NEW YORK — NBA players want one more meeting with commissioner David Stern and the owners. And although they are probably not willing to say “pretty-please,” they are willing to pay for the privilege.
Making the surprising declaration that they are prepared to make further financial concessions (goodbye, 51 percent), team representatives from the NBA players union said Tuesday they still want to make a deal, and they still want to make it by tomorrow, as long as it is fair.
Union director Billy Hunter said he will likely call Stern on the phone tonight to ask for the meeting, which would be held — if Stern says OK — in the hours leading up to the commissioner’s “close of business Wednesday” deadline for the union to accept the current offer on the table or have it replaced by a new offer under which the players would receive only 47 percent of revenues.
Quite clearly, the union is anxious to give this one more shot.
What is unclear is whether the owners will be willing to budge on many of the salary cap system issues that are keeping the sides apart.
Those issues include:
_ A prohibition on tax-paying teams being allowed to use the full midlevel exception. Owners have proposed a mini-midlevel of $5 million for two years, which could be used only once every two years, for teams over the tax threshold.
_ The length of mid-level exception contracts. The players want those deals to be for four years, while owners have said they can be for four years the first time a team uses it, then for three years if a team uses the MLE the next year.
_ The amount of escrow funds that would be withheld from players paychecks to ensure their combined salaries do not exceed a specified amount (which looks like it will be 50 percent of basketball-related income). Players are offering to have a maximum of 10 percent withheld, the owners want an unspecified larger percentage.
_ The severity of the penalty for teams exceeding the luxury tax threshold, a.k.a. the cliff. Players do not want the tax system to act as a cliff if a team steps over it, asking that the harshest penalties be incurred when a team goes $10 million or more above the tax.
_ A prohibition on taxpaying teams doing sign-and-trade deals. The owners want it, the players do not. Also, the sides are at odds on the percentage rates of the punitive tax levies that would be paid by teams that repeatedly exceed the tax threshold.
_ A prohibition on teams doing extend-and-trade deals like the ones that sent Carmelo Anthony from Denver to New York and Kevin Garnett from Minnesota to Boston.
If there is some give in these areas from the owners, there is going to be some get in their wallets.
Owners have offered the players a 50-50 split, and the players came down from their demand for 52.5 percent of revenues to 51 percent during last Saturday’s ill-fated bargaining session. The one percent difference represents $40 million annually in a business that brought in $4.2 billion in revenues last season.
“We’re open about potential compromises on financials, but there are certain things in the system we have to have,” Fisher said. “Of course players want to get a deal done, we’ve gotten thousands of those calls, but not by any means necessary.”
After the news conference, Stern went on NBA-TV with reporter David Aldridge and said he would gladly accept Hunter’s phone call. But he did not say whether he would agree to a meeting, saying he first wanted to speak to the owners’ labor relations committee.
So while it was clear the players were in dire and perhaps desperate straits, they remained steadfast in their assertion that they will not accept the terms that were offered Saturday night when the sides met with a federal mediator.
And while the owners have already won the financial battle, and won it big, they still stand to lose a combined $2 billion — the same amount as the players — if the entire 2010-11 season is lost.
The only leverage the players have left is that they are the product, and it would probably be fair to say they are pleading with Stern and the owners to respect their pride and make enough system concessions Wednesday to get the deal to the finish line.
“Players are clearly of the mind that what is on the table in an unacceptable proposal, but they said try to go back and get a better deal. Our willingness to compromise is predicated on getting the things we need in the system. We’re prepared to negotiate fairly on all issues, and we expect the same from our adversary,” Hunter said.
Union officials said there was little talk of decertification during the meting, and the most bombastic moment of the press conference came when Hunter was asked what he would like to say to Michael Jordan, who was a union hardliner during the last lockout in 1998 (he famously told Wizards owner Abe Pollin that if he couldn’t make a profit, he should sell his team) but is now a hardliner on the other side of the table.
“I would have him give the same advice he gave to Abe Pollin. I would tell him to take his own advice,” said Hunter, who also mentioned that the union was hearing ”through the underground” that games would be cancelled through Christmas if a deal is not reached by Stern’s deadline.
Said Fisher of Jordan: “We don’t see eye to eye.”
So tomorrow (Wednesday) is shaping up as a do-or-die day.
Will a deal get done? I think so, but I already told you that this morning.
We shall see.