to fight seems beyond an exercise in futility, now that we've learned more specifics about the owners' latest offer.

According to numerous team sources, obviously prohibited from talking publicly, the league's labor relations committee received a written letter from 10 owners vehemently opposed to the offer presently on the table. All of them -- Charlotte, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Memphis, Indiana, Portland, Minnesota, Sacramento, Denver and Milwaukee -- were emphatic that they believe this is a bad deal, that the players should actually receive less than 50 percent. Yet, Stern went ahead and made the offer, anyway.

They don't want:

•  To leave the luxury-tax penalty as it was in the previous collective bargaining agreement for the next two years before stiffer implementation kicks in during Year 3.

•  The maximum length of guaranteed contracts to be shortened by just one year instead of three.

•  Maximum contracts to stay the same.

•  An additional midlevel exception of $2.5 million to be allowed for teams that spend up to the cap.

•  Modifications in both sign-and-trade options, which the league originally wanted eliminated altogether, for teams which spent more than the luxury-tax trigger number.

What those 10 owners want is for the league to go for the jugular. So much so, they were happy when the labor committee presented a clause that would allow teams to send players with one to five years of service down to the NBA Development League. The proposal -- accurately labeled ridiculous and insulting, by the way -- was ultimately removed from the "A" list of issues and tabled for a later date, according to league sources.

"But it's still worth mentioning," said one Eastern Conference executive, very close to Stern and a few owners. "It's a testament to how you have enough owners who want to lock in, who think the actual offer on the table should be worse, who are willing to sacrifice the whole season to make their point.

"Michael Jordan doesn't give a damn about the players being against him. He cares about the $100 million [former Charlotte Bobcats owner] Bob Johnson lost when he sold the team. He's thinking about the money he's trying to make over the next 10 years. He doesn't believe half the players in the league deserve the money they're making. And this is one of the guys primarily responsible for turning the NBA into a multi-billion league to begin with. So if he feels that way, no owner is going to feel bad about sharing those same feelings."

As bad as the players feel now, imagine what they'll feel like if they turn down this offer. Stern has vowed that if this offer isn't accepted the next proposal won't include more than 47 percent of BRI. Ultimately, if the season is missed, a hard salary cap will be implemented.

"And there isn't a soul who doesn't believe him," the source said.

That fact was punctuated over the weekend, with the league sending out letters to players and answering questions on Twitter for emphasis. History proves this is what the league does when it's drawing a proverbial line in the sand.

So this is the hand players are dealt now. Again, it's not about fairness anymore. It's about what's practical.

The players, egged on by agents who accurately believe their industry is under virtual attack, are definitely entertaining decertifying their union and filing anti-trust lawsuits against the league, thinking it will ultimately cost them another month of the season, more than likely.

Let it be said right here it will cost them significantly more. Probably the entire season.

If decertification was going to be addressed, it should've been addressed in July.

It wasn't. So time has run out.

The NBA season is officially on the brink. All its guaranteed contracts. Its Larry Bird rights. Its league-average salaries projected to go from $5.5 million to more than $7 million by Year 7 of the deal.

No one's arguing that it's ideal for the players. But it's better than nothing.

If you're one of 400-plus players devoid of the financial security harnessed by Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James and others, why find out the worse-case scenario when you don't have to?

Particularly with bill collectors knocking at your door asking, "What can you do for me?"