Sources: Agents talked Wednesday
The seven agents who sent NBA players a "warning letter" on Monday held a conference call Wednesday afternoon to discuss their next move in the league's lockout, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Those agents -- Arn Tellem, Bill Duffy, Dan Fegan, Jeff Schwartz, Leon Rose, Henry Thomas and Mark Bartelstein -- had been strong behind-the-scenes advocates of decertification for the Players Association but, according to the source, now believe that the time to do so has passed.
The letter, which was first reported by ESPN's Ric Bucher, has been widely viewed by players and others around the league as anti-union.
None of the agents involved returned calls seeking comment, but a source said the tone of Wednesday's call was far less militant and anti-union than previous discussions. According to sources, the agents are focused on how they can best help union chief Billy Hunter get a fair deal for the players.
Meanwhile, there are no talks planned for Thursday, and several of the principals are expected to observe the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur Friday and Saturday. That means Sunday could be the only day left to save the Nov. 1 start of the regular season, after commissioner David Stern said Tuesday he will cancel the first two weeks of the regular season in there is no agreement on a new deal by Monday.
On Tuesday, the union and owners were unable to make progress on a collective bargaining agreement that would end the lockout and save the scheduled start of the season. The league said the first two weeks of the regular season would be canceled if a new deal was not reached by Monday.
Stern said a small group of owners and players had broached a 50-50 split of basketball-related income Tuesday, but were told by the players that would not be acceptable.
But sources said the league really offered 49 percent, with the expectation the share would grow to 51 percent based on incentives -- and the players offered a counterpropsal of 51 percent, likely to grow to 53 percent, which the owners turned down.
In a letter to the union membership Wednesday, Hunter and Fisher explained why they believed the idea of a 50-50 split was not acceptable.
"The overwhelming feeling was that the players are prepared to sacrifice and stand for what we believe is fair. The clear message we have received from the players, and the one we will heed, is not to back down," the letter, obtained by ESPN.com, read. "Yesterday, the owners gave us an opportunity to back down. We refused."
Although the agents have been vocal about their desire for decertification, players ranging from superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, to lower-tier players such as Ben Gordon and Arron Afflalo, have publicly vowed allegiance to the union.
Also, none have publicly questioned the union or cried out for decertification, even as the agents were pushing for it behind the scenes.
Chauncey Billups said a few weeks ago that if his agent, Andy Miller, were pushing for decertification that he would sever their working relationship. And sources say Richard Hamilton, Billups' former backcourt mate in Detroit, is just as pro-union.
Hamilton told Rose, his agent, that he is upset about his participation in the letter and he will leave him and take other players with him if Rose doesn't divorce himself from the anti-union agent group, according to a source. A second source corroborated Hamilton's stance.
Rose did not return a call seeking comment and Hamilton tweeted a denial Wednesday afternoon, "100% UNTRUE, Never happened." However, two sources insist he indeed relayed such a message to Rose.
Asked Tuesday if the union would consider decertification -- the same tactic employed by the NFL players' union in its labor dispute this past summer -- Hunter hinted it's not out of the question.
"There are a lot of things that we have to consider before we go in that direction. But clearly that's something we may have to give some thought to," he said.
One person close to dozens of the league's players, including several superstars, said he understands why players would be angered by the agents' letter.
"The agents are saying they're speaking for the players but in actuality they're not," the source said. "They're just taking liberties that they really don't have."
One of the big-name players who received the letter wasn't upset about it, just indifferent.
"To be honest, I didn't even read it," the player said. "My stance is that when Billy and Fisher say we've got a deal, I'll be ready to play ball."
Stern said Tuesday the owners had removed their demand for a hard salary cap, were no longer insisting on salary rollbacks on current salaries and would have given players the right to opt out of a 10-year agreement after seven years.
But the money split is the biggest hurdle in these negotiations, with owners insisting on the ability to turn a profit after the league said 22 of its 30 teams lost money last season.
Chris Broussard is a senior NBA writer for ESPN The Magazine. ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein and ESPN.com TrueHoop writer Henry Abbott contributed to this report.
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