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NBA players face stark choices

11.11.11 at 10:50 am ET

The NBA lockout has come to down to this, apparently: The owners have made a revised proposal that offers a 50-50 split of the revenues and included minor adjustments from their previous offer, and the union will meet with player reps early next week to consider its options.

If the answer from the union is yes, then the NBA will go ahead with a 72-game schedule beginning on Dec. 15. The start of the playoffs would be pushed back a week, but considering the league would have already lost six weeks, a 72-game season in that time frame would be roughly similar to the 50-game sprint marathon of 1999. The Celtics, for example, would have played 20 games by Dec. 15.

If the answer from the union is no, then NBA commissioner David Stern indicated that the league will once again pull back the offer and revert back to a hard-line offer of a 47 percent split of the revenue and a structure the league calls a “flex cap” but is really hard a hard cap, and that’s a position the players won’t accept.

The key word is “apparently,” because throughout the process the NBA keeps issuing ultimatums and then backing off, but this time (really) feels different. “We have made our revised proposal, and we’re not planning to make another one,” Stern said.

It was clear Thursday night that the union wanted to keep negotiating because the owners’ offer is not an easy sell to its members. The details are important, and Ken Berger of CBS Sports outlined them here.

“I understand from the union’s standpoint it’s a difficult pill to swallow right now,” deputy commissioner Adam Silver said. “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.”

Silver continues to try to frame the issue as one of competitive balance, even though it has been proven time and time again, that there is little, if any, correlation between payroll and success on the court. What it really comes down to is power and control. The balance of power shifted in recent years to the players, and the owners want it back.

This is not a good deal for the players. They would be giving back approximately $280 million in salaries annually, which would essentially cover the NBA’s reported losses, and also be relinquishing a significant amount of control in terms of player movement. The union has said it would like a trade-off between salaries and system issues, and the NBA has effectively refused to bargain in that manner.

However, this may be the best deal the players can get if there is to be a season. Their other option, assuming the NBA doesn’t budge again, is to follow through with a decertification process that could ultimately land everyone in court.

Yahoo! Sports reported Thursday night that agents already have acquired 200 signatures for a petition to submit to the National Labor Relations Board requesting a vote to dissolve the union. That process typically takes 45-60 days, and the union could continue to negotiate during that period.

The decertification process is complex. Tulane law professor Gabe Feldman outlined the scenarios here. It’s worth reading Feldman’s full post, but here is one important takeaway:

Although antitrust litigation is painfully slow, expensive, and unpredictable, the mere threat of decertification followed by antitrust litigation might cause the owners to move at the bargaining table. In other words, the owners might be willing to make concessions at the bargaining table to avoid the inherent uncertainty of antitrust litigation. Of course, decertification might have the opposite effect. The owners, wary of setting a precedent of caving at the bargaining table when the players threaten to decertify, might dig in their heels even further and call the players’ decertification bluff. This could lead to the ultimate lose-lose situation–the NBA season is canceled while the NBA owners fight the NBA players in court.

Union chief Billy Hunter said that players reps would meet either Monday or Tuesday in New York to discuss their options, and if you’re wondering why it would take that long, you’re not alone. The time frame will allow for heated rhetoric and more threats, but this is also a situation that demands careful thought.

The consequences, as Stern said way back in September, are enormous. This time, he may actually mean it, and the players are facing a difficult decision.

Read More: Billy Hunter, David Stern, NBA lockout,
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