Schmeelk: Union Dissolves, Players Sue NBA… Now What?
By John Schmeelk
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So the NBPA no longer exists.
Billy Hunter is no longer the mouthpiece for the players, who now make up a trade association. Led by Jeffrey Kessler and David Boies, NBA players have sued the league in an effort to force an end to the lockout — and win billions of dollars of damages.
From the outside looking in, this would appear to be a very significant event. In truth, it means little. Come on, the players have absolutely no intention of seeing this lawsuit to its fruition. It would not only cost them the entire 2011-2012 season, but also potentially the following season as well.
Between the NBA counter-suit, the eventual appeals and everything else, the time frame for it to be resolved would be measured in years, not months.
The players still have no appetite for losing one season, let alone two. Union leadership knows this, which is why they never put the issue of decertification up for a vote to its membership. In fact, it is becoming clearer and clearer that they never even polled all their players or fully explained what the option means. That either means that Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter are completely incompetent or they know that decertification is nothing more than a bargaining ploy.
The NBA players are not happy with the final deal that David Stern presented to them, and rejected it despite the fact that it is more than likely the best deal they will see. Desperate and out of ideas, the players turned to the courts in an attempt to scare the owners into improving their offer. The NBA players are mad at David Stern and his owners for their posturing, unwillingness to compromise and tone. Some think it’s all an act to bully them into submission.
They are wrong.
The fact is, David Stern has done all he could to keep the hard-line, small market owners at bay to get the players the best offer possible. Could his public demeanor and tone be a little more conciliatory? Yes. But remember that when he speaks to the media he is not only being watched by the players, but the owners as well. Stern needs the hard-liners to understand he is representing them well enough so they did not force his hand to reduce the owners’ offer to 47 percent.
The players have now done that for him. The only response the owners will have to this move by the union will be to harden even more. They will refuse to negotiate for a short time out of spite — and in an effort to frighten the players. When the owners do return to the table, they will do so with their “reset proposal”: a flex/hard cap and 47 percent of BRI going to the players. This should happen sometime in December, a couple weeks before the true drop dead date for a 50-game season.
That’s when the fate of the season will be decided, and the state of negotiations will be even more precarious than they were before the players’ legal action. There’s a good chance the owners will never go back to their 50-50 split proposal. I have very little confidence the players will ratify anything with something close to a hard cap without the pain of missing an entire season forcing them into it.
If the owners don’t move from 47-53 there won’t be an NBA season.
If the owners do move back to 50-50, they might not do so with the system concessions they made in their last best offer. Will the players swallow their pride and accept that deal rather than lose a season? Will the rank and file who literally can’t afford to miss a season force leadership’s hand? If they don’t, and the players hold out for a better deal than they have already seen, there will not be an NBA season.
The players fail to realize that at least ten or twelve owners have absolutely no fear of losing the year. They want it. The players have already more than likely turned down the best deal they will ever see. That’s why we are in such a dangerous situation.
The only way we see basketball this year is if two things happen:
1. Stern and the owners are truly bluffing, and will come back with one final “best offer” before they cancel the season. This offer might still sit at 50/50 BRI but will give more on the system issues so important to players. I’ll put this scenario at 15 percent.
2. The players realize exactly how willing the owners are to cancel the season and let their members vote on the owners final and best offer. At best, this offer will be identical to the one they rejected last week. It might also be markedly worse in the shape of owner’s “reset proposal”. I put this at about 25 percent.
That’s right. As we stand now I think there’s a 60 percent chance there’s no season this year. The players have put the season on the brink for what I think is a 15 percent chance the owners were bluffing that their last offer was their best one. It’s irrational and foolish, but what part of this process hasn’t been just that?
I’ll write again later this week about assigning blame and blasting everyone for the idiocy of all this, but right now I just want a basketball season like every other fan.
Quite frankly, I don’t feel good about that today.
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