Billy Hunter sends players memo on BRI

Updated: November 27, 2011, 1:01 AM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

In a memo to union members Saturday night obtained by ESPN.com, NBA Players Association executive director Billy Hunter told players that they will receive a 51.2 percent share of Basketball Related Income in the 2011-12 season.

After months of contentious talk with the owners on the annual revenue split, which saw the players drop more than seven BRI points from their 57 percent share in the final year of the last labor agreement, 51.2 percent would fall at the high end of the 49-to-51 BRI band that Hunter and fellow union leaders Derek Fisher and Maurice Evans agreed to Friday during a 15-hour marathon negotiating session.

As far as the next steps to ratify the agreement in time for training camps and a condensed free-agency period to being Dec. 9, Hunter told players in his memo the various new deal points will be "incorporated into a litigation settlement agreement early this week."

"The NBPA will then re-form as a union," Hunter wrote, "and negotiations may take place on various other CBA issues. The players will then vote to ratify a new CBA."

If the timeline outlined by Hunter holds, negotiations on the various highly publicized B-list issues -- such as potential changes to the age limit for the NBA draft and the rules involved in sending players to and recalling them from the NBA D-League -- will happen after the union is reformed. Yet one source close to the talks indicated Saturday night that discussions on B-list matters could resume almost "immediately," most likely Monday.

In the letter, Hunter said the parties were able to reach a settlement on the anti-trust lawsuits filed by various players after the union filed a "disclaimer of interest" to dissolve itself on Nov. 14 "because the owners either gave in or sufficiently compromised on all of the open issues."

Among those listed by Hunter as significant beyond the 51.2 percent BRI figure for 2011-12:

•  Owners dropped their demand for unlimited escrow to reimburse teams in subsequent years if they spent too much on player salaries in any given season.

•  A player finishing his rookie scale contract will be eligible to receive a maximum salary equal to 30 percent of the salary cap -- up from 25 percent -- if he signs with his prior team and is either a two-time selection to the All-NBA first, second or third team; twice an All-Star starter or a one-time MVP.

•  Owners dropped their demand to cut the rookie wage scale as well as their demand to eliminate extend-and-trade deals as seen in February when Carmelo Anthony landed a lucrative contract extension as part of the trade that sent him from Denver to New York.

•  Annual salary increases will be set at 7.5 percent in Larry Bird contracts and 4.5 percent in non-Bird deals.

•  Owners dropped their demand to eliminate player options for high-paid players.

•  The owners agreed to a $4 million "apron" above the tax threshold which stipulates that teams may go above the luxury-tax line by $4 million and can still use the entire $5 million mid-level exception -- or acquire a player via sign-and-trade. Teams above the $4 million tax apron are limited to a maximum $3 million mid-level exception that can be extended out for three seasons and used every year.

Unhappiness among some players continued to percolate Saturday even after the memo was circulated, with a handful privately suggesting that Hunter capitulated too easily no matter how hard he tried in his letter to make it appear as the owners moved significantly in Friday's talks.

"Spinfest 2011 has begun," one veteran player told ESPN.com after reading the memo.

Yet the overwhelming sentiment around the league persists that the deal will easily win majority approval when the union's 400-plus members vote, since so many players are weary from the five-month impasse and eager to start playing again. NBA commissioner David Stern announced in the early hours of Saturday morning that the league hopes to open training camps Dec. 9 and commence the regular season schedule on Christmas.

ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher reported earlier Saturday that the players' union viewed the following three aspects of the owners' previous offer as the most unappealing:

•  The unlimited escrow system.

•  The inability of teams under the salary cap to use their mid-level exception if it takes a team's player payroll over the cap, as well as the inability of teams over the cap to have the use of any exceptions at all.

•  Prohibition of teams over the salary cap from making sign-and-trade deals.

Owners still will retain 10 percent of every player contract and have the right to keep that money if total salaries go over the allotted percentage allowed in a given season for player salaries, but they will not be allowed to take additional money from benefits or future escrow to settle up, as the owners proposed roughly two weeks ago.

Any excess spending not covered by the 10 percent of salaries withheld will be drawn from a one percent pool of basketball-related income earmarked for benefits.

When it comes to the mid-level exception, if the luxury-tax threshold is set at $70 million and a team's payroll is at $68 million, they would be allowed to use the full $5 million. But if a team is at $69.5 million in allotted payroll, they can go as far as $74 million and therefore use only $4.5 million of the exception. In the previous offer, owners wanted teams below the line to be required to get back under the limit by Oct. 15 of the following year if they used an exception to go over.

The players, though, did not get all that they had hoped for on sign-and-trade rules, sources told Bucher. For the first two years of the 10-year agreement -- with either side possessing the option to exit the CBA after six seasons -- tax-paying teams still will be eligible to do sign-and-trade deals. That opens the door for impending star free agents such as Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams to be moved to big-market teams such as the Lakers, Knicks and Mavericks that are already over the salary cap.

In the final eight years of the agreement, teams can still make sign-and-trade deals as long as the math does not put them more than $4 million into the luxury tax.

Bucher reported that one concern on the player side is the fact that only broad, basic tenets of a new deal have been agreed to by both sides, meaning that disagreements on what was said and mutually accepted could arise when it comes to committing the entire deal to writing. It remains to be seen, furthermore, how quickly both sides can get through the B-list issues, which is also expected to include the league's drug and discipline policies.

Senior writer Marc Stein covers the NBA for ESPN.com. Information from senior NBA writer for ESPN The Magazine Ric Bucher was used in this report.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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