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Tag:National Basketball Players Association
Posted on: November 11, 2011 6:17 pm
Edited on: November 11, 2011 7:14 pm
 

Player support for owners' plan dwindles

NEW YORK -- Support among players and agents for the owners' revised collective bargaining proposal appears to be lower than it was for the previous offer, and approximately half the union membership is expected to sign decertification petitions in a show of defiance, multiple people involved in the process told CBSSports.com Friday.

"This isn't going to fly," said one formerly moderate agent now on board with the movement to decertify and vote down the owners' latest ultimatum proposal -- if it goes up for a vote at all.

At least 15-20 agents representing an array of agencies held a conference call Friday to plot their next strategy as players and their representatives angered by the proposal prepared to submit the decertification cards to the National Labor Relations Board seeking an election to dissolve the union.

The NLRB almost certainly wouldn't authorize an election unless the National Basketball Players Association withdrew its unfair labor practices charge against the NBA -- something union officials are not believed to be considering, as an NLRB complaint remains the most ironclad chance for a federal injunction lifting the lockout, legal sources said.

Even if the NLRB charge were dropped, an election would still take 45-60 days to schedule. In the meantime, negotiations between the league and union leadership could continue. The pressure perhaps would be shifted to the owners to modify their proposals if they are serious about having the 72-game season that Stern promised Thursday night, complete with Christmas Day games and a regularly scheduled All-Star weekend, if the players approved the existing offer.

In addition to the seven major agencies that have been clamoring for decertification for months, several other previously moderate agencies have joined the movement, sources told CBSSports.com.

"They've lost me," said one of the previously moderate agents. "Three months ago, we thought this would be done. We thought people would be reasonable."

The owners' lack of significant movement on key system issues in their revised proposal, plus new, still-to-be-negotiated requests viewed by the players and agents as draconian, make the chances of players voting for the proposal -- or player reps even recommending it for a vote -- extremely unlikely, sources said.

The new proposal, one of the agents said, is "probably as bad, if not worse than the last proposal."

Union executives are bringing the 30 team player reps to New York Monday or Tuesday to evaluate the latest proposal from the league, delivered Thursday night once again with the threat that if the players rejected it, they would be faced with a worse offer. Commissioner David Stern said the latest proposal, which contains a 50-50 split of revenues, would be replaced by the so-called "reset" proposal in which players would receive 47 percent of revenues and be constrained by a flex cap with a hard team payroll ceiling and a rollback of existing contracts.

In the revised proposal, the owners made the following moves toward the players' position:

* Increase the mid-level exception for luxury tax-paying teams to three-year deals starting at $3 million, available every year. The previous proposal called for mid-level deals for tax teams to be for two years starting at $2.5 million and available every other year.

* Allow tax-payers to execute sign-and-trade transactions for the first two years of the agreement. Such trades would be banned for tax teams after that. They were completely banned for tax-payers in the prior proposal.

* Create a new, $2.5 million exception that can be used by teams that are under the cap. It would allow teams that previously only had cap space to sign a minimum salary player to offer more.

* Increase the team payroll floor (i.e. minimum team salary) to 90 percent of the cap in the third year of the deal and 85 percent in the first two years. It was 85 percent across the entire agreement in the previous proposal, and 75 percent in the prior CBA.

* Increase annual raises for Bird free agents to 6.5 percent, up from 5.5 percent in the prior proposal. Non-Bird players' annual raises remain capped at 3.5 percent, as in the previous proposal. In the prior CBA, Bird raises were capped at 10.5 percent and non-Bird at 8 percent.

* Increase qualifying offers to restricted free agents.

* Allow player options in contracts for players making less than the average league salary. In the previous proposal, player options were banned. There were no restrictions on player options in the previous CBA.

* Accept the union's proposal that each side be able to opt out of the 10-year CBA after the sixth year. 

But union officials and agents were disappointed that the league did not address the so-called tax cliff, by which teams are double-penalized for barely wading above the tax line, and they disagree with the league's position that mid-level restrictions would be in place if the signing pushed the team's payroll above the tax. The players want teams to be able to use the exception as long as they are under the tax line before the signing occurs.

"We'll try in court, because it can't get worse than this," one of the formerly moderate agents said. "... The owners are selling players short on their intelligence, and they're definitely selling their representatives short."

The introduction of a series of B-list issues -- drug testing in the offseason, an age-limit of 20, and a provision that would allow teams to send players to the D-League during the first five years of their careers and make substantially less than the NBA minimum -- formed a rallying point for players and agents who formerly were open to considering the league's proposal to become unified against it. League officials said Friday that these B-list issues are not in the owners' written proposal, and that both sides agreed to "park" them to be discussed after there is agreement on the framework of the major issues.




Posted on: November 11, 2011 1:20 am
Edited on: November 11, 2011 2:25 am
 

Stern offers 72-game season, few alternatives

NEW YORK -- The NBA made its last offer that will contain a 50 percent revenue share for the players Thursday night, and commissioner David Stern shifted the pressure to the union by tantalizingly attaching the possibility of a 72-game season starting Dec. 15.

"There comes a time when you have to be through negotiating, and we are," Stern said.

The players, expressing disappointment that the league did not respond with more system compromises after they'd signaled their willingness to accept a 50-50 revenue split, will bring the proposal to their player reps Monday or Tuesday to see if they will recommend the proposal to the union membership for a vote.

"The idea ... is to sit down with them and say, ‘You sent us out to get something, here’s what we’re coming back with,'" said Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association. "'Now let’s sit down and decide what our next option is, what are we going to do.'"

The players' options are few, and none of them particularly appealing. They can put the deal to a vote, and if passed, they would be locked into a proposal that is an unmitigated victory for the owners -- one that shifts $3 billion over 10 years from the players to the owners and also dramatically restricts the rules governing team payrolls, player contracts and player movement. If the player reps tell the union leadership they want to reject the proposal, then Stern said the league's negotiating position will revert to a 47 percent share of revenues for the players along with a hard team salary cap and rollbacks of existing contracts -- the so-called "reset" proposal whose introduction at 5 p.m. Wednesday was delayed while the two parties bargained for 23 hours over the past two days.

"We have made our revised proposal," Stern said, "and we're not planning to make another one."  

Another outcome likely will begin to unfold Friday before the union even decides whether to accept the proposal -- and would continue to progress regardless of the outcome of next week's player rep meeting: Agents dissatisfied with the deal the union has negotiated and the intransigence of league negotiators already have more than 200 signatures on decertification petitions which are ready to be submitted to the National Labor Relations Board requesting a vote to dissolve the union, according to a person familiar with the plans.

Such a move would threaten to torpedo whatever support there is among the union membership to approve the owners' offer, and if it resulted in the players deciding not to vote on the proposal or voting it down, could throw the 2 1-2 year negotiations into the chaos of an anti-trust lawsuit -- virtually guaranteeing that the 2011-12 season would be lost.

If the player reps recommend that the rank-and-file vote on the owners' offer, that process could be accomplished within a matter of days -- as could approval by the owners' Board of Governors. A decertification vote would not be scheduled by the NLRB for about 45-60 days -- if the agency authorizes the vote at all. Typically, it does not do so when there is a pending unfair labor practices charge filed by employees.

Ultimately, the purpose of a decertification effort is securing an injunction or temporary restraining order from a federal judge as the result of an anti-trust lawsuit, which also would subject the league to the possibility of treble damages -- triple the players' economic losses resulting from the lockout. A faster route to the same outcome would be if union leaders stepped down via a disclaimer of interest, but that method faces a more difficult legal test in court.

If the owners' proposal passed, a new 72-game schedule would be drawn up -- deputy commissioner Adam Silver said those logistics already have been handled -- and a breakneck, one- or two-week free agency period would ensue along with shortened training camps and a limited preseason schedule. The marquee Christmas Day games would be preserved, and All-Star weekend would occur as scheduled Feb. 24-26 in Orlando.

"I'm hoping personally that's where we are now and we can get back to playing," Silver said. "But I understand from the union's standpoint it's a difficult pill to swallow right now. But that, once again, over time, we'll be proven right and this will be a better league for the players, the teams and the fans."

Union president Derek Fisher, sitting next to Hunter with several forlorn committee members standing behind him, seemed to hold out hope for a replay of what transpired over the past few days -- when the players successfully stopped the clock on Stern's Wednesday ultimatum to accept his previous proposal. After meeting with the reps, Fisher said the plan would be "either continue to negotiate currently from where we are or realize that maybe the NBA, this is their last, best offer and we’ll have to make decisions accordingly at that point."

Stern, who spoke with reporters after Fisher and Hunter, made it clear that the only choice was the one behind curtain No. 2.

"The negotiations are over," Stern said. "The negotiations on this proposal are over." 

Like most moves the league has made in the negotiations, which hit Day No. 133 Thursday since the lockout was imposed July 1, the characterization of this proposal as "revised" was a stretch, according to multiple people familiar with it. Among the tweaks to the unresolved system issues entering the past two days of talks, the owners agreed to increase the mid-level exception for luxury tax-paying teams to three-year deals starting at $3 million. The exception, which was for two years starting at $2.5 million under the previous proposal, would be available every other year for teams above the tax threshold.

Though full details of the owners' revisions weren't crystallized Thursday night, it is believed that they agreed to make sign-and-trade transactions available to tax-paying teams with certain restrictions and make other minor revisions to issues the players indicated they needed changed in return for their economic concession from 51 percent of BRI to 50: the luxury tax "cliff" that affects teams that wade into the tax and the repeater tax for teams that stay above the tax threshold for a third time in five years.

Given that teams have only remained over the tax that long seven times since the luxury tax was introduced in 2005, according to NBA TV, the issue wasn't one of substantial concern Thursday, according to sources in the negotiating room.

However, some new issues came to the forefront that concerned the players' negotiators when it became clear that the league's proposal would restrict teams from using a full mid-level exception -- four-year deals starting at $5 million -- if the signing itself pushed the team over the tax. Union negotiators want the mid-level restriction to kick in only if the team already is above the tax line before it uses the exception. The league's version is the one that is in the current proposal, according to a person who has seen it.

Nonetheless, Stern characterized the league's movement -- with the backing of labor relations committee chairman Peter Holt and the full committee, which was consulted via phone Thursday night -- as "several well-intentioned efforts to move to them on a variety of concerns."

But it is clear that chaos would ensue, not to mention catastrophic economic damage to both owners and players, if the proposal is rejected. As a result, Stern and Silver will have to consider whether their owners pushed too hard and tried to extract too thorough a victory -- one that would quickly be transformed into a loss for all sides if the deal is not one that can be sold to the players and agents who already are prepared to blow up the union.

"We moved as far as we could move," Stern said.

Despite the losses incurred by the players, not the least of which is an average $300 million-a-year giveback that absolves all the losses the league said it was suffering, the union did preserve several system provisions that would evaporate if the league reverted to its 47 percent proposal next week. Among the most important items, the union fought off the league's attempt to impose a hard team salary cap and maintained the structure of max contracts. And although the players would give back $3 billion over 10 years, with a conservative estimate of 4.5 percent annual revenue growth, player salaries would grow to nearly $3 billion by the 10th year of the deal.

And while salaries and benefits would stay flat at approximately $2.17 billion for the first two years of the deal, that provision would allow the league to keep the salary cap ($58 million) and luxury-tax level ($70 million) unchanged until adjustments for the new system would take hold in the third year.

"It’s not the greatest proposal in the world ... but I have an obligation to at least present it to our membership," Hunter said. "And so that’s what we’re going to do. We’ve got members of our executive board standing behind us, and they all agreed that we needed to sit down and discuss it with all of the reps and collectively decide what it is we should do."

Even if the players agree to the framework of the deal, Hunter said there are at least 30-40 so-called B-list issues that need to be resolved -- among them, the age limit, drug testing, player disciplinary measures and work rules such as practice schedules and days off. In addition, some players and agents will resist the notion of player salaries this season being prorated to 72/82nds based on a reduced schedule that resulted from the owners imposing a lockout -- especially since the big revenue generators like Christmas Day games, All-Star weekend and playoffs will be preserved.


 
Posted on: November 10, 2011 8:37 pm
Edited on: November 11, 2011 2:40 am
 

Progress on mid-level, but other hurdles emerge

NEW YORK -- Negotiators for the league and players' association made modest progress on the use of the mid-level exception for luxury tax-paying teams Thursday, but other guidelines governing exceptions and the tax level emerged as a new sticking point, three people briefed on the labor talks told CBSSports.com.

One of the people said league negotiators signaled a willingness to raise the so-called "mini mid-level" to three years starting at $3 million for teams above the luxury-tax level, to be available every other year. The previous offer was a two-year deal starting at $2.5 million, available every other year to tax teams. There was no indication union negotiators were ready to agree to this slight improvement in the owners' proposal, as it would reduce the mid-level exception for tax teams from last year's five-year, $37 million total to three years and $9 million for teams above the tax line.

UPDATE: After conferring with owners on the labor relations committee, commissioner David Stern was prepared to deliver a revised proposal to the union Thursday night based on the deal points negotiated over the past two days, a person with knowledge of the plans confirmed to CBSSports.com. The revised proposal, first reported by Yahoo Sports, was not the so-called "reset" proposal threatened if talks broke down, the person said.

Also Thursday, a new hurdle emerged in the discussion over when teams would face the new restrictions owners are proposing for teams above the luxury tax threshold. Two of the people briefed on the talks said owners were pushing for teams under the tax at the time of the transaction to be restricted from using the full mid-level -- four-year deals starting at $5 million -- if the signing put the team over the tax. In that case, the team would be restricted to use of the mini mid-level. Union negotiators want the new restrictions to be based on where a team's payroll sits in relation to the tax prior to the use of the exception -- not where it stands afterward.

After a 12-hour session Wednesday produced minimal progress, the two sides pushed past the eight-hour mark Thursday with the threat looming that league negotiators would pull their existing offer off the table and replace it with a worse one. The new offer, originally scheduled to be furnished to the players at 5 p.m. Wednesday but delayed due to the ongoing talks, would have featured a 53-47 economic split in favor of the owners and also would include a hard team salary cap and rollbacks of existing contracts. The two sides currently are negotiating off a league proposal that would give the players a 50 percent share of revenue and maintain a soft-cap system -- albeit with a vastly more onerous luxury tax system, more restrictions on exceptions, shorter contracts and smaller annual raises.

On Tuesday, union officials held a meeting with more than 40 players, including 29 team player reps, and signaled a willingness to meet the NBA on its 50-50 economic split provided that a list of five or six system-related issues could be resolved to the players' satisfaction. One of the roadblocks in the talks, according to multiple people involved in the process, is that players who previously did not realize how severe the owners' proposal was had become emboldened to push for significant concessions on the remaining system points. Even if and when a deal is reached, agents who have long opposed the concessions delivered to the league by union negotiators will be advising their clients to review the proposal closely and vote against it if it isn't substantially different than what the players learned about Tuesday.

"The players aren't going to be hoodwinked on this one," one such agent told CBSSports.com.






Posted on: November 10, 2011 3:19 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2011 4:05 pm
 

Bill Russell: Hard-liners jeopardizing NBA

NEW YORK – Hall of Famer Bill Russell said a solution to the NBA lockout is being jeopardized by hard-liners on both sides, and urged the parties to put aside their differences and reach a compromise “they can live with.”

“As a very interested bystander, I just hope they get a deal,” Russell told CBSSports.com in a phone interview. “And it will not come from the hard-liners on either side. I think they all know that. I have this theory that hard-liners are like true believers. And true believers think that any compromise is a retreat. And moving forward, that doesn’t cut it.”

Russell’s words carry weight – and not just because he is the most decorated champion in NBA history. The former Celtics’ star was among a group of 20 All-Stars who threatened to boycott the 1964 All-Star Game in Boston unless the NBA recognized the newly formed players’ union.

“Basically I was one of those guys that helped get the players’ association started,” Russell said. “And they've done wonderful things. I knew David Stern before he was commissioner, when he was associate attorney for the NBA. And if I remember correctly, he said, ‘I do not consider the players' association my adversaries. They're my business partners.’

“That's where, a lot of the things that David has done -- and I’ve known him up close -- have been beneficial for both sides,” Russell said.

Russell, 77, winner of 11 NBA titles, wanted to speak with CBSSports.com after he learned of union attorney Jeffrey Kessler’s comments in which he referred to NBA players being treated like “plantation workers.” Kessler, who made the comments to the Washington Post Monday night, apologized to several outlets Wednesday.

“I think that's an invalid accusation,” Russell said. “I think the whole deal is not about black and white. It's about money, OK? I don’t see any signs of being greedy. It's a typical negotiation and that's all it is. And there are a couple of reasons it's difficult, because there's hard-liners on both sides.

“But to me, the name-calling or vilifying the other side is a non-issue,” Russell said. “All that is is a distraction -- a distraction from the task at hand, which is reaching an agreement that neither side will probably be completely happy with. But that's the art of compromise.”

Russell said both sides “have their points,” but he views the key stumbling blocks as owners as trying to “protect themselves from the owners” and a battle between “the small-market teams and the big-market teams.”

“The players want their fair share of the business and the small-market owners don't want to keep losing money,” Russell said.

Russell said he hasn’t kept up with the details of the negotiation, but cautioned both sides that there’s “more to the agreement than just money.”

“I told Billy Hunter a few years ago: Bargain as hard as you can and make a deal,’” Russell said. “I really like and respect David Stern, and I really like and respect Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher. My whole life I've had a love affair with the NBA, and we've had some tough negotiations over the years. But I don’t think we ever vilified the other side. We just had tough negotiations.”

I thanked Russell for his input, wished him well, and told him I hoped to see him soon – at a basketball game.

“I'd like to see a basketball game right now,” he said.
Posted on: November 10, 2011 2:19 am
Edited on: November 10, 2011 2:35 am
 

'Not failing, not succeeding' ... and not dealing

NEW YORK -- The clock is stopped. Has the progress stopped, too?

After a 12-hour bargaining session that blew past an artificial deadline imposed by the league to reach a deal or pull its 50-50 proposal off the table, negotiators for the NBA and its players' association will convene again Thursday with what commissioner David Stern described as a "copious" list of issues to resolve.

"There are many other issues, many other issues of importance," Stern said early Thursday, referring to issues in addition to the handful of unresolved system points on which the two sides failed to make significant progress -- even after the players had signaled a willingness to meet the league on the economics of a 50-50 split of revenues.

"It just behooves us to make sure that all of those issues are put on the table, together with all of the system issues, together with the economic split, and see whether there can emerge from that rather lengthy list the ability to make a deal," Stern said. "Right now ... we're not failing and we're not succeeding."

Though union officials disputed the media's characterization of their economic stance, it was clear after Tuesday's players' meeting that the players were open to coming down from their previous offer in which they'd proposed receiving a 51 percent share of basketball-related income (BRI). Union president Derek Fisher had made clear that, in return for that willingness to negotiate further on the economics, it was expected that the league relax its position on several system-related deal points -- chiefly dealing with additional penalties for repeat offenders above the luxury tax, a prohibition of sign-and-trade transactions for tax teams, and the size, length and frequency of mid-level signings for tax teams.

But despite another dose of optimism in the agent and front-office community that the two sides were moving closer to a deal Wednesday, Fisher said there was "not as much (flexibiity) as we'd like" from league negotiators on the system issues.

"Obviously, we'd have a deal done if the right flexibiity was being shown," Fisher said. The bargaining session was arranged by Hunter and Stern after the players stared down the league's threat to replace its 50-50 offer with a 53-47 split in favor of the owners by 5 p.m. Wednesday. The so-called "reset" proposal also would revert to a hard salary cap and a rollback of existing contracts -- both elements of previous league proposals that had been negotiated away -- along with a litany of other draconian measures.

Stern said the league did not revert to that proposal Wednesday, but that it would happen whenever the current negotiating session came to an end if there was no deal.

"We weren't, in the middle of discussions, going to say, 'OK, we shouldn't have taken that break. Stop the clock, it's all over,'" Stern said. "We're trying to demonstrate our good faith and I think that the union is trying to demonstrate its good faith."

But the league's position Wednesday on the system elements the players have said they need in order to justify a 50-50 economic split -- which would shift $3 billion to the owners over 10 years and account for all $300 million in the league's stated annual losses -- was not one that siginified a give-and-take approach.

"They don't want to give," a person briefed on the talks said. "They just want to take."

The key point entering this latest round of talks -- perhaps the last round before either a deal is struck or the process is launched into the chaos of union decertification and anti-trust action -- was whether league negotiatiors would concede enough on the remaining system elements to create a deal that the union leadership can feel comfortabe presenting to its approximately 450 players for a vote.

But a comment from deputy commissioner Adam Silver painted a sobering portrait of defiance.

"The competitive issues are independent of the economic issues," Silver said. "Our goal is to have a system in which all 30 teams are competing for championships and, if well managed, they have an opportunity to break even or make a profit. We don't see the ability to break even or make a profit as a tradeoff for the ability to field a competitive team. All of those issues are still in place."
Posted on: November 9, 2011 11:53 am
Edited on: November 9, 2011 12:57 pm
 

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go

NEW YORK -- In a lockout during which most days have been hideous for the players, this one had gone surprisingly well.

They'd presented a united front, made clear to David Stern's owners that they can have their 50 percent already and expertly shifted the pressure of this $4 billion fiasco back to their opposition.

By accepting the economic terms of the owners' offer Tuesday, the players were saying this to the world: If there's no deal Wednesday, Thursday or soon, it won't be because we weren't willing to compromise. It'll be because $3.3 billion over 10 years isn't enough for the owners. It'll be because the NBA wants to hold things up over some obscure system mechanisms that most fans can't relate to -- and for which clear compromises are available.

But here's the thing: Even on what had been a brilliant day for the players, it wasn't such a brilliant day -- for the same reason their days have grown increasingly miserable during this lockout. A great day, one that could go down as ultimately triggering the end of the lockout, was overshadowed by more unfortunate, divisive venom from the union's outside counsel and lead negotiator, Jeffrey Kessler.

Kessler, whose exploding-head theatrics and over-the-top rhetoric had twice contributed to significant blow-ups of the talks recently, told the Washington Post in an interview that occurred before the players' meeting and news conference Tuesday that the NBA was treating players like "plantation workers." No, really, he did.

“To present that in the context of ‘take it or leave it,’ in our view, that is not good faith,” Kessler told the Post in a telephone interview Monday night. “Instead of treating the players like partners, they’re treating them like plantation workers.”

Not only did this verbal assault lack cleverness -- it's a variation on the term commentator Bryant Gumbel had used to defame Stern recently, drawing universal scorn and ridicule -- but it was also offensive. It was not only offensive to Stern, but also to Kessler's clients, 80 percent of whom are black.

Once again, Kessler had poured the kind of needless gasoline on the lockout's smoldering fire, just as he's been doing for weeks.

“Kessler’s agenda is always to inflame and not to make a deal,” Stern said in a response to the Post. “Even if it means injecting race and thereby insulting his own clients. . . . He has been the single most divisive force in our negotiations and it doesn’t surprise me he would rant and not talk about specifics. Kessler’s conduct is routinely despicable.”

So you know what? At this important hour in the talks, a moment when the two sides are coming together at 1 p.m. in Manhattan to try to save the season, let's do something far more productive than Kessler shooting off his mouth and dragging this out for more lawsuits and billable hours.

Let's tell him to button up, get out of the negotiating room and hit the road.

Kessler, the union's lead negotiator and the lockout's chief destabilizer, need not show up at that meeting Wednesday. He needs to be fired.

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Kessler told me on the phone Wednesday, even as the league and union were arranging the bargaining session. “But anybody who actually knows what my role has been in these and other negotiations, it has been to work and strive towards a deal. That’s what I’ve always done and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

But all the evidence is to the contrary, and Kessler’s apologies Wednesday – released individually to various news outlets as opposed to en masse from the NBPA – didn’t change that.

“The comments that I made to the Washington Post took place late Monday night after a very long day,” Kessler said. “I look back on those comments as reported and I realize my choice of words was inappropriate. I am sorry about that. I intend to call commissioner Stern and apologize for my inappropriate choice of words.

“I made these comments as a passionate advocate for the players, but I can understand that they can be misinterpreted and viewed as being offensive,” Kessler said. “At this point, we need to put any distractions aside and work to try to get a deal to save the NBA season.”

Perfect advice, to put distractions aside – starting with Kessler. The NBPA should take Kessler’s advice and put him aside

“I did not intend to make any statement that would be interpreted as suggesting any type of racial issue,” Kessler said. “I don’t even remember if the comments were on the record or off the record, but in any event, my use of those words in that context was inappropriate.”

So Kessler had his say, and now I have mine: Go offend somebody else. Go bill somebody else. The players have paid you enough, and have paid enough for your inflammatory tactics that benefit only you.

When union executive director Billy Hunter sees Stern Wednesday, he should open the conversation with an apology on Kessler's behalf. Then, he should deliver news that will be music to the commissioner's ears: "We are no longer retaining Mr. Kessler's services."

Watch Stern skip from Olympic Tower to the East Side hotel where they’re bargaining. Watch how fast a deal gets done.

Let me be clear: Kessler shouldn't be fired only for bringing a plantation reference into the labor talks, or for having the poor taste to allude in any way to professional athletes being comparable to slaves. This was merely the last straw, the final indignity for players who are being led down a divisive, destructive path that has benefited Kessler and his law firm, Dewey & LeBoeuf, more than anybody.

Kessler is the same attorney, and Dewey & LeBoeuf the same firm, that represented the NFL players during their recent lockout. The NFLPA let Kessler play bad cop for a while, but union chief DeMaurice Smith recognized that he was too emotional and needed to take a back seat when it came time for a deal to get done.

Finally, it is that time in the NBA talks. Time for Kessler to step aside.

Having closed what was once a $10 billion economic gap with the owners over 10 years, the players don't need any more rhetoric. And they don't need Kessler's divisive tactics, offensive speech, and quite simply, annoying presence in the bargaining room. The deal is 99 percent done, the players won't be needing Kessler's services for a decertification lawsuit, and he should simply go away before he blows things up again.

After the two most recent implosions of the talks, Kessler stepped to the microphone and fanned the flames. After a meeting that broke down over system issues, Kessler said the talks had been "hijacked," and spun a fantastic fairy tale about how Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen had torpedoed the negotiations -- even though all he did was sit in the room and, unlike Kessler, not say a word.

Then on Sunday morning, at a time that called for decorum and a delicate touch to cleverly turn Stern's ultimatum right back on him, Kessler went bazookas again. He called the owners' tactics "threats" and "intimidation," and characterized Stern's portrayal of the league's proposal "a fraud."

Even some hard-line members of the union leadership have grown uncomfortable with Kessler’s flame-throwing approach.

If Kessler missteps this frequently and spectacularly during his brief encounters with reporters, just imagine how bad it gets when he's in a room yelling at Stern and his billionaire owners – and vice versa -- for 16 hours at a time.

The job of a lawyer is to advocate aggressively for his clients. But while I've accused Stern of speaking with a forked tongue, and accused the league's lead negotiator, Adam Silver, of double talk -- and while I fundamentally believe that the owners are pushing for way too much here -- Stern and Silver have at least conducted themselves professionally in public. Kessler? He's been professional, all right. A professional wrecking ball.

Kessler is right: The players can't afford any more distractions that could imperil this deal. Unfortunately, I'm not optimistic that the union will take my advice and kick Kessler to the curb, the way he was kicked to the curb late in the NFL negotiations. The union, to its discredit, decided not to issue its own apology for Kessler's offensive comments. When I asked Kessler if he had any intentions of stepping aside, he said, “Absolutely not. If you knew the real dynamics in the negotiating room, you wouldn’t say that.”

But that doesn't change the fact that it's time for Dr. Doom to go.

There are level-headed, respectable professionals on the union’s negotiating team, and they will take it from here. Hunter, Derek Fisher and general counsel Ron Klempner are more than capable of closing the deal. Klempner is the one writing the union's proposals, anyway, has the best grasp of the subject matter, and has consistently displayed the kind of reason and spirit of compromise that is conducive to getting a deal done.

Kessler? You can go find some more people to offend, more athletes to prey on, and more hours to bill. Your services, and your inflammatory tactics, are no longer needed here.

To borrow the signature phrase of the lockout, how u? Or better yet, how u sleep at night?
Posted on: November 8, 2011 8:53 pm
Edited on: November 8, 2011 9:07 pm
 

Hunter 'cool' with Pierce's decert movement

NEW YORK -- Union chief Billy Hunter said Tuesday he's "cool" with Paul Pierce leading a decertification movement within the National Basketball Players Association and is "not at all opposed" to the Celtics star taking the lead.

"I think Paul is kind of frustrated with the process," Hunter said after a news conference in which the players said they were rejecting the league's latest take-it-or-leave-it proposal. "Paul has been at the bargaining table and he doesn’t feel that we’ve been making any kind of progress. And so he thought that maybe that’s necessary. We don’t have a lot of options and that’s the option Paul was pushing – still is pushing."

Asked in a small group of reporters if he's cool with that, Hunter said, "Of course. Listen, I’m cool with Paul and all these guys. I think it’s very important. I’m happy that Paul and the others are involved in the process. That’s always been the problem with athletes, that a lot of stuff is foisted on them and they have no input. Paul has been actively engaged, he understands, he’s been in five or six of our negotiating sessions, he talks to me, and when they had the (decertification) calls, he called and let me know that they were having the calls. And I said, 'Hey, I'm not at all opposed to you doing that.' ... I endorse what Paul did."

Hunter later said in an interview on NBA TV that Pierce informed him Tuesday that about 200 players have committed to signing a petition seeking a decertification election if a deal is not consummated before commissioner David Stern's 5 p.m. ET Wednesday deadline to accept the owners' latest proposal -- which includes the same 50-50 split of revenues the union is now prepared to accept.

With owners almost certainly following through on their threat to forward a worse proposal to the players if they didn't accept the one on the table, the talks could be thrust into chaos even if Hunter is successful in securing another bargaining session Wednesday. Once the decertification petition is filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the players seeking to dissolve the union would have to wait 45-60 days for the agency to hold an election -- a period during which negotiations with the NBPA could continue.

But given how long Hunter has been waiting for the NLRB to act on the union's unfair labor practices charge, filed in May and amended in July, it's anyone's guess as to whether a decertification threat could be carried out and reach a conclusion in time to save the season. In general, the NLRB does not authorize decertification petitions and or schedule elections while a union has an unfair labor practices charge pending.

"It’s like waiting for the fairy godmother," Hunter said, chiding the NLRB for failing to act on the union's charge, for which a complaint against the NBA could result in a federal injunction lifting the lockout. The NBA subsequently filed am NLRB charge of failing to bargain in good faith against the union, and there's been no action on that one, either.

"I'm hoping that they will get some expedition, particularly if they’re reading in the papers all the things that are happening," Hunter said. "It’s getting hectic on both sides of the table. It’s a federal agency beaurocracy and maybe they think it’s too hot a potato, they don’t want to touch it."

Or just as likely, the NLRB has been hoping the two parties can reach a new collective bargaining agreement on their own without the agency's intervention. If rational minds prevail, that's still possible -- given that the league and union have finally closed what was once a multi-billion-dollar economic gap and have only a handful of system issues, some fairly minor, standing in the way of a deal.



Posted on: November 8, 2011 6:54 pm
Edited on: November 9, 2011 12:54 am
 

Players call Stern's bluff

NEW YORK -- Calling David Stern's bluff with the backing of 29 player reps, the National Basketball Players Association rejected the NBA's latest offer Tuesday and requested an additional negotiating session before the league's self-imposed 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline to accept their proposal or subject themselves to a far worse deal.

"Our orders are clear right now," union president Derek Fisher said, flanked by more than 40 players. "The current offer that is on the table from the NBA is not one we are able to accept."

Billy Hunter, the union's executive director, said he planned to call Stern and request further bargaining in the hopes of closing the gap on a list of at least five system-related issues that are standing in the way of a deal. Stern, speaking on NBA TV Tuesday night, said he "always" takes Hunter's calls.

But there is little if any reason to expect Stern not to follow through on his threat to retract the owners' latest proposal offering the players a 50 percent share of revenues and replace it with a far more punitive one -- including a 53-47 share in favor of the owners, a hard team salary cap, rollbacks of existing contracts, and backtracking on a litany of other system issues the two sides previously had agreed upon.

"We'll just wait and see what it is the league does," Hunter said. "I would assume that if we end up being able to reach a deal -- whether it's reached tomorrow or reached four days from now -- even if they were able to impose this artificial threat of rolling back to 47, I'm convinced that they would more than likely, gladly come back and do the 50-50 deal if that's a possibility."

Hunter and Fisher said little time was spent discussing the issue of decertification, a nuclear tactic that hard-line players and agents have been pushing for the past few weeks. Hunter said the measure, which would effectively dissolve the union in an attempt to pressure the league with the threat of anti-trust damages, was "not a worthwhile endeavor."

Hunter also said he was hearing that, in addition to reverting to a more owner-favorable proposal by Wednesday, Stern also was planning to cancel games through Christmas if a deal isn't reached by 5 p.m. Such cancellation threats are largely immaterial, but there is no question the talks have arrived at a junction that will test the resolve of hard-line owners and invite the potential for chaos if dissident agents and players formalize their push to decertify by getting 30 percent of players to sign a petition to be filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

"It's either going to be a collision of the radicals or a collision of the rationals," a member of the players' executive committee told CBSSports.com.

In addition to Fisher and the rest of the players' executive committee, the meeting was attended by reps for 29 teams, with the biggest star presence being Carmelo Anthony -- whose extend-and-trade arrangement that brought him from Denver to the Knicks last season the owners are seeking to ban in the next CBA.

But neither Melo nor committee member Chris Paul was the biggest star in the building. That was former President Bill Clinton, whose talents for diplomacy are sorely needed.

"I hope it gets worked out because we all want to see basketball," said Clinton, who didn't participate in the meeting but hugged Fisher afterward while handing out to players copies of his new book -- ironically titled, "Back to Work."

The call from Hunter to Stern to reignite the talks and close the gap on essentially a list of five system concerns that the players have was predicated on Hunter and Fisher saying Tuesday that the players are willing to meet the NBA on the economics of a 50-50 split. When talks broke up early Sunday, the players were asking for a 51 percent share of BRI -- with 1 percent going to a benefits fund for players when they retire.

A person directly involved in the negotiations said the union was prepared to go to 50 percent while seeking a creative way to fund a benefits plan for retirees that doesn't come out of the BRI pie.

"I'm the one who's going to call him," Hunter said. "I'll probably call him tonight to see if we can get together some time tomorrow. ... If he says no, I'll just have to deal with that. I'll be denied the opportunity to talk to David."

Hunter said that with a smile and a joking tone, obviously recognizing that this isn't his first rodeo with Stern. He is making a much more serious bet that Stern has room to negotiate further on the system issues, and based Hunter's hunch that an offer from the players to move down to the league's desired 50-50 split would get that done.

With a risk, Hunter acknowledged.

"It's getting hectic on both sides of the table," Hunter said.

Having negotiated with Stern for 15 years, Hunter passed the hot potato right back to him Tuesday with the hope that his longtime bargaining adversary has enough juice to get hard-line owners to look past the obligatory follow up on the threat of worsening the proposal and put NBA players back on the court -- and people in the seats -- with a few system compromises that the players say they need.

I asked Hunter, knowing Stern for as long as he has, how he expected the commissioner to react to having his bluff called Tuesday.

"I don't know that we've ever called his bluff," Hunter said.

"I think you just did," I replied.

"It's yet to be seen," Hunter said. "My concern and what I'm trying to determine is whether or not David may be a hostage in his own camp. That's what kind of concerns me, what's going on over there. He may not have the sway that he once had. He's been a hell of a commissioner, but I'm not sure."

Considering the stakes, and the pressure he faces from the strident wing of the union that wants to decertify, Hunter was in a frisky mood -- even taking a shot at Hall of Famer Michael Jordan when asked what advice he'd give the now-Charlotte Bobcats owner.

"I'd give him the same advice he gave Abe Pollin," Hunter said, referring to Jordan infamous clash with the late owner during the 1998-99 lockout, when Jordan told him to sell his team if he couldn't make a profit. "He should take his own advice."

Rhetoric aside, talks to save the 2011-12 season have reached critical mass, a time when reason is needed more than ever. And regardless of how and when Stern follows through on his threat Wednesday, the wheels already are in motion to bring the two sides together and finish the deal, now that an economic gap that was once nearly $10 billion over 10 years finally has been closed.

According to a person involved in the talks, the players are prepared to submit a proposal to the league with the 50-50 split owners want and the system changes the players need to make the deal more palatable. Over 10 years, the players' proposal will more than account for the owners' stated economic losses of $300 million a year -- shifting $3.3 billion from players to owners compared to the previous 57 percent share the players received.

In return, the players want the owners to come to them on the system issues. Chief among are sign-and-trades and the size and length of mid-level exceptions for luxury-tax-paying teams; a reconfiguring of the luxury tax "cliff" that teams wading into the tax experience by giving up tax money and having to pay it; the severity of the additional luxury tax for repeat offenders; and the escrow system. The latter point involves the league's proposal to roll over 3 percent per year of the escrow they withhold from player paychecks to account for a possible overage in their share of BRI.

"We’re open-minded about potential compromises on our number," Fisher said. "But there are things in the system that are not up for discussion, that we have to have, in order to be able to get this season going again."

But before that happens, prepare for more foot-stomping, more threats, more rhetoric -- and yes, more asshattery.

The owners have a willing accomplice to negotiate with and deliver them more than the $300 million a year in losses they've spent two years seeking. The players have a union that's preserved a soft cap, guaranteed contracts, existing max contract structures and is trying to finish the job by preserving a healthy mid-level exception for all teams and fight off efforts to corral teams as they wade into the tax and stay over it for three out of five years.

Yet some of those players -- as many as 200, according to reports Tuesday night -- are ready to detonate the talks in favor of a decertification tactic that could jeopardize the entire season and, by the way, has never been successful in the history of professional sports.

It all has the potential to blow the deal to high heaven at the very moment when it is on the one-foot line. And given the chaos that will ensue, those very owners may actually enjoy watching that for a while.

Calm before the storm? This is the storm before the calm. A collision of radicals or a collision of rationals.

Or maybe a little bit of both before it's all over.
 
 
 
 
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