David Stern sets ultimatum for players: accept deal by Wednesday or offer gets worse

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After labor negotiations ended late Saturday/early Sunday morning in New York, David Stern told reporters in a press conference that federal mediator George Cohen had suggested six elements of what Stern called “what-if” compromises. Stern said the league accepted five of them and put them into a formal proposal. Included was a 49-51 band of BRI, wherein based off of aggressive revenues, the players would get 51, and under underwhelming-to-standard rates, the league would get 51. Other elements included a modified mid-level exception.

Then Stern lowered the boom.

The offer, Stern says, is on the table until Wednesday at the close of business. At that time, the offer expires and the owners will respond with a new offer of 47 percent across the board for the players and a return to the flex cap the union balked at right before the lockout was enacted. It is the ultimate power play, set up under the pretenses of compromise through acceptance of Cohen’s suggestions, and levied with the biggest fear from analysts, that the deals would only get worse from here on out.

Stern painted the collapse of a deal Saturday night on union attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who Stern said rejected nearly all of the elements in the proposal. In doing so, Stern has provided the union with a bad guy to pin it on. The 51 high-end offer on the band gives them something to save face with, even as members of the NBPA have sworn not to go lower than 52 percent (and this offer from the union is very precisely geared to go beneath that), and the structure of the advanced luxury tax and restrictions on teams in the luxury tax (a $2.5 million mid-level exception for tax payers, along with no sign-and-trades) are preferable to the flex-cap and more aggressive maneuvers. It’s a total victory wrapped in a blanket of compromise. It’s strategy at Stern’s most brilliant.

The countdown is on. The question is whether the players believe their position will not become stronger, if they believe decertification is a viable option, or if they believe this is enough for them to swallow and the best they will get. A season may hinge on it.

Clock’s ticking, and Stern just put the union in check.