NBA players are facing a Wednesday afternoon deadline to accept the league's current proposal or face a harsher one that calls for rolling back their salaries, and Commissioner David Stern said Monday "the only rational thing to do is for us to make that deal."
"We think that there's a great offer on the table and what we told the players is it's getting late, the only rational thing to do is for us to make that deal because given what's going on in our business and our industry, it'll get worse from there," Stern said during an interview on ESPN.
That proposal calls for players to receive anywhere between 49 and 51 per cent of basketball-related income, though players argue it would be nearly impossible for them to get anywhere above 50.2. Stern said the next one will call for a 53-47 split in the owners' favour, along with essentially a hard salary cap.
The second proposal also calls for "existing contracts rolled back in proportion to system changes in order to ensure sufficient market for free agents," a person who has been briefed on its contents told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the contents were supposed to remain private.
The rollbacks were previously reported by CBSSports.com and The New York Times, which obtained a copy of the letter Stern sent to union executive director Billy Hunter on Sunday along with both documents.
The league had sought to roll back existing contracts to conform to a new collective bargaining agreement during an earlier proposal, but had since taken it off the table.
No more than 50-50
Stern set the deadline early Sunday morning after owners and players met for more than eight hours with federal mediator George Cohen. Owners have been insistent on not going beyond a 50-50 split of revenues, though some would prefer the league had already demanded the 53-47 split.
League officials said they lost $300 million US last season, when players were guaranteed 57 per cent of BRI. Stern said the league believes it can profit at 50-50 with expanded revenue sharing among its teams, though owners believe some teams would still lose money with a 50-50 split.
The sides are also still divided over some issues related to the salary cap system, mostly related to spending rules for teams that are over the luxury tax level. Players want those big-market teams to remain free agency options.
No bargaining session has been set before the deadline, though player representatives will be in New York on Tuesday for a union planning meeting. Players' association president Derek Fisher said Sunday it was still too early to give members anything to vote on.
Stern downplayed the threat of decertification of the union, an option that could be more strongly considered if the backup proposal gets put on the table. A lengthy court fight would almost certainly wipe out the entire 2011-12 season.
A month of games has already been cancelled.
"We're all really concerned. This is our livelihood. This is our job," Charlotte point guard D.J. Augustin said Monday after playing a pickup game with other NBA players in Houston. "For ourselves, we want to get back playing. But we're also not going to take just any deal. We're going to stay united, stay strong and just be ready whenever they call us back."
Though frustrations are high and nasty rhetoric remains — the league and union briefly argued about their proposals through Twitter feeds Monday — the reality is they've grown closer on paper. Players offered Saturday to reduce their BRI take to 51 per cent, with one per cent going to a fund for retired players' benefits, after previously saying they wouldn't go below 52.5.
The question is whether they can erase the remaining issues before Wednesday's deadline -- and what happens if they don't.
"We just want a fair deal, and I believe the players' union is just trying to get the fairest deal possible," Washington forward Rashard Lewis said. "They gave us a deadline on Wednesday, but our side is meeting today or tomorrow. So let's just see what happens."