Sources: Players unlikely to accept deal

Updated: November 15, 2011, 8:49 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Once NBA players digest all the details of the owners' new contract proposal -- including a clause that opens a way for more player demotions to the D-League -- it's hard to imagine even those desperate to play would be willing to ratify it, sources told ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher.

The D-League clause, which previously had not been disclosed, is one of several elements in the owners' proposal to the locked-out players that prompted one agent to describe the proposal as "draconian."

The clause would give teams the right to send a player down to the NBA Development League at any time during his first five years, paying him a reduced contract while he's there, a source who has examined the proposal told Bucher.

The owners' new proposal also would prohibit luxury tax-paying teams from sign-and-trade deals after a two-year "phase-in" period, according to sources.

Non-tax-paying teams also would be prohibited from using the mid-level exception if doing so would take them over the salary cap, sources said.

"They don't want to do a deal," one agent said of the owners' proposals. "And what they've underestimated is the resolve of the players."

The owners also proposed offseason drug testing and raising the age limit to 20 years old to enter the league, sources said.

A league official qualified both those issues and the NBDL clause as "B List" items that are still open to negotiation and not among the main points commissioner David Stern said are no longer up for discussion.

That D-League clause would only affect the 14th and 15th men on each team, sources said. It is also one of the B List issues that is not in the proposal the owners gave players last night.

Stern on Thursday offered players a deal that would, if approved, allow for 72-game season that would start Dec. 15.

"We both recognize the seriousness of what we're facing," Stern said. "I think both sides would like to begin the season on Dec. 15th, if that's possible. I think our teams want to start playing. That desire is matched by our players. We've done the best we can to cause that to happen. I think the events of the week and the offer that we presented had the desired impact of causing us both to focus intensely on whether there was a deal here to be done. We very much want to make the deal that's on the table that would get our players into training camp and to begin the 2011-12 season.

"I don't have a crystal ball. I just have the ability to hope that it will come to that and that our players will accept this revised proposal from the NBA."

Yet the league's latest pitch, according to sources briefed on its contents after adjustments were made Thursday night, contained what the union regards as minuscule financial inducements for the players after nearly 24 hours of negotiations this week.

That disappointed union leaders, who were expecting more after they made a commitment earlier in the week, for the first time since the lockout began, to accept a 50-50 split of annual Basketball Related Income.

"It's not the greatest proposal in the world," NBPA executive director Billy Hunter said of the proposal. "But I have an obligation to at least present it to our membership. So that's what we're going to do."

Friday, Hunter formally summoned all player representatives to a mandatory Monday meeting in New York to "present, dissect and discuss the NBA's revised proposal and determine our next course of action," sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein.

Hunter has also asked each player rep to contact their teammates so they can act on their behalf. Sources say that's because the union will decide at Monday's meeting whether to formally reject the NBA's offer or present it to the full union membership of roughly 450 players for a vote, with a simple majority required to approve the deal.

"We don't expect them to love every aspect of our revised proposal," Stern conceded Thursday. "I would say that there are many teams that don't like every aspect of our revised proposal.

"(But) we moved as far as we could and now we're at where we're at."

Dallas Mavericks player representative Jason Terry said that if the new proposal is not a substantial improvement from the league's prior offers, players will be prepared to walk away, even if it threatens the season.

"For us to take a bad deal at this point, as players, would be not good for the game of basketball and it won't be good for the players going on into the future," Terry said Friday morning during an appearance on the "Ben and Skin Show" on 103.3 FM ESPN in Dallas.

"In life and society there are three classes: There's the upper class, the middle class and lower class," Terry said. "And what the owners are trying to do right now, what their proposal is, get rid of the middle class so you have one or two guys on each team making 'X' and the rest of the guys crunched down at a smaller number and then no middle ground."

O.J. Mayo echoed Terry's thoughts, saying he doesn't "think it's the best deal."

He added: "But I think some players are desperate enough to take anything right now."

He didn't include himself in that desperate group. When asked what happens if the players don't take the current deal and the NBA reverts back to the 47 percent split for the players, rolled back contracts and a hard cap, Mayo said, "It could just be a bluff."

The most notable elements of the new proposal, confirmed by sources on both sides to ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, are the rise of the "mini mid-level exception" from $2.5 million every other season to $3 million every season and the creation of the additional $2.5 million exception for teams that qualify.

The league, sources said, also relented to some degree on its insistence that taxed teams can't participate in sign-and-trade deals.

Owners are now proposing a phase-in of that restriction that would start in Year 3 of a new labor pact, meaning that prominent summer 2012 free agents such as Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Steve Nash still would be eligible to switch teams via sign-and-trade.

The owners, sources say, also have offered to raise minimum team payrolls (which historically had been 75 percent of the salary cap) and raise some season-to-season salary increases.

But one source close to the process told Broussard that while these changes may look significant, "the problem with all of that is that the owners changed the definition of a taxpayer in a way that would destroy (Larry) Bird rights and make it almost impossible to be a taxpayer, so the exceptions would be lost anyway."

ESPN The Magazine senior writers Ric Bucher and Chris Broussard, ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein, ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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