Salary rollbacks part of new owner offer to come Thursday

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UPDATE 2:01 pm: Over at the New York Times, Howard Beck has gotten a hold of a copy of the letter David Stern sent to the union about their “reset” proposal.

Here are the “highlights” (or lowlights, if you wanted to see NBA basketball this season):

The “reset” proposal features a flex-cap system that contains an absolute salary ceiling — to be set $5 million above the average team salary. In addition, the N.B.A. would roll back existing contracts “in proportion to system changes in order to ensure sufficient market for free agents.”

¶ Maximum salaries would be reduced.

¶ Contracts would be limited to four years for “Bird” free agents and three years for others, but each team could give a five-year deal to one designated player.

¶ Raises would be limited to 4.5 percent for “Bird” players and 3.5 percent for others….

In both deals are:

¶ Extend-and-trade deals, such as the one signed by Carmelo Anthony last season, will be prohibited.

¶ A 10 percent escrow tax will be withheld from player salaries, to ensure that player earnings do not exceed 50 percent of league revenues. An additional withholding will be applied in Year 1 “to account for business uncertainty” stemming from the lockout.

¶ Team and player contract options will be prohibited in new contracts, other than rookie deals. But a player can opt out of the final year of a contract if he agrees to zero salary protection (i.e., if it is nonguaranteed).

There is no way the players would accept those rollbacks. The union would file to decertify and this thing will get much, much uglier.

12:18 pm: When the NBA labor talks started, the owners had put out a number of ridiculous demands — salary rollbacks, a hard salary cap and other items the players would not accept — out on the table. As talks moved along, the owners made “concessions” of giving up things off their wish list (while the players gave up actual cash).

But if the players don’t accept David Stern’s and the owners ultimatum offer by Wednesday night, come Thursday morning it is all back on the table along with a smaller percentage of basketball related income, reports Ken Berger at CBSSports.com.

In addition to a 47 percent share of revenues for the players and a flex cap, those terms also would include a relinquishing of guaranteed contracts and a rollback of existing salaries, sources familiar with the hardline owners’ position said.

Part of that (and the reason it gets leaked) is to try and frighten the players into taking the deal on the table.

But make no mistake, that proposal would kill the NBA season if the owners stuck to it.

The players have given up money to keep a soft salary cap and guaranteed contracts (as well as keeping the salary cap tied to league revenues). Those are issues the union would be willing to lose a season over. Those issues would push them to decertify the union and try to take this thing to court. It would be a disaster.

The sides are not that far apart on a deal, with the players giving up more money wanting system issues concessions (they want more ease of player movement and for teams paying the tax to have exceptions). That’s a small olive branch for the owners to offer at this point so the union could save face, call it a win (even though the union lost big) and we could have a season.

But the hardline owners are driving the league bus right now and they want to crush the union and give no quarter. They are driving this. The owners are up by 40 points in the fourth quarter and are keeping the full court press on.

“I think, at the end of the day, this group (of hardline owners) said, ‘OK, we will let you do it your way up until Wednesday,'” a person in contact with ownership told CBSSports.com Monday.

If the sides don’t talk, if come Thursday morning there is no deal in place, I fear for the season. At that point, if the sides reach a deal it will likely be after Christmas just in time to save a 50-game NBA season. And even that could be a long shot.

At that point, both sides will have hurt the sport so much they will have lost all extra revenue they were fighting over.