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Tag:Kobe Bryant
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: September 15, 2011 12:16 pm
 

DeMaurice Smith to address NBA players

Facing the difficult challenge of keeping the union together in the face of stalled labor talks with the owners, the National Basketball Players Association has recruiited NFL players' union executive director DeMaurice Smith to address locked-out players in Las Vegas Thursday.

A person connected to the NBA talks confirmed that Smith will speak to a gathering of about 70 NBA players at a Las Vegas hotel as players and owners meet separately to brief their constituents on the negotiations. The owners' Board of Governors is meeting Thursday in dallas.

According to SI.com, which first reported Smith's involvement, the invitation came from NBPA president Derek Fisher, who hopes that Smith will be able to explain to the players the importance of remaining united during the lockout. Smith, who directed his first collective bargaining talks with the NFL and secured a new CBA that ended the lockout without losing games, also is expected to tell the players that the NFLPA's strategy of decertification does not necessarily apply in the same way to the NBA talks.

For one, the NFL players faced a collectively bargained deadline to decertify and disband their union in an effort to thwart the owners' lockout. The strategy was never addressed in a broad ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the NFL case, and labor law experts fear such a strategy by the NBA players would be so time consuming that it would jeopardize a significant portion of the season with no guarantees of a favorable ruling in federal court.

Either way, Smith's presence at the critical NBA players' meeting is sure to generate commentary from both sides of the decertification argument. For several high-profile agents pushing for a decertification vote that could topple NBPA chief Billy Hunter, the irony will not be lost that Smith will be preaching unity to the NBA players after following a strategy that temporarily dissolved his own union in the NFL talks.

Fisher and teammate Kobe Bryant are represented by agent Rob Pelinka, who is not among the agents pushing for the union to disband. So you can see where this is going. Fisher is embracing his role as the point man charged with keeping players with varying agendas and pay levels on the same page. Having offered to make an economic move that league negotiators believe would've been an important step in the negotiations, the NBPA is trying to preserve a flexible cap system and thwart the contingent of owners who seem to be willing to lose the entire season over their insistence on instituting a hard salary cap.

To that point, Smith is likely to come away from Thursday's meeting with as much enlightenment as the players listening to him. This NBA labor fight makes the one Smith resolved with the NFL look like a minor disagreement over who picks up the check at one of those cheap, all-you-can-eat Vegas buffets.

Posted on: August 17, 2011 5:00 pm
Edited on: August 17, 2011 9:08 pm
 

Kobe to players: 'Stand behind the union'

During a series of meetings in which union officials are updating players on the status of collective bargaining this week, one voice stood out: that of Kobe Bryant.

Before a star-studded audience of about 75 players in Los Angeles Tuesday, Bryant was “up front” and “deliberate” in a speech in which he urged players to maintain solidarity and “stand behind the union” during the lockout, according to a person who was in attendance. Sources told CBSSports.com that another test of that solidarity could come next week, as top union officials were authorized Wednesday to contact deputy commissioner Adam Silver in the hopes of scheduling a bargaining session in New York before the end of the month.

Bryant and Paul Pierce told players Tuesday it was important for them to “remain united” in the face of a lockout that has dragged well into its second month with only one full-scale bargaining session, the person who attended the meeting said. Among the players in attendance were Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon of the Clippers, Elton Brand of the 76ers, Tyson Chandler of the Mavericks, Russell Westbrook and James Harden of the Thunder and Corey Maggette of the Bobcats.

Contacted for comment on the player meetings, union chief Billy Hunter said he also briefed a contingent of about 20 agents on the status of negotiations Tuesday before traveling to Las Vegas, where he was meeting with about 35 players Wednesday. Hunter also will meet with players next week in Houston, Chicago and New York.

“Our message is that there’ve been several proposals back and forth, and the last proposal by the NBA would be a giveback of $8 billion over 10 years,” Hunter told CBSSports.com. “The players understand and they’re supportive.”

Hunter said there was a “divergence of opinion” among the agents about the National Basketball Players Association’s decision not to disclaim interest in representing the players – and the players’ decision not to decertify. Some high-profile agents have clamored for decertification, which would send the dispute to the federal court system under antitrust law. Hunter has so far resisted, preferring to explore the possibly more expeditious path to an injunction lifting the lockout, which could result if the union is successful in getting the National Labor Relations Board to issue an unfair labor practices complaint against the NBA.

Sources said NLRB investigators are expected to wrap up the evidence-gathering phase as early as next week and would then have all the information they need to render a decision on the players’ charge.

Though NBA commissioner David Stern is expected to be away on vacation, sources also told CBSSports.com that the two sides are trying to reconvene for a high-level bargaining session next week in New York. If league and union officials can agree on the scheduling details, it would be the first full-scale bargaining session since Aug. 1 – and the first since the NBA filed a federal lawsuit and an NLRB charge accusing the players of failing to bargain in good faith. Both legal actions were filed on Aug. 2, one day after Stern said the players were not bargaining in good faith.

It remains to be seen whether the players’ desire to meet next week will result in a productive negotiating session or more mudslinging. Stern accused the players of canceling a bargaining session last week while Hunter was involved with four days of appearances before the NLRB. Sources said an offer by the union to hold a staff-level bargaining session was rejected by the league, and that Hunter was told Stern would be away on vacation this week and next.

Clearly, Stern could easily return to New York for a bargaining session regardless of his vacation plans. So it’s a matter of will on both sides – and a question of whether anything has changed since the fruitless session on Aug. 1. Answer: Probably not. Not yet.
Posted on: July 29, 2011 1:00 pm
Edited on: July 29, 2011 5:05 pm
 

Union backing overseas pursuits


The NBA players' association disagrees with me over the usefulness of players signing overseas during the lockout. We can differ over how much leverage the strategy provides in collective bargaining, but there's no disputing this notion: Players are pursuing deals overseas with the full backing and encouragement of the union.

The latest subplot of international intrigue came Friday, with word that Bucks guard Keyon Dooling -- a vice president of the National Basketball Players Association -- was close to a deal with the Turkish team Efes Istanbul. Earlier, we learned that none other than Kobe Bryant was scheduled to meet over the weekend with Besiktas, the Turkish team that previously signed Nets guard Deron Williams.

Seref Yalcin, head of basketball operations for Besiktas, told reporters in Turkey this week that there's a "50 percent chance" that Bryant signs with a Turkish team, according to Reuters. Despite the fact that Besiktas' assets are frozen in connection with a soccer match-fixing scandal, Yalcin said, "Money will not be a problem." He cited Turkish Airlines, with whom Bryant has a promotional agreement, and two oil companies as potential sponsors for a contract that could pay Bryant between $500,000 and $1 million a month.

Williams' deal with Besiktas reportedly is for $5 million, with an escape clause to return to the NBA when the lockout ends.

Also on Friday, FIBA -- the governing body of international basketball -- issued a statement saying it will approve the transfer of players under contract with NBA teams to play for FIBA teams during the lockout. NBA officials have been under the impression for months that one risk of imposing a lockout is seeing players find opportunities to play -- and make money -- overseas. Legally, the NBA has no way to stop them, especially now that FIBA is on board.

UPDATE: Later Friday, NBPA executive director Billy Hunter released a statement applauding FIBA's decision.

"The NBPA and our players are gratified by today's announcement by FIBA, although it comes as no surprise," Hunter said. "We have consistently advised our members that in the event of a lockout they would have the right to be compensated for playing basketball irrespective of whether they were under contract to an NBA team or not. We have encouraged all of our players to pursue such opportunities and will continue to do so. In the face of the economic pressure that the NBA has attempted to exert by imposing a lockout, our players are unified and eager to demonstrate that the NBA's tactics will be unsuccessful."

Whether or not significant stars follow Williams to FIBA clubs remains to be seen, but Bryant would be the biggest fish ensnared by the strategy and could pull others along with him. Whether signing overseas provides actual leverage to the union in showing that the NBA isn't the only game in town for locked-out players, or simply illustrates that stars are going to "get theirs" and leave the lockout to the rank and file, is a matter for debate. But there is no questioning where the NBPA stands on this issue: The union has told players it will support, and encourage their efforts to get jobs overseas.

Who will insure the players' current and future NBA earnings against injury while they're globetrotting during the lockout is an issue that every player contemplating such a move has to seriously consider.

Posted on: July 8, 2011 2:51 pm
 

Yao: A giant on and off the court

With the news Friday that Yao Ming has decided to retire, the NBA lost a giant whose stature made him a force on the court and an ambassador for the spread of basketball throughout Asia.

His impact on the floor and in the record books was muted by injury, but Yao’s influence on the globalization of basketball will be felt for years, if not decades.

Yao, 30, endured years of pain and injuries to his feet and lower legs and most recently could not overcome a stress fracture in his left foot that caused him to miss all but five games in the 2010-11 season. The 7-foot-6 center has yet to file official retirement paperwork with the NBA office, but that would be a mere formality after Yahoo! Sports reported Friday that Yao has informed the Rockets, league office, and NBA China in the past 48 hours of his intention to retire.

It was the presence of Yao, along with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, that lifted the NBA to new heights of popularity and revenue-generation in China during the past decade. The league launched NBA China in 2008, and Sports Business Journal has estimated that between $150 million and $170 million of the NBA’s annual revenues are generated in Yao’s native land.

Some of the NBA’s biggest America-born stars have endorsement and charitable ventures linked to China, such Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and the recently retired Shaquille O’Neal. Several of Yao’s teammates with the Rockets, including Luis Scola and Shane Battier, also have benefited. The top 10 best-selling NBA jerseys in China are all worn by American-born players, led by Bryant, who has owned the top spot for four straight years.

Bryant, received in China like a rock star during the Beijing Games, has made several promotional trips to China for endorsement work with Nike and has created the Kobe Bryant China Foundation to raise money and awareness for education and health programs. If Bryant provided the momentum for basketball’s robust commerce in China, it was Yao who lit the flame.

Yao retires as a once-dominant force whose impact on the court was derailed by injuries that cost him 170 regular season games over the course of his career. His best season was 2006-07, when he averaged 25 points, 9.4 rebounds and shot 52 percent from the field. For his career, Yao averaged 19 points, 9.2 rebounds, and in an aberration for a player his size, shot .833 from the foul line.

It is the end of a career, but also a new beginning – the start of an era with only one dominant center left in the game, Dwight Howard, and potentially billions of dollars in new marketing opportunities for the NBA in China and beyond. Yao started it all.
Posted on: July 7, 2011 2:22 pm
 

NBA stars to Europe? Not so fast

When word began to spread Thursday that Nets star Deron Williams has an agreement to play next season in Turkey, one prominent NBA agent called foul.

"I don't think he's going overseas," said the agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the lockout. "I'll believe that deal when I see it."

The Turkish television station NTV Spor reported Thursday that Williams has agreed to join the Turkish team Besiktas, the same team former All-Star Allen Iverson played briefly for last season. The report was confirmed by other media outlets, including The New York Times, which quoted Besiktas coach Ergin Ataman as saying "we confirm" the agreement. According to Ataman, Williams is expected to report to Besiktas on Sept. 1 to prepare for the season, which begins Sept. 27.

If true, Williams would be the highest-profile NBA star in his prime to sign a contract to play overseas. And with NBA players locked out for what many believe will be a long labor fight -- perhaps wiping out the entire 2011-12 season -- Williams going to Turkey could open the floodgates for NBA stars turning their backs on the NBA owners who have nullified their contracts with a lockout.

Or not.

"The guys I work with in Turkey say there's no chance this is happening," the agent said.

Williams, due to become a free agent in 2012, would stand to make $70 million to $80 million on his next NBA contract -- depending on what the new collective bargaining rules will allow.

"He's going to risk that to make a few million dollars?" the agent said. "What if he gets hurt?"

The most Besiktas is believed to be capable of paying Williams is $7 million to $8 million, sources said. No financial terms of his apparent deal with the Turkish team have been divulged, and Williams' new agent, Jeff Schwartz, did not respond to a request for comment.

Various agents currently are discussing deals with European teams, but they're mostly for undrafted free agents or journeymen looking to stay sharp and make money during the lockout -- not superstars in their prime. In exchange for a few million Bucks and a free flight to Istanbul, Williams would not only be risking his next NBA contract, but the rest of his current one -- for which he is owed $34 million over the next two seasons, with a player option for 2012-13.

No offense to Besiktas, but European teams have a history of not living up to contractual obligations, leaving players who signed there fighting to get money that was owed to them. Of course, a publicity stunt to drum up fan interest and sign a few sponsors is free of charge.

In speaking with the Times, Ataman made a point of saying he plans to contact "other guys," such as, you know, Kobe Bryant.

The sound coming from my agent friend on the other end of the phone conversation at that point? Laughter.

 
Posted on: June 22, 2011 7:57 pm
Edited on: June 23, 2011 6:05 pm
 

Hunter: Owners' demands can't be met

NEW YORK – NBA players association chief Billy Hunter on Wednesday assailed the owners’ latest collective bargaining proposal and said he is prepared for owners to vote on a lockout at next Tuesday’s Board of Governors meeting in Dallas.

“Their demand is gargantuan and we just can’t meet it,” Hunter told reporters at the Manhattan hotel where players are staying for crucial meetings and draft-related activities this week.

A day after commissioner David Stern seized control of the message by disclosing details of the owners’ latest proposal, Hunter gathered reporters in an effort to respond and “set the record straight,” he said. At the meeting, also attended by union president Derek Fisher of the Lakers, executive committee member Maurice Evans of the Wizards and union staff, Hunter said the owners’ latest proposal would cost the players $8.2 billion over 10 years compared to the current system and $7 billion compared to the players’ standing offer.

“Under their proposal, over five or six years, they would reap a profit of over $1.8 billion after expenses – after their alleged expenses,” Hunter said.

Hunter and Fisher also clarified a point that was lost after Tuesday’s bargaining session: As part of their proposal to guarantee the players $2 billion in salary and benefits per year during their 10-year proposal, owners are seeking to keep the $160 million in escrow money withheld from players’ paychecks for the 2010-11 season. Eight percent of player salaries is withheld under the current agreement and returned each August to ensure that players ultimately wind up with 57 percent of basketball-related income (BRI).

“That’s money that players have already earned, worked for this past season,” Fisher said. “That’s off the table, as far as we’re concerned. To me, it speaks to the arrogance that they feel in approaching us with their proposal, to be able to go back and reach for those dollars.”

Fisher also assailed Stern’s characterization of a new cap system verbally proposed by owners as a “flex cap,” with a $62 million target per team and an undetermined maximum and minimum.

“We view that as just a total distortion of reality,” Fisher said. “It’s not a flexible cap, it’s a hard cap. … It’s flexible as long as you’re below what the hard level is.”

The so-called flex-cap concept disclosed by Stern Tuesday “has not been in a written proposal, with any teeth or any details,” Fisher said.

In response to the union's complaints, Stern said Wednesday night: "Players have benefited from the current system more than the teams. For them it has been a much better partnership. We are sorry that the players' union feels that way since it doesn't seem designed to get us to the agreement that is so important to the teams, and we had hoped, the players."

In briefing players around the league on the state of negotiations, including teammate Kobe Bryant, Fisher said players “are in total disbelief. They have asked us point-blank why we are even talking.”

Despite the grim turn these talks have taken in the past 48 hours, there's no need to panic. There is a blueprint for getting sports labor deals done when the sides are far apart, and the NBA talks are following it to a tee. I'll let the sports labor veteran I spoke with Wednesday take it from there.

"You curse each other out, go to marriage counseling, then blow the house up and stay away from each other for a while," the person said. "And you bring everybody back together when the bills come due. There's a deal to be made in there, but not now. No way."

With eight days before the current labor agreement expires, union officials will meet Thursday with player representatives of all 30 teams and as many as 20 other players who have elected to attend. Hunter said union officials will then determine what, if any, counterproposal to make in Friday’s scheduled bargaining session – likely the last one before the owners’ full Board of Governors convenes Tuesday in Dallas, where Hunter said he expects a lockout vote to occur.

“I’m sure that there’s going to be a vote,” Hunter said. “Whether or not they lock out, that’s going to be up to them. We’ve been threatened with that for the last two years … so I’m assuming that, from their perspective, (June 30) is the drop-dead date.”

Hunter and Fisher explained how they arrived at their offer of a more than $100 million-a-year salary reduction in their five-year proposal, saying it amounts to 57 percent of what Fisher described as the owners’ “true losses” – the same share of BRI they currently receive. By the players’ estimation, the owners’ $300 million annual loss figure is actually less than $200 million when interest expenses are deducted. Hunter stopped short of calling it an ambush, but he and the players clearly were blindsided when Stern characterized this offer as “modest.”

“I guess at this stage, the question is to what extent are they willing to kill this thing,” Hunter said of the owners.

Hunter also said owners have proposed adding $900 million to the $600 million that currently is deducted from gross revenues before the money is shared with the players, bringing the total to $1.5 billion under the owners’ proposal.

And a key sticking point remains the fact that owners have refused to collectively bargain a revamped revenue-sharing plan, an area the owners believe should be kept separate from the negotiations. Hunter referred to a group of small-market owners who wrote a memo to Stern in 2007 asking for enhanced revenue sharing, saying the fight is between small- and big-market owners as much as it is between owners and players.

“They have not disclosed to us one iota of what their proposed revenue-sharing plan would look like,” Hunter said. “… We want the assurance that it’s not all coming off the backs of the players.”

Hunter again derided the owners’ offer of a flat $2 billion pay scale for 10 years, saying the players would not regain the $2.17 billion level of salary and benefits they received for the 2010-11 season until the 10th year of the owners’ proposal. The union is projecting 4-5 percent annual revenue growth for the league over the next decade, a figure that is expected to rise after the current broadcast and digital rights agreements with ABC/ESPN and TNT expire in 2016.

Hunter was careful to stop short of saying the negotiations are at an “impasse,” a legal term that would signal that talks have irretrievably broken down – paving the way for a lockout, possible decertification of the union, and an antitrust lawsuit similar to the case filed by the NFL Players Association.

“We’re not at an impasse because there’s so many issues that we haven’t discussed,” Hunter said. “We’ve gotten stuck on economics.”

Asked if he trusts Stern to negotiate a fair deal, Hunter said, “We’re engaged in hard-knuckle negotiations. It ain’t about trust.”

“We have an idea what we’re willing to do and what he’s willing to do,” Hunter said. “And what we’ve indicated to them is that the perception is that it’s really becoming a game of power vs. power. And right now, I think that they feel as though they have the leverage or the upper hand.”
Posted on: May 8, 2011 6:38 pm
Edited on: May 8, 2011 6:54 pm
 

Lakers' run ends in disgrace

What a disgrace. 

The career of the most decorated, accomplished coach in NBA history … the relentless pursuit of a sixth title by Kobe Bryant, the greatest champion in the sport since Michael Jordan … any shred of dignity the Lakers might’ve left Dallas with Sunday after an embarrassing sweep … all of it crumbled under the weight of a colossal humiliation and dishonor put forth by the two-time defending champions. 

Losing is one thing. Getting swept is another. Getting sent home in an utterly uncompetitive blowout is even worse. But nothing is more disgusting than champions acting like punks. Nothing is more embarrassing than a team that cannot lose with dignity. 

The revolting episode that was most likely Phil Jackson’s final game as a coach will have far-reaching implications. This 122-86 debacle, and the deplorable behavior that went along with it, is the kind of loss whose aftershocks last for months, if not years. 

We already knew this would be a very different Lakers team next season, even if they’d won a third straight title. We already knew there would be a new coach. And this is the NBA; there are usually some new players. 

But this sudden, thorough, and inexplicable descent into dysfunction and depravity will not go unpunished. 

Lamar Odom, and particularly Andrew Bynum, will never be able to repay Jackson for shaming him this way. Bynum, a positive force during much of the series, doesn’t deserve to wear a Lakers uniform again after his unconscionable cheap shot to a defenseless, airborne J.J. Barea in the fourth quarter of a 30-point humiliation. There’s no place for that regardless of the victim, but Bynum violated the No. 1 rule of the schoolyard (where he belongs) and the NBA: Pick on someone your own size. Only punks and losers take aim at those half their size. 

The fact that Bynum needed Ron Artest – involved in one of the most notorious behavioral incidents in NBA history – to escort him past the Mavericks’ bench and toward the locker room told you everything you needed to know. At least Artest’s gesture proved that that Lakers’ team bond hadn’t completely eroded. In a sick way, Artest sticking up for a teammate who’d done something so cowardly was the only evidence that there was anything at all left of these Lakers as currently constructed. 

Championship caliber teams sometimes win in the playoffs, and sometimes they lose. Sometimes they lose like the ’91 Pistons, who walked out before time expired in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Bulls. Sometimes, they lose like the Spurs, who have never sacrificed an ounce of their professionalism for some twisted, macho moment that lasts but a second but stains your reputation forever. 

The Lakers, at the end for Jackson and near the end for Bryant, have managed to put themselves in the company of disgraced champions – those who don’t engender or deserve the respect of the generations. Big changes for the Lakers are now not only likely and expected, but also necessary, even mandatory. Say good-bye to Hollywood, say good-bye to the babies who couldn’t lose like champions. Shame on them, and good luck to the professionals they will leave behind to try to resurrect the Lakers’ proud history. 

Whatever uniform he is wearing in October, or whenever the NBA resumes, Bynum will be watching from his hotel room at a Four Seasons somewhere because he’ll most certainly be suspended. His actions will be suspended in time, serving as a lesson for every one of his contemporaries who play this game. 

We can only hope the Celtics and Heat were watching this. One of them will lose that series, and whoever it is will have an obligation to lift basketball out of the gutter the Lakers abandoned it in on Sunday.
 
 
 
 
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