Sources: NBPA to debrief player reps
With a Wednesday deadline looming to accept the league's latest labor proposal, NBA Players Association officials have summoned the player representatives from all 30 teams to New York for a mandatory meeting Tuesday to update them on negotiations, according to sources with knowledge of the union's plans.
But NBPA sources reiterated Sunday that the executive board remains unwilling to present that offer to the union's estimated 450 members for a vote and plans to make that stance clear to team player reps at the meeting.
Sources told ESPN.com that union leaders have not budged from the view that the NBA's offer is "unacceptable," just as NBPA president Derek Fisher described it in the wee hours of Sunday morning once Saturday's marathon bargaining session finally ended.
On Monday, meanwhile, sources say that the players and agents backing the decertification of the union have scheduled another conference call to follow the two conference calls -- each with at least 50 players dialed in -- that took place last week.
One source close to the process said Sunday that the leaders of the decertification movement, with Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce most notably among them, ambitiously hope they can ultimately secure as many as 200 signatures on a petition that would be filed with the National Labor Relations Board to call for a formal decertification vote. An actual vote would not take place for up to 45 days after the petition is filed, while the NLRB verifies the request, but only 30 percent of the league's active work force -- an estimated 130 players -- is needed to satisfy petition requirements.
"We intend to move fast," said another source involved in the decertification movement.
No new negotiations are scheduled after the parties spent nearly nine hours negotiating under the auspices of federal mediator George Cohen. NBA commissioner David Stern emerged from those talks saying that the union had until the end of business Wednesday to take a deal that the league says will pay players up to 51 percent of annual basketball related income or prepare to brace itself to receive an offer that tops out at 47 percent of BRI and features the more restrictive flex cap that the players emphatically shot down in June.
"We hope that this juxtaposition will cause the union to assess its position and accept the deal," Stern said at a news conference early Sunday morning.
There is no evidence in circulation yet to suggest that more than a handful of rank-and-file players are lobbying the union to put Saturday's offer from the owners to a vote.
Sources close to the talks revealed later Sunday that the union is actually holding out hope that the league will call to re-open negotiations before Wednesday, with an eye toward tweaking some of the system issues to lead to a more palatable deal that the NBPA would be comfortable with putting to a vote. The union's belief, sources say, is that a few changes -- none of them monumental -- could produce a deal now that the gap on the revenue was closed further in Saturday's negotiations.
The owners have offered a band ranging from 49 to 51 percent of annual revenue depending on the league's financial success over the course of a season. The players, meanwhile, have shown a willingness to drop from 52.5 percent to 51 percent of BRI if they receive certain system concessions, most notably the ability for luxury tax-paying teams to retain the right to participate in sign-and-trade transactions. The union has strongly protested a variety of system proposals from the league to date that impose expensive penalties on teams that stray into tax territory, which the NBPA maintains will sharply curtail player movement.
The union, sources say, believes that the sides coming together for one more round of talks and agreeing to a deal by Wednesday would benefit the moderates on both sides and keep the hard-liners on both sides from seizing control of the process. Hard-line owners want to cap the players' share of BRI at 47 percent and continue to favor the flex-cap system. An ownership source said that the 47-percent proposal Stern threatened if there's no deal by Wednesday would likely include rollbacks on current salaries as well as a push for more partially guaranteed contracts to replace fully guaranteed deals.
Hard-line players, of course, are the ones like Pierce and New Jersey's Deron Williams who are openly pushing for decertification.
"I've been ready to sign a decertification petition since July?" Williams tweeted Sunday from Turkey, where he is playing for Istanbul-based Besiktas. "Can't believe we are just now going this route! SMH."
If signatures are indeed collected from 30 percent of the players this week as expected, their petition for a decertification vote would be filed with the NLRB, which could then take an estimated 45 days to verify the petition and schedule an actual decertification vote. Disbanding the union requires a simple majority of players voting for decertification, but the union would continue to exist while the NLRB is arranging the vote and thus could theoretically continue negotiations with the league before the Players Association is dissolved.
Decertification backers believe that the fear of the unknown once the union is decertified, with the labor fight then moving into courtrooms, would finally move NBA owners off the extreme hard-line negotiating stance they've maintained throughout the four-month lockout and lead to a more palatable offer during that 45-day window.
Sources on the ownership side, however, believe that the pre-emptive federal lawsuit filed by the NBA during the summer could potentially take the sting out of any potential decertification, although that remains a matter of some debate among legal analysts.
There is even stronger conviction on the ownership side in questioning whether a majority of players would indeed have the stomach to go through with full-on decertification, since that step would almost certainly seal the cancellation of the entire 2011-12 season and throws up as many unsettling unknowns about the status of existing contracts for the players as it would for the owners. But the success of a decertification vote likely depends on its timing, since most experts agree that a vote would surely pass if the NBA cancels the season first.
Sunday was Day 129 in the NBA's ongoing lockout and capped a tenuous week in which both sides seemed to be battling as much with themselves as the other side. Before the existence of the decertification conference calls went public, Fisher and NBPA executive director Billy Hunter spent days trying to shoot down a variety of media reports alleging that a serious rift has developed between them. On the ownership side, by contrast, there have likewise been reports of a widening gulf between small-market owners -- such as Charlotte's Michael Jordan -- and big-market owners.
One ownership source told ESPN.com on Sunday that the union shouldn't expect an improved offer from the league before Wednesday largely because of that gulf between various owners. The source also made the claim that even the league's so-called "doves" are losing patience with the slow pace of negotiations to the point that they, too, are bound to start squeezing.
The source said: "Even the [ownership] doves are beginning to feel like, 'If we lose all these games and do all this damage, we might as well go for a better deal.' "
Stern has already canceled the entire month of November -- which means that an entire new schedule will have to be written up when the lockout is lifted -- and has said that there is no longer sufficient time left on the calendar to stage an entire 82-game regular season.
Jeffrey Kessler, one of the union's chief negotiators, insisted after Saturday's talks ended without a deal that there is no reason to resume talks with the owners before Wednesday if they stick to their current positions.
"They came in here with a prearranged plan to try to strong-arm the players," Kessler said of Saturday's negotiations. "They knew [Saturday] they were sticking to 50 [percent], essentially 50.2. They were going to make almost no movement on the system and then they were going to say, 'My way, or the 47-percent highway.' "
Marc Stein is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Chris Broussard is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics