The league and players are not meeting with each other, but that doesn't mean today couldn't be a hugely important day in terms of saving the season.
The action is in Dallas
This NBA Board of Governors meeting promises to be a lively one, with big implications for the current CBA.
For one thing, the owners are due to talk about the very tricky issue of revenue sharing. As in, taking money from some owners to give it to others. That topic would be lively at your local Brownie meeting. It's hardcore between 30 hard-charging, competitive entrepreneurial types.
Even more importantly, the 30 owners need to figure out how much they really hate soft salary caps -- because we know two things:
They are not unanimous on this.
David Stern is getting out his whip.
The most obvious sign of this comes from Stern himself.
Until recently, and for obvious reasons, Stern has been ironclad in presenting owners as entirely united. The owners bargain more strongly if they are seen as one entity, with one mind. So Stern is generally very opposed to letting the public or the players know that the owners have diverse views, and in that vein he has prevented owners and team employees from speaking publicly about the CBA at all.
In New York on Tuesday, however, Stern broke with tradition, and admitted his owners were not on the same page on everything, which applies just a little pressure to those unnamed owners who are being difficult.
Here's how it happened: The players say they were ready to make what they thought was a very meaningful economic offer to the owners. But before they did, they wanted to know that the soft cap would remain.
In response to that, the owners did what both sides have done many times, and left the bargaining table to confer among themselves. (At CBA meetings, both sides typically have "caucus rooms" for just this purpose.) The owners huddled for three hours before deciding they would not respond to the players' offer. Meeting over.
Later, the careful Stern decided to share with the public that the 11 owners in the room were not unified on how to handle the players' offer:
As you might guess, I don't know how many owners we had, but we had as many views ... We were not unanimous in every aspect of it. But all of the owners were completely unified in the view that we needed a system that at the end of the day allowed 30 teams to compete. And we went back to the players and said that although we have some ideas, we've been talking to each other, agreeing, disagreeing, coming up with everything that we possibly could to see if there was still time to save the season, it actually didn't make sense for us to respond to their non-negotiable demand that everything remain the same that it was, and that we'd be best off going back and reporting to our respective sides at the meetings we'd have on Thursday.
Thursday. That's today; The day when Stern gets to try to unify his owners in figuring out how to respond to the union's current position.
The action is Las Vegas
Billy Hunter has not shown the slightest inclination to decertify his union. There are all kinds of things that might be driving this:
He'd lose his job, at least temporarily.
The legal fees would be astronomical.
Many of the key decisions in the process would be handed to a judge, randomizing some things that the players now have under control.
Decertification did not work very well for the NFL players.
But the best reason for Hunter to be against decertification is that he has a good track record of getting strong results from players when facing owners with the same leverage (although perhaps a different mood) than they have now. He knows this game, and predicted in March that it would all come down to the hard cap. Does anybody still think the players lost the CBA talks in 1998 and 2005, now that players have enjoyed some of the best salaries in sports all the way through a profound recession? Isn't it clear that these current talks are about rectifying the players' resounding victories of the past?
As it is, Hunter and Stern both hint they are close to meeting on economic issues. And Hunter has pressure on the owners to assess their stance on the hard cap. If you were Hunter, I could see wondering why everyone was in a panic about decertifcation now, when the real negotiations have just begun, and are underway, in a sense, even today.
In any case, the open question is what the mood is among the rank and file. There have long been grumbles about this or that aspect of Hunter's leadership. Does he have the support of the players, now that the pressure has been ratcheted up? With the help of DeMaurice Smith and Derek Fisher, today's his day to consolidate. And if he does, it's a good bet that whenever resolution comes, it will come from Hunter sitting across a table from Stern.
If however, the mood is to make something happen now, then players will have to go down the road of decertification, as has been suggested by many of their agents, which would shake things up dramatically, increasing the risks for both parties.