NEW YORK — My gut feeling: We will have a settlement of the NBA lockout within 36 hours.
Because, folks, they are 99 percent of the way there. (You don’t pile all of the kids into the station wagon, tell them you are driving to DisneyWorld and then stop in the outskirts of Orlando and say you are turning around.)
The owners are at 50 percent on the revenue split. The players are at 51 — or ” fifty plus one” as they put it when talks broke off Saturday night, with that extra 1 percent representing $40 million that would be earmarked for improved pensions for both current and retired players.
If David Stern throws them some crumbs — say $20 million for improved benefits, plus a few tweaks to the system changes that players find so objectionable — they are 99.9 percent of the way there. I said all this on the radio yesterday, and I feel as strongly about it today as I did then.
Player reps from the 30 NBA teams have a 1 p.m. EST meeting scheduled today in Manhattan, and the smart money says they’ll emerge asking for one more meeting with the owners to try to move to a place just a little more palatable. Stern has nothing to lose by taking the meeting, everything to gain by taking it and sprinkling a few crumbs toward the players.
And if the players emerge from a bargaining sessions saying they are now prepared to put the offer up for a vote, voila! The season will start in the second week of December.
Yes, it’s that easy.
There was always going to be an endgame in this fight, and it has arrived. There was always a secret watch in Stern’s pocket that showed when the true 11th hour would arrive, and it is here. As I said during that radio interview in Detroit: Are the players really going to walk away from $2 billion in guaranteed money of the upcoming season? Hell, no. If they let that money fly out the window, it will be gone forever.
The owners have been ruthless, hardheaded, stubborn and disciplined in this negotiation, and they won it a long time ago. But they still have to get it to the finish line, and that is why there is still has to be a little extra give left in their arsenal after keeping it in reserve for more than four months.
And although there is a core group of 10-14 hardliners that wanted an even better deal, that does not constitute a majority. A majority is 16, and David Stern can get 16 votes if he can coax the players into putting the deal up for a vote.
So today is a big day, and tomorrow is a bigger one. Stern’s deadline is 5 p.m. EST Wednesday. And even if an agreement in principle is reached at 7 p.m., Stern can channel Jimmy Buffett and say it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.
So they’ll get it done.
With that, let’s have a look around to see what the top NBA labor writers are reporting today:
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports: “As David Stern tries to hold off his most rabid hardline owners, the NBA’s commissioner has expressed a willingness to meet with the Players Association with the possibility of relenting on some system issues that are important to the union in reaching an agreement, league sources told Yahoo! Sports. Nevertheless, union executive director Billy Hunter was still deciding late Monday whether he wanted to take the meeting, two sources involved in the talks told Yahoo! Sports. The reason for Hunter’s hesitation was unclear. As one ownership source told Yahoo! Sports on Monday night, “If there were a couple of tweaks needed around the edges – not fundamental deal points – I believe there could be a deal if everything else is agreed upon. But there needs to be a meeting with David and Billy for anything to happen.” Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant also has urged owners to resume talks with the players union and complete the labor agreement. “We need for the two sides to get together again before Wednesday, because we’re too close to getting a deal done,” Bryant told Yahoo! Sports. “We need to iron out the last system items and save this from spiraling into a nuclear winter.”
Chris Broussard, ESPN.com: “A group of disgruntled NBA owners held a conference call Monday to express their displeasure with the 50/50 revenue offer commissioner David Stern has presented to the players’ association, according to sources with knowledge of the call. The deal, which the union sees as an “ultimatum” offer, calls for players to receive anywhere between 49 and 51 percent of basketball-related income, but the group of displeased owners, the sources said, are hoping the players reject it. … Stern was not on Monday’s call, but the sources said that up to 11 owners took part, including Charlotte’s Michael Jordan, Portland’s Paul Allen and Milwaukee’s Herb Kohl. … “There are at least 15 owners who are praying that the players say no,” one source said, “because then they’ll get the deal they want.”
Ken Berger, CBSSports.com: “Nothing will be known for sure until the player reps meet with union leaders Tuesday. And to some extent, further conversations will be required between the NBPA and NBA negotiators to clear up certain technical aspects of the proposal — such as a provision the league has asked for to account for a scenario in which player salaries exceed their 50 percent guarantee by more than the 10 percent escrow withholding in the proposal, up from the previous level of eight percent, sources said. Indeed, while no meetings between the two sides were scheduled as of Monday night, a person with knowledge of the situation told CBSSports.com that NBPA executives were hopeful that further conversations could be scheduled with the league before the Wednesday deadline. While union president Derek Fisher and outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler excoriated the league’s latest proposal after talks broke down early Sunday and executive committee members are not in favor of presenting it to the rank-and-file for a vote, union negotiators believe that some minor tweaks to unresolved system issues could make the deal more palatable. Among the issues, for example, would be permitting teams above the luxury-tax line to execute sign-and-trade transactions — a detail the two sides are at odds on despite it only occurring five times during the previous six-year agreement.”
Jerry Zgoda, Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “Pretty much everything is split,” (Timberwolves player rep Anthony Tolliver) said on his way to the airport after playing in a charity game in Salt Lake City on Monday night. “Half of the people want to decertify. Half the people want to vote on it.” His unofficial polling includes some teammates and other players in the league. … Just like them, Tolliver also said he’s not sure yet what to think. “Probably my best bet is to sit down and figure out what’s really important,” he said. “I don’t want to make any outlandish comments about it right now. I want to see what everybody else has to say before I decide what I want to do. At this point, I’m split down the middle like everybody else. I don’t know what I want to do.” Tolliver suggested the best option is to try to talk more with owners, who have offered a 50-50 split of basketball revenues and perhaps more importantly a more restrictive system that would prevent the league’s richest, highest-pay teams from far exceeding the salary cap to pay players. … “I think if we get a chance to get back to the owners and adjust the deal a little bit one way or the other, possibly we can vote for it,” he said. “They might force our hand the other way. We’ll see.”