David Stern spent a lot of his post-negotiating session Tuesday trying to make a point — that the players walked away from a fair deal, a 50/50 split of “basketball related income.” It felt like spin at the time, in part because it was an informal concept and part just how Stern portrayed it.
Well, it was his spin. But a few reports from inside the bargaining room – particularly by Ken Berger at CBSSports.com — have leaked out and the reality of those informal conversations was that the owners and players made real progress. The two sides may only be a couple percentage points apart, meaning more like $80 million a year than the $240 million in the last formal proposals from either side.
Still, that may well not be enough to save the start of the season. There are a whole lot of hurdles in the way to make a deal a reality.
Here is how Berger describes what was discussed.
The league’s offer, according to three people familiar with it, came in a range of 49-51 — with 49 percent guaranteed and a cap of 51 percent, the sources said….
While the owners were caucusing, a member of the players’ group returned with a counterproposal — approximately 52 percent of BRI for the players with no additional expenses deducted. The players’ counterproposal followed the format presented by the owners — a 51-53 percent band with 51 percent guaranteed and a cap of 53. League officials rejected the offer, the sources said.
So while Hunter and Stern remained publicly entrenched in the economic positions of their most recent formal proposals — with the players asking for 53 percent and the league offering effectively 47, the reality is this: the gap has closed to 2 percentage points of BRI, the difference between the midpoint of the two offers.
For the record, union officials are ticked at Stern for taking a side conversation public.
There is hope there, if you’re feeling optimistic (50-52 percent range seems the middle ground, although how many expenses the owners get to take off the top impacts that number). That said, there are also a whole lot of hurdles between where the sides are late Tuesday night and where they need to be to get to a deal. Likely too many.
The primary one is that no talks are scheduled. David Stern sounded like a man who wanted to talk again and he is waiting until Monday to cancel regular season games in hopes the players union will make one more push, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo. However, union chief Billy Hunter sounded like he was in no rush to meet again saying talks may not resume until next month.
That was in part because of the constituency in the negotiating room. Agents and star players — guys like Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant who were there Tuesday, and LeBron James who was there last week — do not want the union to accept anything less than 53 percent of BRI. The entire rank and file does not feel the same way, but the stars are the hardliners and they likely can pull a majority with them right now.
Which brings us to the next big hurdle — Hunter and Stern both would really have to sell a deal like the one informally discussed. Hunter already has agents talking decertification of the union and sending letters out to clients telling them not to accept a deal they don’t like. The stars can afford to hold out and be hardliners. Hunter would have to convince a majority of players this was a good deal.
Stern has his own hardline owners, smaller market owners and ones who bought in at high prices and want a labor win. This deal would be a major labor win, but would it be enough of one to please most owners? There are some out there that want players to lose paychecks and feel the sting, expecting that to lead to a better deal for owners.
Then there are the system questions — if the players come all the way down to 52 percent of BRI they are going to demand a soft-cap salary system similar to what has been in place. That could be a hard sell with some owners in smaller markets that want to handcuff the spending power of larger markets.
That’s a big mountain still to climb.
But, they can climb it this week or they can pay a lot of lawyers a lot more money for a month or two then climb that exact same mountain later. It’s up to them. All that hangs in the balance is the NBA season and killing the momentum the league has built up in the past couple seasons.