Will players acknowledge defeat in NBA lockout?

Will players acknowledge defeat in NBA lockout?
November 7, 2011, 2:02 am
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NEW YORK To some, the idea might seem a bit crazy and just plain scary.

But when you look at the 2011-2012 NBA season, its fate, to a large degree, now rests in the hands of players like Glen Davis, and Delonte West, Landry Fields and just about every non-superstar you can think of in the NBA.

I told you it was kind of scary, didn't I?

When all the dust settles and the smoke-blowing by both the NBA players union and the owners subsides, you're left with the hard-core reality that the position those role players take will ultimately determine if there will in fact be a season.

After more than eight hours of negotiations on Saturday that went into the wee hours of Sunday morning, a blurry-eyed NBA commissioner David Stern emerged with an ultimatum for the players, setting a deadline to respond at the end of business on Wednesday.

He rattled off five items specifically in the proposal, all of which were recommendations from federal mediator George Cohen who presided over the bargaining session.

The details of what's in the proposal don't matter as much as what they mean collectively.

It's really quite simple.

The players can swallow their pride and accept a deal that they don't particularly care for, or turn it down and run the risk of having an even worse deal (47 percent cut of the basketball-related income instead of the 50 percent that's on the table; and an NHL-like flex cap) shoved down their throats.

"We hope that this juxtaposition will cause the union to access its position and accept the deal," Stern said. "We'd love to see the union accept the proposal that's now on the table."

Union president Derek Fisher was clear in stating that the proposal, as it stands now, was unacceptable. But unacceptable to who? Fisher didn't sound all that eager to present Stern's proposal to the union body.

"Our job is to take a deal to our players that we're comfortable presenting, and we feel will get passed and will receive the votes to get basketball up and running," Fisher said. "At this point, we don't have a deal to propose. That would be our position right now."

I'm glad he tagged out of that with, "right now," because there's a very good chance Fisher won't have a choice but to change his tune on presenting this to the union between now and Wednesday's Stern-appointed deadline.

Players aren't stupid.

They recognize how close a deal is to being reached.

And while they know the union has stretched itself much more than the owners, these players are wise enough (I think) to know that as important as they are to the growth and development of the NBA, they are still the employee; important employees, but employees nonetheless.

And as much as they want to preserve as much as they can for future generations of NBA players, they have a responsibility -- I would argue a greater responsibility -- to the rank-and-file members of today, like Glen Davis and Delonte West and a host of other legitimate, but not elite, NBA talent.

Those are the guys more than anyone, who are being hurt by this lockout.

Davis is an undersized power forward in the NBA, the kind of player who has a limited shelf life regardless of how talented he may be in his prime.

And Delonte West has been a solid role player on just about every team he's suited up for, and while he's not getting any younger, the competition for his job is.

To wipe out a year of their careers in order to hold out for systematic issues for future generations -- issues that at this point, aren't going to go the way of the union, anyway -- is just wrong.

The principles that the union is fighting for are right, and just. But this isn't about doing what's right, or being just. It's about getting a deal done.

And as much as most folks dislike the strong-arm tactics used by Stern and his ownership group, even when they were a splintered group, their one-minded focus never wavered -- to tilt the scales of the new CBA significantly more in their favor.

That's why when talks began in July, they came at the union with so many ridiculous demands and requests.

A hard cap? Come on. Nobody, including the owners, ever thought that had a chance of sticking.

The owners knew they would move off such silly requests, and could then legitimately claim that they were indeed trying to meet the union halfway -- even if they took about five steps back before the bargaining sessions began.

Meanwhile, the union came into the bargaining session the way most do -- looking to negotiate. Big mistake.

The owners have totally taken advantage of the union's willingness to deal, and in return have already won this battle and right now are simply trying to run up the score.

Stern has made a couple mea culpas of his own (he offered the 50-50 split way too soon), but for the most part has played the heavy throughout these negotiations, while the union has seemingly been on its heels trying to gain some footing, some semblance of leverage.

Fisher talked about the desire to give on the economics so that the players would, in return, get a break on system-related issues from the owners.

It sounds good, and it's certainly the right way to approach things if you're in a fair fight. But these owners are not interested in doing what is good or right. And this fight never has been, and frankly, never will be a fair one.

Fuh-get-tah-ah-bot-it!

You don't get these kind of lopsided results in a fair fight. Take a look at the score card:

Basketball Related Income - owners win.

Contract lengths - owners win.

Luxury tax system - owners win.

Annual raises - owners win.

Sign-and-trades - owners win.

Pick an issue, any issue, and the winner in just about every instance has been the owners. But as the union's lead counsel Jeffrey Kessler pointed out, coming out ahead is not enough for these owners.

"The big story is they want it all," Kessler said.

He's right. And the only shot that the players have at this point in avoiding that, is to take the deal that's currently on the table.

Whether Stern's bluffing about taking the current deal off the table by Wednesday remains to be seen.

But multiple sources contacted this past week and again this weekend, have all indicated that the deal on the table for the union will only get worse if the players don't take it.

"Even if there was a desire to sweeten the deal, that's not going to happen because of all the lost games," said one Western Conference front-office executive. "The players are in a tough spot. They know it, and so do the owners. That's why the squeeze is on."

While it's clear that the players have lost this battle, they still have the potential to completely change up the game by de-certifying the union which would expose the NBA to a host of potential anti-trust lawsuits.

But here's the problem with that course of action. Because such a move would put the players fate in the courts and cause an unbelievable amount of chaos for all involved, it would take months before things were settled.

And time is the one thing players don't have on their side.

So there is the potential for them to de-certify, start the process involved with that, only to have the NBA come around and give them some of the concessions they were looking for -- and still wind up losing an entire season.

And guess who the fans would blame for that? The players. Once again, the owners would come out as winners.

"They want a win, win, win, win," said Kessler, who declined to discuss the union's options if they turned down Stern's proposal. "We wanted to compromise. They're not giving the players a lot of choice."