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Posted on: October 10, 2011 11:49 am
 

Without deal, apathy is right around the corner

NEW YORK – We have reached the point of few words and fewer clues as to how and when the NBA lockout will end. One of three things will happen Monday, in no particular order of likelihood:

1) The two sides emerge, say nothing again, and announce that they’re going to continue meeting. A short time later, the first two weeks of the regular season are postponed, rather than canceled, with the possibility that the games could be squeezed in or the season compressed if a deal is reached by Friday.

2) David Stern appears on the sidewalk – in the daylight hours this time – and announces that, unfortunately, the league was unable to reach an agreement with the players and he has no choice but to cancel the first two weeks of the regular season.

3) Stern and union director Billy Hunter emerge together and announce a deal in principle on a new collective bargaining agreement, starting a race against time to get the details ironed out and deal ratified so the season can start on time.

The list of agenda items that stand between here and any of those outcomes is longer than Kevin Durant’s wingspan.

For the second time in recent weeks, the two sides dropped all discussion of the elephant in the room – the BRI split – and focused on system issues only Sunday in a hastily called bargaining session. The last time this happened, the league and union negotiators made little tangible progress on the system issues, and when they returned to the BRI split this past Tuesday, they could not close the gap from the 53 percent the players were offering to the 50 percent where owners had dug in.

Now, while sources say agreement is within reach on adjustments to spending exceptions like the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions, a major sticking point is a punitive, laddered luxury tax that players fear will effectively serve as a hard salary cap. When the two sides reconvene at 2 p.m. ET in Manhattan, the job at hand will be monumental: somehow marrying the system issues that remain hotly contested with the BRI split, which is contested at something akin to inferno levels.

What’s most puzzling about how the negotiators got to this point – with no deal and regular season games scheduled to be scrapped by the end of the day – is that in mid-September, Stern acknowledged that the two sides were “on the road” to an agreement on the economics. At that point, the players were believed to have been offering to receive a 54 percent share of BRI – already a $1 billion concession over six years in an effort to address the owners’ stated annual losses of $300 million – while signaling a willingness to make another economic move conditioned on key system aspects remaining intact.

Days later, the owners on Sept. 22 increased their proposed players’ share of BRI from 44 percent to 46 percent on average over the life of a 10-year proposal. The owners inched upward from there in subsequent negotiations – to 48 percent and finally to 50 percent this past Tuesday – while the players made another move to 53 percent, marking roughly equivalent $1.3 billion concessions for each side.

As we learned after Tuesday’s crucial bargaining session, the two sides weren’t exactly stuck at 53 and 50, respectively, for the players. In a small side conference as the talks entered crunch time Tuesday, the owners offered a 49-51 percent range for the players’ share, while the players countered with 51-53. That’s where it ended, and no further negotiations on the BRI split occurred Sunday night.

The impasse leaves open the maddening question: If the two sides were “on the road” to an agreement on the economics in mid-September when the spread was 46-54, how could they be so far apart after the gap was shaved by $1.6 billion this past Tuesday – with the difference between the midpoint of each side’s BRI band being reduced to a mere 2 percentage points (52-50)?

The answer can likely be found in a couple of crucial areas. For one, small-market owners may have dug in hard on the BRI split, insisting they cannot accept a deal in which the teams receive less than 50 percent of revenues without substantially addressing system issues they believe put them at a competitive disadvantage compared to high-revenue, big-spending teams. Second, to the extent that the division of revenues is inexorably linked to the system that determines how the players’ share is delivered, the players could find themselves in a quid-pro-quo position: If they want the system mostly intact, then 50 percent is the best offer they’re going to see. For room to exist for further negotiation on the split, the owners need system adjustments they believe will enhance competitive balance and give teams the flexibility they need to get out from under bad contracts and keep star players from bolting for bigger markets.

All of these moving parts must somehow be tied together Monday – or realistically, by Friday, as long as enough progress and momentum exist. If not, the NBA faces the slippery, dangerous slope of canceled games – which would lead to economic losses each side would then try to recoup in further negotiations, which would lead to more canceled games and, essentially, the Armageddon both sides recognized would be a possibility when the lockout was imposed July.

As Stern said that day, these things tend to take on a life of their own.

Stern was a man of exasperated expressions and few words Sunday night. Though the real 11th hour could be weeks or even months away – the deadline to cancel the entire 1998-99 season wasn’t until Jan. 7, and a deal was reached with hours to spare – Stern may sense that the public tolerance for this lockout is waning and waning fast.

There was no Twitter, no 60-second news cycle, no All-Star charity games streaming online in ’99. Collective bargaining negotiations in sports are excruciating -- not nearly as conducive to the way fans connect and follow the sport as the sport itself is. People want answers, a resolution, and their tolerance in the 60-second news cycle for the glacial, painful manner in which billions are divided is running out – and will be on empty soon.

People were ready to move on from the NBA in ’99, and the damage from the lockout was incalculable. To the contrary, people now want to embrace the NBA and the product and storylines it offers in the ever-more crowded landscape and crackling news cycle of sports.

But this stuff? This bickering over billions? People are ready to move on from it, go find the next story, the new trending topic, something – anything – more interesting and satisfying. And Stern knows they will find it, thus transforming his sidewalk statements into trees falling in the forest with no one around to hear.

Stern and his players have reached the point of few words, all right. If they don’t find the point of many solutions soon, those words and the whole sport will fall on deaf ears.
Posted on: October 10, 2011 12:25 am
Edited on: October 10, 2011 3:10 am
 

NBA labor talks extend to Monday

NEW YORK -- Facing a deadline for the cancellation of regular season games, negotiators for the NBA and its players' association met for nearly 5 1-2 hours Sunday night and will reconvene Monday afternoon for more bargaining.

Commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver emerged from the Upper East Side hotel where negotiations took place at 11:50 p.m. ET, and Stern issued a brief statement before walking away.

"We don't have any comment at all, other than we are breaking for the night and reconvening tomorrow afternoon," Stern said.

Stern has said he will cancel the first two weeks of the regular season if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't agreed to by Monday. He did not address the cancellation deadline in his statement, and a person with knowledge of the talks said both sides agreed it would not be addressed with reporters.

"We're not necessarily any closer than we were going into tonight," union president Derek Fisher said. "But we'll back at it tomorrow and we'll keep putting time in."

According to a person briefed on the talks, the primary focus Sunday night was system issues -- salary cap, luxury tax, etc. -- leaving Monday to reconcile those complicated items with the most important point of all: the split of revenues between owners and players. Fisher characterized the meeting as "intense."

"We're going to come back at it tomorrow afternoon and continue to try and put the time in and see if we can get closer to getting a deal done," Fisher said.

The last-minute meeting was called after league and union officials originally couldn't agree on the parameters of one final bargaining session to save regular season games. On Friday, officials from the National Basketball Players Association requested a meeting, but were met with a precondition from the league that they agree to a 50-50 split of revenues that was offered in Tuesday's bargaining session. The union declined, and scheduled regional meetings for Miami on Saturday and Los Angeles on Monday.

NBPA executive director Billy Hunter did not travel to Miami, and an impromptu players' meeting was held after the All-Star charity game at Florida International University featuring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Chris Paul and other stars. Fisher said the regional meeting for L.A. on Monday was postponed so union officials could concentrate on bargaining.

"Our guys would want our time to be used in meeting and trying to get closer to getting a deal done," Fisher said. "So instead of going forward with that (Los Angeles) meeting, we're going to put it off and then we'll reschedule it accordingly, depending on what happens tomorrow and into the week if we continue to meet."

Silver arrived at 5:10 p.m. ET, climbed out of a black sedan and greeted league security personnel with a smile and handshake. Union chief Hunter and general counsel Ron Klempner arrived at 5:30, followed closely by union VP Maurice Evans, who stepped out of a yellow taxi moments later. The three greeted Fisher, the union president, when he arrived in a black SUV at about 5:50, and the players' contingent stayed on the sidewalk and talked for about 25 minutes. NBPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler arrived, followed by Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, the chairman of the Board of Governors, and Spurs owner Peter Holt, chairman of the labor relations committee. The meeting started around 6:30 p.m.

Heading into the weekend, the players' were entrenched in their desire for 53 percent of basketball-related income (BRI), while the owners were stuck on offering the players 50 percent. The split under the six-year agreement that expired July 1 was 57 percent for the players and 43 percent for the owners.

From the standpoint of negotiating leverage, psychology and feeling the need to follow through on their threats, both sides seem willing to sacrifice the first two weeks of the regular season -- possibly more -- to get a deal. But from the standpoint of math and what's at stake economically by failing to reach an agreement by Monday, it is clear that a deal would be more advantageous to both sides than digging in.

The last movement of Tuesday's negotiations indicated that there was room on both sides to move beyond their respective positions on BRI. The league offered a 49-51 range for the players, who countered with a 51-53 range. Both offers occurred during informal side conferences involving Stern, Silver, Holt, Fisher, Kessler, and superstars Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.

If you look at it from the midpoint of each side's range in their most recent offers -- 50 percent and 52 percent, respectively -- they are only $80 million apart in the first year of a new CBA. Each side would lose about $200 million by canceling the first two weeks of games. A rational split of 51.5 percent for the players and 48.5 percent for the owners -- with most of the system issues remaining the same, as the players want --would address most of the owners' stated annual losses of $300 million and preserve the flexibility the players wanted to maintain from the existing system.

By holding out for 1.5 percent of BRI -- the owners at 50 percent and the players at 53 -- each side would be drawing a line in the sand over less than $400 million -- $393 million, to be exact -- over six years. And each side would lose half that amount by canceling the first two weeks of games. In the simpler, shorter-term horizon of the first year of a new CBA, each side failing to move 1.5 percent to the 51.5-48.5 split would cost it $200 million compared to the $60 million that would be negotiated away by making the concession.
Posted on: October 9, 2011 1:56 pm
Edited on: October 9, 2011 10:29 pm
 

Source: League, players trying to arrange meeting

NEW YORK -- Top negotiators for the NBA and its players' association are trying to arrange a last-ditch bargaining session Sunday night before a deadline hits Monday to cancel the first two weeks of the regular season, a person briefed on the developments confirmed to CBSSports.com.

The New York Times first reported efforts to hold the meeting were under way.

Update: The two sides approached the four-hour mark Sunday night on Manhattan's Upper East Side with no word of when the session might end. Representing the league were commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, Spurs owner Peter Holt, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor and deputy general counsel Dan Rube. For the union, it was executive director Billy Hunter, president Derek Fisher, vice president Maurice Evans, general counsel Ron Klempner and outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler.

Hunter did not travel to Miami Saturday night for the All-Star exhibition at Florida International University. His plans for a regional players' meeting in Los Angeles remain in place for Monday, two people with knowledge of his plans said -- but Hunter is not scheduled to fly to L.A. until Monday morning.

On Friday, the players proposed a meeting for Monday before games were canceled. The league agreed to meet, but advised the union that it was not moving off the 50-50 split of revenues it offered in Tuesday's bargaining session. Viewing this as a precondition it could not agree to, the union declined the meeting.

UPDATE: The 50-50 prerequisite was dropped in the scheduling of the Sunday evening meeting, one of the people familiar with the discussions told CBSSports.com.

From the standpoint of negotiating leverage, psychology and feeling the need to follow through on their threats, both sides seem willing to sacrifice the first two weeks of the regular season -- possibly more -- to get a deal. But from the standpoint of math and what's at stake economically by failing to reach an agreement by Monday, it is clear that a deal would be more advantageous to both sides than digging in.

As far as bargaining rhetoric is concerned, the players are holding firm at 53 percent of basketball-related income (BRI), while the owners are holding the line at 50 percent. But in the last movement of Tuesday's negotiation, the league offered a 49-51 range for the players, who countered with a 51-53 range. Both offers occurred during informal side conferences involving Stern, Silver, Spurs owner Peter Holt, Fisher, union lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, and superstars Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.

The split under the previous collective bargaining agreement that expired July 1 was 57-43 percent in favor of the players.

If you look at it from the midpoint of each side's range in their most recent offers -- 50 percent and 52 percent, respectively -- they are only $80 million apart in the first year of a new CBA. Each side would lose about $200 million by canceling the first two weeks of games.

A rational split of 51.5 percent for the players and 48.5 percent for the owners -- with most of the system issues remaining the same, as the players want -- would address most of the owners' stated annual losses of $300 million and preserve the flexibility the players wanted to maintain from the existing system. By holding out for 1.5 percent of BRI -- the owners at 50 percent and the players at 53 -- each side would be drawing a line in the sand over less than $400 million -- $393 million, to be exact -- over six years. And each side would lose half that amount by canceling the first two weeks of games.

In the simpler, shorter-term horizon of the first year of a new CBA, each side failing to move 1.5 percent to the 51.5-48.5 split would cost it $200 million compared to the $60 million that would be negotiated away by making the concession.



Posted on: October 7, 2011 6:07 pm
Edited on: October 7, 2011 6:43 pm
 

Players, league can't agree on Monday meeting

The National Basketball Players Association requested a meeting with league negotiators for Monday before the first two weeks of the regular season are canceled and could not agree with NBA officials on the parameters, a union source told CBSSports.com.

NBA officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the information released by the union, which is now planning regional meetings Saturday in Miami -- in conjunction with the All-Star exhibition game involving LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and other stars -- and Monday in Los Angeles. NBPA executive director Billy Hunter is expected to fly to the West Coast Sunday.

According to the union source, the league would agree to a meeting Monday -- the deadline set by commissioner David Stern for canceling the first two weeks of regular season games -- only if the players agreed beforehand to accept the NBA's offer of a 50-50 revenue split. The union declined, the source said, believing it could not negotiate a fair deal for the players if it gave up the right to negotiate before the meeting even began.

This latest round of posturing comes as negotiations reach the potential home stretch after the sides trimmed $1.6 billion off the gap between them Tuesday but couldn't agree on the final number on the split of the league's $4 billion in revenues. When the two sides walked away Tuesday, the league had put an offer of 49-51 percent for the players, and the players had responded with a 51-53 percent band.

As the two sides saber-rattle their way into the next meeting -- whenever that might be -- I leave you with this quote from Friday's column in which a team executive tries to predict what happens next.

"You don't walk away from a deal that close to being done," the executive said. "You posture, you draq your heels, you pontificate, you demean the other side, you invoke all the evils in the world. But you don't walk away. Something's got to pop soon."

That's where we are. Get ready for some first-class hand-wringing, foot-stopping, finger-pointing and fireworks. That's how you know this is almost over.

Eye on Basketball will take it from here for the rest of the night and tomorrow, so be sure to follow all the developments here.
Posted on: October 4, 2011 8:42 pm
Edited on: October 4, 2011 11:19 pm
 

League, players about $80 million apart

NEW YORK -- There were no fireworks, no tantrums and no tirades. There was all the resignation and disappointment of doomsday, but none of the reality. 

The reality is that the NBA owners and players, after showing most of their cards Tuesday in a bargaining session that failed to save an on-time start to the regular season, are approximately $80 million-a-year apart on the economics of a new collective bargaining agreement, multiple sources with knowledge of the negotiations told CBSSports.com.

Though no additional negotiations are scheduled and the process now enters the dangerous and unpredictable phase where any slipups could jeopardize a large chunk of the regular season, the two sides are closer than they publicliy divulged in a pair of dueling news conferences in adjacent meetings rooms of a Times Square hotel.

Here is where they are, according to multiple people involved in the negotiations: After the owners offered the players a 50-50 split of revenues that effectively was a 47 percent share with about $350 million in expenses deducted first, the two sides met in small groups in the hallway while each side's larger group caucused in separate rooms. As the hour grew late, the tension was rising and becoming palpable. Both sides recognized it was time to try everything possible to make a deal. 

In the group for the league side were commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the labor relations committee. For the players, it was union president Derek Fisher, outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler and two of the brightest stars who attended Tuesday's crucial bargaining session -- Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, according to one of the people with knowledge of the side meeting.

In that group, the league -- sensing that the opportunity for a deal was there -- proposed essentially a 50-50 split with no additional expense reductions over a seven-year proposal, with each side having the chance to opt out after the sixth year, one of the people said. This was the offer Stern described in his news conference Tuesday evening, one that he and Silver thought would be enough to finally close the enormous gap between the two sides.

The league's offer, according to three people familiar with it, came in a range of 49-51 -- with 49 percent guaranteed and a cap of 51 percent, the sources said.

Stern told the players and Kessler that he was bringing this proposal to his owners in an attempt to sell it, making no bones about the fact that he would. In fact, Stern said in the news conference, he did sell it. The owners were prepared to sign off on this 49-51 percent band, and with many of the most polarizing system issues resolved, the framework of a deal was in sight.

While the owners were caucusing, a member of the players' group returned with a counterproposal -- approximately 52 percent of BRI for the players with no additional expenses deducted. The players' counterproposal followed the format presented by the owners -- a 51-53 percent band with 51 percent guaranteed and a cap of 53. League officials rejected the offer, the sources said.

So while Hunter and Stern remained publicly entrenched in the ecoomic positions of their most recent formal proposals -- with the players asking for 53 percent and the league offering effectively 47, the reality is this: the gap has closed to 2 percentage points of BRI, the difference between the midpoint of the two offers.

With each percentage point of BRI worth about $40 million, the two sides -- who were at one time $8 billion apart over 10 years -- are now a mere $80 million apart on an annual basis. So you can see what the two sides saw Tuesday -- the road to a deal that both sides eventually can find a way to live with that is better than the alternative of missing a substantial portion of the regular season.

UPDATE: Though there were no immediate plans for the two sides to meet Wednesday, two people close to the discussions said a Thursday meeting was possible. Several key parties to the process will be unavailable from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday for Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar.

Complications remain, of course, not the least of which is the fact that this sidebar, informal discussion of the two BRI bands would have to be worked through the formal process of getting each side's committee to sign off -- and then, it would have to be negotiated further. Also, by walking out without a deal Tuesday, the players' association is subject to the influence of agents who have made it clear they are unhappy with the course of negotiations and have openly threatened encouraging their clients to decertify the union.

Two people with direct knowledge of the strategy being invoked by a group of seven super agents who wrote a letter to their clients over the weekend said the group -- including Arn Tellem, Bill Duffy, Mark Bartelstein, Dan Fegan, Jeff Schwartz, Leon Rose and Henry Thomas -- is willing to accept no less than 52 percent. There is disageement within the ranks on that figure, with a hard-line faction pushing for the players not to retreat at all from the 57 percent of BRI they received under the previous CBA.

The more time that goes by without closing the now comparatively narrow gap between the two sides, the more opportunity there will be for players and their agents to apply pressure to the union -- and perhaps even encourage clients who are unhappy with the course of negotiations to hold a decertification vote, which would stall the talks.

One of the people with direct knowledge of the super agents' strategy said at least two strong voices in that camp have quelled their pursuit of decertification, which would remove the process from the negotiating room and throw it into federal court under anti-trust law. Such a move at this stage, the person with knowledge of the agents' approach said, would inject too much chaos with a deal within reach.

With most system issues preserved from the previous deal, one of the high-powered agents has told associates that he would accept 52 percent and "call it a wrap," a source said Tuesday.

Recognizing the uncertainty and risk that lies ahead -- the rest of the preseason was canceled after the bargaining session Tuesday and regular season games are potentially days away from being lost -- Fisher took direct aim Tuesday at the agents who have most vocally objected to the union's legal and bargaining strategies.

"The only people that really decide whether we accept and ratify a deal are the guys that are standing right here and the other 400-plus guys that aren't here right now," Fisher said, flanked by several committee members and superstars Bryant, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. "And not out of disrespect, I'm just not inclined to engage in a discussion about what a group that doesn’t control any part of this process has to say."
Posted on: October 4, 2011 8:29 am
 

Clock ticking for Hunter, Stern

NEW YORK -- Contrary to popular belief, the most important fight being waged Tuesday in Manhattan is not David Stern vs. Billy Hunter, nor is it the NBA vs. the players.

Fight No. 1 will occur at 10:30 a.m. in another happenin' hotel in the city, when Stern and his cabinet meet with the owners privately to set their strategy for what could be the last bargaining session with the players for a very long time. Fight No. 1(a) is Hunter's fight, and that one begins in earnest after the owners-player talks blow up spectactularly at noon.

One is contingent on the other. If Stern is unable to rein in his owners and insist on offering the players a fair deal that they will accept -- if he is unable to win fight No. 1 -- then Hunter's fight is inevitable. There is real frustration, venom and fury ready to be unleashed by a cadre of powerful agents who represent enough players to turn this process into a cataclysm that will bring basketball to its knees.

Billy "Giveback" Hunter, one agent referred to him as on the phone early Tuesday -- and it got worse from there, much more mean-spirited and unfair and too angry, honestly, to publish any more. There is real anger here among the agents, some of whom are advising their clients not to vote for a deal that gives back one dollar of the players' 57 percent of revenues -- even as the National Basketball Players Association is believed to have offered 53 percent and maybe lower. What the agents are fighting for now has already left the barn, hasn't it?

"Nothing has left the barn," one of the agents said. "The vote will determine what's left the barn."

The agents want their players to be able to vote in a private setting on any deal Hunter and the union agree too, and they want their clients to have more than 24 hours to digest the particulars. They don't want another show-of-hands vote like the one that ended the 1998-99 lockout, in which every player had the "opportunity to vote," as it states in the union bylaws, but less than half the membership actually voted.

"A Libyan vote," one agent characterized it as. "It was a pep rally."

The agents are furious with Hunter and want a piece of Stern and the owners, too. It is clear that even if Hunter reached a deal Tuesday on a percentage of BRI the union already has offered, there's no guarantee he'll get it past a vote -- only a guarantee that Hunter would be out of a job.

Hunter has always been in an impossible position in these negotiations, and I personally don't blame him for the bargaining and legal strategies he's pursued and for those he's left unexplored. The agents -- seven of whom wrote to their clients over the weekend urging them to dig in -- have only seen one viable option since 12:01 a.m. on July 1: decertification and an antitrust lawsuit. Never mind that decertification didn't work for the NFL players in their lockout, and that it resulted in a sweeping victory for the owners in that sport, too. Never mind that agents work in a profession that, by definition, requires duplicity to be successful. Never mind that the agents can't even seem to agree on what their letter says; one insisted Monday that it urges players to accept "no further reduction" in BRI from what the union has offered, while another said the line in the sand was 57 percent.

Union president Derek Fisher, thrust into a tempest of politics and age-old grudges that make Shaq vs. Kobe look like a game of pattycake, responded with a letter of his own Monday night rebuking the agents. This game of pen pal is nice and quaint, and now the powder keg gets wheeled into the room at noon ET Tuesday for the real fireworks.

It's a mess, a basketball Armageddon that only Stern and his owners, and then Stern and Hunter -- doing their last bargaining dance with jobs and legacies on the line -- can forestall.
 
Happy Tuesday. 
Posted on: October 3, 2011 6:03 pm
Edited on: October 4, 2011 1:43 am
 

A moment of truth arrives in NBA talks

NEW YORK -- After more than two years of often rancorous negotiations, rifts within each side, finger-pointing and name-calling, the NBA and its players have reached a moment of truth in their quest to reach a collective bargaining agreement that would preserve an on-time start to the 2011-12 season.

After setting the table in a five-hour meeting Monday involving a small group of negotiators, the league and union will convene separately and then sit down for a crucial full bargaining session Tuesday. Though the meeting is expected to include at least 10 owners and multiple players accompanying the union's bargaining committee, neither side could say with any certainty whether the moment has arrived to make their last, best offers.

What is clear is that some significant movement will be necessary to at least begin closing the enormous gap between the two sides' positions on the two main issues -- the split of revenues and the cap system -- or the rest of the preseason schedule and some regular season games will be at risk.

"We both understand that if we don’t make our best offers in the next few days, we’re going to be at the point where we’re going to be causing damage to the game, to ourselves, and they're going to be out paychecks," deputy commissioner Adam Silver said.

But even as both sides recognized the gravity of Tuesday's meeting with the scheduled regular season opener less than a month away, the potential for trouble already was brewing.

As opposed to going into the meeting with the more productive small-group format, Tuesday's session is expected to include a potentially strong showing from players who are not on the executive committee. Though it was not clear Monday whether a similar contingent of stars who attended Friday's meeting -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and others -- would be present Tuesday, it was that very format that nearly resulted in the talks blowing up when players became so irate with the owners' intransigence that they threatened to walk out of negotiations. According to sources, Kobe Bryant -- fresh off a promotional tour of Italy, where he is contemplating a potentially lucrative deal with Virtus Bologna -- and Amar'e Stoudemire are among the players interested in attending the bargaining session.

In addition, the Celtics' Paul Pierce -- who was among the stars present Friday and who stuck around for Saturday's and Monday's sessions -- will take on a prominent role in the negotiations again on Tuesday. Though Pierce has previously expressed interest in being involved in the union -- perhaps even as a committee member and vice president -- his presence is notable for more than his star power. Pierce's agent, Jeff Schwartz, is one of seven powerful reps who wrote a pointed letter to their clients urging them not to agree to any further reductions in their share of basketball-related income (BRI) or any further restrictions to the system beyond what the union has negotiated.

In the letter, agents Schwartz, Arn Tellem, Bill Duffy, Dan Fegan, Leon Rose, Henry Thomas and Mark Bartelstein warned their clients not to rush into a deal and encouraged them to demand to see the league's full financial statements from the previous six-year CBA -- including related-party transactions, which can make it difficult to identify profits and losses on a team-by-team basis.

This same group of agents has been pushing for the players to decertify the union in the face of the owners' demands of massive and fundamental changes to the league business model. Though the letter did not mention decertification, it potentially undercut the negotiating power of National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher, who have offered to drop the players' share of BRI to 53 percent and signaled a willingness to go to 52 with certain conditions, sources said.

The agents' letter explains the impact to the players of accepting 52 percent -- a $200 million giveback that atones for most of the owners' $300 million in losses last season -- and warns that there are "monumental repercussions" associated with giving back any more, a high-profile agent told CBSSports.com.

"All that’s going on right there is, (the owners) have a captive audience and they just keep going for more," the agent said. "If the players just walk away from the thing right now -- 'We decertify, we're done' -- they get their deal at 53 and it’s over with. Why keep talking to them? You think the owners are going to walk away from this deal right now at 53 percent? No way." 

UPDATE: But there was disagreement among two agents familiar with the letter as to what was meant by "no further reductions" in BRI. One said the intent was to urge clients not to accept any further reductions in what the union already has offered -- believed to be 53 percent, with the possibility of going down to 52 percent under certain conditions. However, another agent with direct knowledge of the conversations that led to the drafting of the letter said it was agreed that players would be advised not to vote for any deal that includes a reduction in BRI from the 57 percent the players received under the previous agreement.

"We shouldn't give back anything," the agent said. "With record TV ratings, record revenues, and global growth, why should we?"

An agent who has long been frustrated with the path of negotiations -- and fearful of the outcome -- told CBSSports.com, "If this is the best we can do, then why the hell haven't we decertified?" 

Late Monday, Fisher responded with a letter of his own to the union membership -- his second strong rebuke of the dissatisfied agents in less than a month -- saying the agents' letter to clients "includes misinformation and unsupported theories."

According to two people familiar with the NBPA's strategy, Hunter has never closed the door on decertification. But he has no intention of calling for a decertification vote or disclaiming interest in representing the players -- either of which would send the case to the federal courts under anti-trust law -- until the National Labor Relations Board rules on the union's unfair labor practices charge against the league. If the NLRB issued a complaint, it could lead to a federal injunction lifting the lockout. The NLRB has been investigating the union's charges since May, and there is no timetable for a decision by the agency's general counsel in Washington, D.C.

In the letter, which says that negotiations have reached "a critical stage," the agents told their clients that the owners' proposal will "cripple your earning potential and the earning potential of every future NBA player." Among other things, the agents urge their players to:

* Reject any further reduction in the percentage of BRI the union has negotiated.
* Maintain the existing structure of the Bird and mid-level exceptions.
* Resist any reduction in the current maximum player salaries.
* Maintain current contract length at existing levels.
* Keep unrestricted free agency the same and improve restricted free agency.

In addition, the letter urges players to demand a full vote of the union membership on any proposal agreed to by the NBA and NBPA negotiators. The vote that ended the 1998-99 lockout was a show-of-hands vote after players had only 24 hours to review the proposal. Only 184 of the more than 400 players actually voted.

"If and when there is a proposal that we feel is in the best interests of us as players, each of you WILL have the opportunity  to vote in person," Fisher said. "It's in the union bylaws, it's not up for negotiation."

One of the agents concerned about the outcome said he would not allow what he called a "sham" vote on a proposal agreed to by the NBPA. "I'm telling you right now, I won't stand for it," the agent said. "Not on my watch."

It was this and other unpredictable elements -- such as how unified the small- and big-market owners are on missing regular season games and revenue sharing -- that made it almost impossible to predict how Tuesday's meeting would play out. 

"If it’s a very short meeting, that’s bad," commissioner David Stern said. "And if it’s a very long meeting, that’s not as bad."

Stern had said Saturday that no decisions would be made before Tuesday on canceling the remainder of the preseason schedule if no deal were reached. Once Monday ended, however, the league entered what Stern had referred to as a "day-by-day" period where decisions would have to be made. According to several team executives, agents and others with a stake in the process, there is a widely held belief that the first chunk of regular season games would be canceled in the absence of significant movement by the end of the week.

Beyond the stated goals, talking points and hidden agendas that have infiltrated each side, the moment of truth is cloaked in one obvious reality: For a deal to be consummated this week, one side or the other is going to have to reveal its true position -- in bargaining terms, the "last, best offer." 

"Neither side has been speaking in those terms," Silver said.

Beginning Tuesday, they will have to.

"Each side has preserved its right to be where it is, knowing that there’s a heart to heart that will ultimately take place," Stern said.

In other words, it's time for the B.S. to stop and for the cards to be laid on the table. When that happens, how that happens, and who throws the first card will be a product of the tone that is set Tuesday.

"There’s always a Magic card in somebody’s back pocket that they say, ‘I know this will get the deal done,'" a team executive said Monday. "And you don’t want to show that card until you absolutely have to. At some point, does somebody whip out that card?"

Though the two sides continue to hold diametrically opposed positions on what kind of system they want -- hard cap, soft cap, flex cap, guarantees and spending exceptions -- they both agree that system issues will not cause them to miss games or cancel the season. This is primarily, if not ultimately all about the bottom line: money.

"We’re apart on the split," Stern said. "But we know that the answer lies between where they were and where we are. And without defining ours, or defining theirs, I think if there’s a will, we’ll be able to deal with both the split and with the system issues."

The most recent formal proposal from the owners would've given the players a flat $2.01 billion in salary over the first eight years of a 10-year deal, though sources say league negotiators have since modified that position slightly to a model that would give the players roughly 46 percent of BRI on average over the life of the deal. The players have been holding firm to an offer in which they would accept a pay freeze in the first year of a new deal -- the same $2.17 billion they received in salary and benefits last season -- with the BRI split in the 52-54 range thereafter. 

Based on the league's current bargaining position, even if the players offered to receive 49 percent of BRI -- thus accounting for all of the owners' $300 million in stated losses -- it still would not be acceptable to the owners, who are seeking the opportunity for every team to make a profit in addition to increased parity they believe can be achieved through a combination of systemic changes and more robust revenue sharing. One prominent agent told CBSSports.com Monday that the owners' position is "out of touch with reality."

"These guys think they're entitled to have a business that’s fool proof," the agent said. 

Said another: "Why do the most powerful and successful businessmen in the world need protection from agents and players in negotiations? If they don't want to pay the money, don't pay the money."

And if the owners maintain this bargaining position on Tuesday? If their bargaining position is real, with no magic cards hiding in their back pockets?

"Then I tell them," one of the agents said, "see you in court."
 


Posted on: October 3, 2011 1:35 pm
 

Tellem's cousin recused from NLRB case

NEW YORK -- Elbert Tellem, the assistant director of the National Labor Relations Board's regional office that handled the players' union's charge against the NBA, has recused himself from the case because he is the cousin of powerful agent Arn Tellem.

Sports Business Journal first reported the news Monday, and a person familiar with the decision told CBSSports.com it happened several weeks ago.

The move by Tellem to remove himself from any decision-making role in the union's unfair labor practices charge likely will have no impact on the outcome. The case, which has been sent to the NLRB's general counsel in Washington, D.C., with a sealed recommendation from the regional office in New York, was handled by acting regional director Karen Fernbach.

The National Basketball Players Association, which continued bargaining talks with league negotiators Monday in a last-ditch effort to prevent the cancellation of regular season games, hopes to compel the NLRB to issue a complaint against the league for failing to bargain in good faith. If the union is successful, the end result could be an injunction by a federal judge lifting the lockout.

Neither side knows what the regional office recommended, and the general counsel could take days, weeks or months to review the case and either follow or reject the regional office's recommendation. A person familiar with the NLRB's procedures told CBSSports.com Monday it is the agency's hope that the two sides settle their labor dispute among themselves.

The conflict of interest for Elbert Tellem stemmed from his family relation to Arn Tellem, the powerful agent from Wasserman Media Group who represents such NBA stars as Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joe Johnson, Russell Westbrook and Tyreke Evans. Tellem has been among a handful of powerful agents who have consistently disagreed with the union's bargaining and legal strategies while pushing behind the scenes for the players to decertify union membership as a tactic to force the owners to bargain more seriously.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com