If union wobbles, will owners go for kill and ruin chance at deal?

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You’d think that watching the NBA players’ union squabble would make NBA owners smile. Break the union and you get the deal you want, right?

Not exactly. The situation within the players union could make it less likely we see a deal soon, for a couple of reasons.

One is that a fractured union can’t make a deal its body will approve. Neither David Stern or union head Billy Hunter expected to reach a deal their entire constituency would love (that’s not how negotiations work) but they need one that they can sell to a vast majority. For the owners, this can’t be just a 15-14 vote to approve, that leaves too much dissent. Both sides need a vast majority. A fractured union makes it hard for the leadership to strike a deal it can sell.

Second is that the owners themselves may take apparent weakness in the union as a sign it should go for the kill. Henry Abbott explains at TrueHoop.

There have always been owners, several owners, who thought Stern had overreached in making the players an offer as high as 50 percent of BRI. It was bold of Stern to do so without the explicit permission of his owners. Had it worked, had it secured a deal and an 82-game season, it’s likely all would have declared victory and moved on. These are the risks a dealmaker takes.

However, Stern’s bold move failed, leading to these silly word games, where Stern has at times fuzzed up whether or not he has already offered 50 percent. Even if he won’t say it, it was his best and final offer, and making that a month too early was a fumble that exposes Stern to criticism within his own camp.

Put simply: The owners may take money off the table when the two sides sit down again Saturday. It is possible — not likely but not impossible — that the owners will decide to lessen their offer. Stern suggested as much last Friday after talks blew up.

If you think the players are going to take an offer worse than the 50-50 offer they just rejected, I would like to sell you the Grand Canyon. At a very reasonable price.

I’m an optimist, if for no other reason than the alternative is too depressing. But while the sides may be 95 percent of the way to a deal there are countless ways this thing could still go sideways. And the owners reaction to the union’s latest issues could cause the spinout to start.