Stern gives players new ultimatum offer for 72-game season

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One week later, after nearly 23 hours of talks over two days, we are back almost in the same place we were last weekend, save that the consequences seem more dire.

Thursday night David Stern and the owners presented a new take-it-or-leave-it proposal to the union (the details of which we have few of yet but is similar to where the owners thought talks stood late Thursday). That proposal, if accepted early next week, would make for a 72-game NBA season starting Dec. 15.

Union president Derek Fisher said the union would take the weekend to look at the proposal, consult with the 30 team representatives and then give a response.

And that’s where things get scary.

Stern said this is it, turn down this offer and the owners will pull out their “reset” proposal of 47 percent of the revenue to the players and a hard salary cap. And although he said the same thing last weekend, this time he said he means it:

“If this offer is not accepted, then we will revert to our 47 percent proposal…” Stern said after the meetings broke off. “We’ve made our revised proposal and we’re not going to make another one “

Fisher sounded like a guy who wanted to use this offer as a jumping off point for more talks, which is what happened with last week’s ultimatum.

“At this point we’ve decided to take a step back, we’ll confer with our executive committee…,” Fisher said. “We still would like to continue to negotiate and try to get a deal done but right now, it’s not that time.”

Union director Billy Hunter said there are six or seven key issues to be resolved but another 30 or so “B-list” issues to be discussed yet. Those B-listers things like the age limit for the draft among others that will not hold up a deal but still need to be worked out.

What are the issues that the union doesn’t like? Here are a few we know of, but they all basically revolve around the league trying to rein in big-market teams from spending into the luxury tax (which last season was set at $70 million):

• Saying tax-paying teams cannot use the full $5 million mid-level exception, instead giving them a “mini” mid-level exception at $2.5 million.

• Having more restrictive trade rules for teams paying the tax so they cannot bring in more salary.

• Increasing the tax levels for teams that are in the tax three out of five years. (The players had agreed to lesser increases and only on the first $10 million over the tax, the owners want something more punitive.)

• Saying tax-paying teams cannot use a sign-and-trade to bring in a new player (this has happened five times in the last six years in the NBA, the most significant one was Shawn Marion to the Mavs, no sure why this is a sticking point).

• Hitting teams that pay the tax more than three times in any five-season span with a harsh set of extra penalties.

One development that came up over the night was players chiming in not happy with where the offers stood, as if some were finally realizing how much they were giving up from the old deal. There are still plenty that would approve Sterns offer to get back on the court.

Stern said he thought it was a fair offer.

“We don’t expect them to like every aspect of our revised proposal, there are many teams that do not like every aspect of the revised proposal,” Stern said.

It doesn’t look promising, yet deals neither side likes usually is where compromise is found. If you look for them, there are some signs of optimism. Take this quote from union director Billy Hunter

“It’s been a long haul man, but we’re near the end of it. We want to get this thing done,” Hunter said.

Amen.