The NBA ownership group's labor committee will reopen talks with the players' side Saturday afternoon, sources told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, a meeting one general manager, who has spoken with a few owners, described as "headed straight for disaster."
The talks will follow a meeting between the NBA's 30 owners Saturday morning in which they will discuss revenue sharing and the state of negotiations, sources told Broussard.
But optimism is not running high.
The players' growing interest in decertification almost ensures that the union will not retreat from its demand for a 52 percent revenue split, and league sources have told Broussard a significant number of owners are growing resistant to offering the players a 50/50 split.
Sources told ESPN.com's Henry Abbott that in a Thursday evening conference call among owners, Michael Jordan of the Charlotte Bobcats was among a vocal group of owners upset at NBA commissioner David Stern for not driving a harder bargain to this point.
The New York Times reported that Jordan's group wants the players' share to be no higher than 47 percent.
Should Stern and the labor committee agree to a deal with the union, it would become official with ratification by simple majorities of owners and players. Both are in doubt. Sources with knowledge of owners' thinking say that if the NBA agrees to a 50/50 split, arm-twisting would be required to get the minimum 16 votes. The league has long sought far more than 16 votes as protection against lingering dissension.
Federal mediator George Cohen will also attend Saturday afternoon's meeting, according to league spokesman Tim Frank.
At least 50 frustrated players convened on a conference call Thursday with an antitrust lawyer to discuss the ins and outs of the decertification process, sources told ESPN.com. It was the second such call this week, ESPN.com sources said, after a similar call Tuesday.
Although it was not immediately clear who arranged the calls, one source close to the process described them as "player-driven" and "player-centric."
The two conference calls, sources said, represent the first formal step toward a decertification vote if this weekend's negotiations with NBA owners don't bring the sides any closer to a deal.
The New York Times reported on its website that the group of dissatisfied players, frustrated with both the pace of talks and the many concessions made by the union to this point, intend to push for the dissolution of their union if a new round of labor negotiations fails this weekend -- or if the talks generate what is deemed to be an undesirable deal.
The owners also show signs of not being on the same page. Miami Heat owner Mickey Arison was fined last week for hinting on Twitter that he was ready to get a deal done while several smaller-market owners are said to be holding out for more concessions from the players. The owners are scheduled to meet Saturday before resuming negotiations to affirm their bargaining position, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press. The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the meeting.
At issue from the beginning has been the division of about $4 billion in basketball-related income, along with a system makeover that Stern insists must happen to fix what he considers a broken economic model.
Owners are determined to reshape the league by creating a system like the NFL or NHL, where spending is capped and small-market teams truly can compete with the big boys. But reforming the NHL's financial structure required a lengthy lockout, wiping out the entire 2004-05 season. And the NFL is making money, not losing it.
The players have offered to reduce their share of revenue from 57 percent to 52.5 percent, a concession they feel is more than enough to cover their end of the league's stated $300 million in annual losses. Owners have offered a 50-50 split, along with significant changes to the system that include a more punitive luxury tax on teams that exceed the salary cap, shorter contracts and a lower mid-level exception.
NBA players need 30 percent of their membership to sign a petition saying they no longer wish to be represented by a union, which would be submitted for approval to the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB then would conduct a vote, which would require 226 players to approve the decertification.
Even if players do go forward with decertification, their chances of success in the courtroom could be harmed by the NFLPA's experience there this summer. A federal judge in St. Paul, Minn., initially ruled that the NFL union's antitrust case had merit and issued an injunction that forced the league to lift the lockout.
But that ruling was overturned on appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court in St. Louis, and the two sides came to agreement on a new deal in July after losing only one preseason game.
The NBA already has filed a lawsuit seeking to retain their antitrust exemption even if the players dissolve the union. Federal Judge Paul Gardephe did not immediately issue a ruling when the two sides met in court this week.
While both players and owners have expressed a desire to play this season, both sides also are determined to get a "fair" deal -- at any cost.
"This particular collective bargaining agreement will forever impact the circumstances of NBA basketball players," NBPA executive director Billy Hunter said earlier this week. "We can't rush into a deal we feel is a bad deal just to save this season."
Information from ESPN.com senior NBA writers Marc Stein and Henry Abbott and The Associated Press was used in this report.