The NBA brought a proposal to the players union designed to drastically alter the economic landscape when the current collective bargaining agreement expires, almost certainly June 30, 2011. It didn't come close to drawing iron.
"After a contentious 90-minute session, the owners agreed to tear up their proposal,'' union executive director Billy Hunter said of the meeting Friday during All-Star Weekend between the NBA's 12-owner negotiating committee and 15 players, including 10 playing in Sunday's All-Star Game. "That proposal is off the table.''
And the NBA is no closer to averting a lockout than it had been before the meeting.
The NBA is trying to cut costs in a trying economy, but Hunter said owners went way too far. He said the proposal included going to a hard salary cap, rather than the current soft cap, eliminating guaranteed contracts and salary-cap exceptions, providing for retroactive changes to current contracts and dropping the maximum length of contracts from six years (or five with a new team) to four (or three).
Hunter said it also called for players, who now get 57 percent of basketball-related income (BRI), to get just 50 percent. And that figure would have been changed to start calculating the figure after the NBA takes out expenses.
NBA commissioner David Stern will address the owners' position Saturday night in his annual All-Star press conference. In the meantime, deputy commissioner Adam Silver issued a short statement.
"While we do not agree with the Players Association's characterization of today's meeting or the status of the NBA's bargaining proposal, David will address the subject of collective bargaining (Saturday),'' said Silver, who heads the NBA's negotiating team.
Hunter said he remains optimistic the NBA can avoid a lockout and he declined to call the NBA's willingness to immediately pull its proposal off the table as a victory. But the players did feel a renewed sense of unity Friday due to so many All-Stars attending the meeting.
Hunter said 10 All-Stars showed up in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, Amar'e Stoudemire, Al Horford, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.
Hunter apologized for them not taking part in Friday's NBA day of service. He believed all of the All-Stars would have been willing to come but it was insisted the rest take part in the previously scheduled charity events.
Also on hand were union board members, president Derek Fisher, vice president Adonal Foyle, Maurice Evans, Keyon Dooling and Chris Paul, who was named an All-Star before being replaced after undergoing knee surgery. Board members Theo Ratliff and Roger Mason Jr. had flights delayed and didn't make it to Dallas until just after the meeting.
"It was the entire deal,'' Fisher said of what was unacceptable. "It wasn't just one piece.''
Hunter said union officials said it will present a proposal to the owners of what might be acceptable, but he declined to say when that will be done. In the meantime, Hunter said the NBA is welcome to submit another proposal at any time.
"They made a false start,'' Hunter said. "So they kind of set back things a little bit. We kind of righted the ship, and where do we go from here?''
Wherever it is, owners want to get there a lot more quickly than players, who are content with the status quo. Although Hunter is looking at it as a 16-month process, he said the owners want to get something in place by this July's "marquee free-agent'' class, which could include James, Stoudemire, Wade and Chris Bosh.
That's because the owners want to have an idea what the future holds before they look to hand out more huge contracts. Obviously, though, the players aren't going to hastily agree to anything due to the current CBA being in effect at least through next year. The owners are all but certain to decide by Dec. 15 not to pick up the CBA's option for 2011-12.
"Each time around, it's generally the same position,'' said Fisher, saying the players were willing to give the owners the cost certainty they sought in agreements signed in 1999, when the NBA had a lockout that wiped out 32 games of the season, and in 2005. "No matter what the current deal looks like, it's not good enough for the owners going forward.''
Owners now, though, site the economy. A source close to the negotiating said Thursday between 25 and 27 of the NBA's 30 teams will lose money this season.
"It behooves us not to make a decision until the economy recovers,'' Foyle said. "And that is not good for us either (to possibly wait that long). But we have to make some kind of assumption that the economy is going to improve. ... Otherwise, we're negotiating from a position of weakness.''
Hunter declined to speculate whether the players are willing to make concessions due to the tough economy. He said anything related to that would come down to negotiations.
Friday's message from the players was they won't consider cutbacks made by the owners that would drastically alter the current system.
"We don't want to fight, but if we're not given any other choice, we're not going to run from a fight,'' Hunter said.
Hunter said the way the NBA wanted to calculate BRI, the salary cap would have dropped from $57.7 million this season to $43 million. He said that, out of $3.7 billion in revenue, the NBA wanted to take out $1 billion for expenses, which would leave the other $2.7 billion divided into two. Previously, players would have been guaranteed 57 percent of the $3.7 billion.
Hunter said owners wanted to eliminate the midlevel exception, which has been in the range of $5 million in recent seasons, and that would have "decimated'' the middle class. He said raises were wanted to have been cut from 10.5 percent if a player stays with the same team to the range of 2 to 3 percent. He said teams, under the owners' proposal, could have two high-paid players and everybody else would have to work for a minimum salary (such salaries currently barely exceed $1 million).
"It really inflamed a lot of the players,'' Hunter said of the proposal.
Hunter said the proposal pretty much would have eliminated Bird rights, the ability of a team to exceed the salary cap to re-sign its own players. He said many of the current rules would have gone "the way of the dinosaur.''
As for where the union goes from here, Hunter indicated he's willing to talk about revenue sharing, in which big-market teams might pay out more money than small-market teams. That's a system that has worked in the NFL. Hunter just doesn't want all money being given back to struggling owners to come straight from the players.
Despite the obvious stalemate between the sides, Hunter and Fisher stopped short of saying a lockout is the most likely scenario. But Hunter said he has been telling players to save their money. He also said, to look out for his players in the event of a lockout, he plans to go to Europe and other places overseas to have discussions with leagues that eventually might be able to bring in some NBA players.
Stern on Thursday had not expressed great concern about the negotiating climate. In fact, he predicted Friday's session would be "not contentious at all.''
Interestingly, "contentious'' was the first word Hunter used in describing the meeting. He later also called it "heated'' and said it was "round one of a 15-round fight.''
Those in the players' union evidently have put on their gloves.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson