By Mark Heisler
Ask JaVale McGee if war isn’t hell.
I’m not sure who else thinks the situation is “definitely critical,” other than the Wizards center and, of course, the press.
It’s definitely not the NBA owners, who laughed their rear ends off at McGee’s, uh, candid reporting at last week’s union meeting in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Cutting out an hour early, JaVale told a press throng in the lobby of the Beverly Hilton that “some guys ready to stand strong” but noted, “there were, definitely some guys in there saying that they’re ready to fold.”
JaVale then announced he didn’t say it, overlooking the fact he had done it on video like this, posted by the Los Angeles Times’ Mark Medina.
It was a study in how things work today.
Press people tweet his comments.
Press people not on the scene start throwing out lines, including one by Newsday’s Alan Hahn, suggesting Hunter has dropped his demands to 53 percent for the other players and only 50 percent for McGee.
Tweeted Portland blogger Ben Golliver, suggesting a takeoff on the usual alibi about someone hacking his Twitter account: “Someone hacked my mouth.”
This, in turn, prompted the press to trot out ever worse worst-case scenarios, like ESPN.com’s headline announcing, “The last glimmer of hope for saving the NBA season may have already come and gone.”
So, if you want to know what it really means (I think):
No, the players haven’t fallen apart.
At least, they won’t have until someone of a higher state of consciousness than McGee says it. To date, it’s just JaVale.
No, the season isn’t in jeopardy… yet… even if the parties, who got close a week ago, are now back glaring at each other from their respective corners with a mediator in the middle.
So, no, they won’t make a deal this week, David Stern deadline or no David Stern deadline.
Yes, Stern may well cancel two more weeks of the season.
And yes, despite all that, there’s every chance they’ll still make a deal in the next 2-3 weeks, allowing them to start around Dec. 1.
Not to discount the possibility of the parties blowing this, having already docked themselves 4 percent of this season’s pay and poised to give up another 4 percent.
One thing remains in their favor:
All they’re talking about is details.
The owners’ attempt to use the economy to take their last, best shot at creating a new paradigm no longer encompasses a hard cap, retrofitting existing contracts, eliminating the mid-level exception (which they’re offering to start at $4 million) or take more than 50 percent of revenue.
The players, who have been gracious enough to play on their side of the line of scrimmage, or deep in their backfield, are only arguing about the final numbers.
Not to congratulate myself (he said, while congratulating himself), but my call from the get-go was they’d be playing by Dec. 1.
I have thought the NBA’s mountain of expenses alleging a $300 million annual loss was a farcical misrepresentation … which, I’d argue, Stern confirmed when he surprised everyone by giving up his most extreme demands and almost resolving this without missing a game.
However, I always thought Stern might have to cancel games to show his owners what they’d have to give up, or risk, to campaign further.
The last point is an item of faith within the union leadership.
“I think the real problem, that you need to look at, is what are the internal problems going on within their group,” Hunter said. “The problem is really a battle between the big and the small markets. The small markets want greater revenue sharing and, I think, the big markets have pushed back [on Stern], saying, ‘Unless you deliver the deal that we want, we’re not going to give you revenue sharing.’”
Hunter also referred to Fisher and himself as “the pacifists in the room” at their meeting.
The forces now line up like this, reading from far left to far right:
Most militant on left: Players, at least with one exception (McGee, luckily for them, rather than Kobe Bryant or LeBron James).
Most moderate on left: Union director Billy Hunter, president Derek Fisher.
Most moderate on right: Stern, big-market owners, led by the Knicks’ James Dolan, who’s reportedly ready to take any deal, and the Lakers’ Jerry Buss, also including the Bulls’ Jerry Reinsdorf, once a hawk, now content to leave it in Stern’s hands.
Most militant on right: Small-market owners, especially those with hockey teams like Washington’s Ted Leonsis, who are reportedly willing to burn the village to save it, NHL-style.
Stern, himself, said he and Hunter have done this so many times, they could switch sides and do the other’s job without missing a beat.
Without pressure from within their constituencies, I think they could settle this on the spot.
But since both, especially Stern, have pressure from behind, it won’t happen this week.
But they still have a couple of weeks to make a deal, play by Dec. 1 and keep me from having to un-congratulate myself.
Mark Heisler is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops. His columns appear each Monday.