Decision day for NBA players may have arrived. And on the eve of perhaps the biggest meeting of the lockout, the league took its talking points to the public.
The players' association will meet in New York on Monday morning, a session that could lead to the end of the lockout or send it into a bigger tailspin. Representatives from all 30 teams are expected, as are other players, to examine and discuss a seven-page summary of the NBA's latest collective bargaining proposal to the union.
The proposal, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, was dated to be delivered to union executive director Billy Hunter on Friday. At least some of the people who will be in the NBPA meeting said Sunday they had not yet seen the offer, creating more than a little confusion over what exactly is on the table.
"We haven't asked for anything more than what we had," Miami Heat player representative James Jones said Sunday. "We understand the times. We understand the economy. We just want a fair deal where both sides are bearing the weight of the present times and with an eye on the future of the game of basketball."
Sounds so simple. But it's not.
By Monday, things could finally become clear — because this union meeting may decide if basketball will be played this season.
Some project that team payrolls will exceed $100 million US in the next five or so years, even to the chagrin of many owners. And on Saturday, Commissioner David Stern said again if the current offer is rejected, a harsher one -- where owners would keep about another $120 million of basketball related income, or BRI, each year, along with other so-called system issues that players didn't want — will take its place.
"We're not going to cancel the season this week," Stern said. "We're just going to present them what we told them we would."
The NBA wants a 72-game season to begin Dec. 15. For that to happen, a handshake deal almost certainly would have to be in place this week. Stern says it will take about 30 days to get the season started once an agreement is reached.
There are 17 items in the memo, including how teams paying a luxury tax would not be able to acquire free agents in sign-and-trade deals after the 2012-13 season. One of the key points comes on Page 5, where the NBA says "there will be no limitations on a player's ability to receive 100% guaranteed salary in all seasons of a contract."
Players have repeatedly said they will reject a deal where contracts are not guaranteed.
"I'm going to sit down take a look at the deal and analyze it," Minnesota player rep Anthony Tolliver said Sunday, as the lockout reached Day 136. "Not like it's the first offer or the last offer, but just as one where I'll say `Would I or my teammates want to play under these conditions?"'
Among the other points of the current proposal, as outlined in the summary sent to Hunter by NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver:
- The union will choose between accepting either a 50-50 split of BRI or a band where they may receive between 49 percent and 51 percent, depending on economic projections
- All teams may still use a mid-level exception, though the rules vary considerably depending on whether a franchise is above or below the luxury-tax level
- Minimum team payrolls would be at least 85 percent of the salary cap in 2011-12 and 2012-13, and 90 percent starting in 2013-14
- Luxury tax rates would rise after the third year of the deal
- Maximum contract lengths would not exceed five years, and annual raises would be cut significantly to a maximum of 6.5 percent
- There would be an "amnesty" provision where a team would be permitted to waive one player before any season, if that player was under contract at the inception of the CBA, and have his salary removed from the team's totals for luxury-tax and salary-cap purposes.
Still, some players sound skeptical that the offer they will see Monday will be enough for basketball to start up again.
"I was a little bit more hopeful last week than I am this week," Tolliver said. "I'm trying not to be too negative but it's kind of hard not to when it's been this long and this many meetings. It's hard not to get continuously more pessimistic by the day. Hopefully this deal will blow me away in a good way. But it's hard to believe that's going to be the case."
Meanwhile, talks about decertifying continued to gain some momentum over the weekend.
An agent who spoke with the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the ongoing dispute said "a lot of petitions have been signed already," but acknowledged some players aren't sure that move — should it happen — will get owners to relent on some issues, or simply steel them on a hard-line stance.
"I would say the thing I don't like the most isn't about the deal specifically, but is the lack of information on what's actually on the table," the agent said. "That's the most frustrating thing. …I think that the guys should actually know what's being proposed and decide from there."
Another person directly involved with the negotiations told the AP the NBA side is frustrated — and nervous — over the sense that the league's current offer is already being poorly received, even though most players have not seen the proposal.
That person also reiterated Stern's words: If this isn't the deal, the next offer will be much worse.
"It's time to think rationally about what we're talking about here," the person involved with negotiations said. "This is the deal. We've come too far. We've talked it out. This is the deal and there are things in this deal that neither side will like. Everyone made concessions. It's time to decide. We all talk about these arena workers and the effect this has on the local economy, all those things. If we mean what we say about those workers, this deal gets done and the season starts Dec. 15."