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Schmeelk: Ball In Player’s Court

Billy Hunter (credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images), David Stern (credit: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Billy Hunter (credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images), David Stern (credit: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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By John Schmeelk
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The easy people to blame for the pending NBA lockout are the faces of each side: David Stern, Adam Silver, Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter. The truth is that if it was up to those four men, this deal would have been done a long time ago and we would have had a full NBA season.

Instead, these men are being pulled by the radicals in their group to extreme positions that could cost us basketball. To his credit, Fisher has gotten his players to move to the point where there should be a deal. Since this lockout began, in my opinion, the onus was always on the player to make the major moves to secure a deal. The owners always hold the hammer since they can survive lost games or a lost season a lot easier than the players. It was always going to the Players Association that was going to have to give in. For the most part, they have.

When the players dropped their BRI demand to 51%, the number truly holding up a deal, the owners should have matched that move with one of their own off of 50%. Even if they didn’t move off the BRI they could have slid a bit on the remaining (and very minor) system issues regarding mid-level contracts, sign and trades, and the luxury tax. Any combination of those moves would have gotten a deal done.

That deal would have constituted a huge victory for the owners. They could have chalked up the following wins in their column:

-          A nearly 300 million give back on a yearly basis from the players to the owners.

-          One year shorter max contracts from the last deal

-          A more punitive luxury tax to maintain competitive balance

Those are major victories in nearly every important negotiating issue, and David Stern knows it. It’s a twenty point win. Herb Williams would get playing time in the 4th quarter. If it was up to the Commissioner, he would do whatever was necessary to close it. But as another writer put it earlier in the week (sorry – I’ve read so many columns this week – I can’t keep them all straight), a twenty point win isn’t good enough. The hardline small market owners want to embarrass the players. They want to win by fifty and run up the score by throwing alley-oops and shooting threes deep into the 4th quarter.

At this point, it’s not even 100% clear if David Stern has the votes on the owners side to approve a 50-50 split. This group of owners led by Dan Gilbert, Herb Kohl, Peter Holt and yes, Michael Jordan, much prefer the NBA’s offer from the summer with a 53-47 split favoring the owners and a much harder salary cap. If reports are to be believed, it was only though wrangling that David Stern got those owners to agree to give the players until Wednesday to approve the 50-50 offer. The hardline deal is the only one that will be left on the table after Wednesday.

The small market faction of hardline NBA owners, which seem to number anywhere 10 to 15 depending on the reports, has given the Commission no room to negotiate or maneuver. They are willing to go through with the nuclear option, cancel the season, and truly threaten the long term health of their sports. Right or wrong, those are the facts the Player’s Association will deal with today as they meet to decide what their next move is going to be.

The ball is still in the player’s court. After Wednesday, it will only get harder to get this deal done. Despite the tough talk from the super-agents out there telling the players to de-certify, I don’t think the players want any part of turning the key in their nuclear option. These guys want to play basketball and very shortly they will start missing their paychecks. Billy Hunter does not like the deal the NBA has on the table and is resisting putting it to a full vote because he’s afraid the players will accept it. As vocal as some of the stars have been, there is a much larger silent majority that realizes any give backs they make pale in comparison to what they will lose in terms of game checks if a season is lost.

So this is where we stand. The owners have already won but they don’t only want the player’s lunch money, they also want to take their pride. Athletes don’t like when they are challenged that way. Will they stand up and say no, and risk everything? Or will they give in just a little bit more to save their season and their sport? The owners are not going to move. If this thing gets done, it will because of the players.

Stay tuned this weekend. It could be a very good one for NBA fans. You can follow me on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk for all the latest on the Knicks, Giants, NBA, and even some MLB.