NBPA stresses unity in player meeting

LOS ANGELES -- The National Basketball Players Association's leadership met with players in Los Angeles on Friday, trying to send an apparently needed message of unity.

"There's definitely some guys in there saying that they're ready to fold," Washington Wizards center JaVale McGee said. "But the majority are ready to stand strong."

Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute disagreed with McGee, saying "there's no such thing as player folding."

McGee and Mbah a Moute were two of approximately 30 players who met with NBPA executive director Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher at a Beverly Hills hotel.

"We all know where we're at. Players understand where we're at. There's no players folding," Mbah a Moute said when he exited the meeting. "We've all been together since this whole process and we're going to stay together. We've made a lot of concessions so far, so it's up to the owners now to start having a fair deal."

McGee, the first player to emerge from the talks at roughly 3 p.m. PT, later denied on Twitter that he said the words recorded by more than a dozen reporters. Fisher and the players who didn't leave early laughed off the brouhaha.

"The person that spent the least amount of time in the room has no ability to make that statement," Fisher said.

Added Hunter: "It was a shame he left so soon. As it turned out, the pacifists in the room happened to be me and Derek. These guys behind us are extremely strident and they thought we had started to weaken."

Fisher later pointed out that the NBPA does not have a mechanism in place to issue fines to its players and laughed when asked whether McGee's comments would be an appropriate time to levy one.

The owners and players remain separated on issues such as how to divide the revenue, length of contracts and the structure of a new luxury-tax system.

Before Friday's meeting, Hunter told ESPN: "I've got a group of ballplayers who are sophisticated enough and they've said to me, 'Billy, hold the line. This is what we want you to do.' So I'm doing the players' bidding. I may be negotiating with a short deck, or a small deck, but we're negotiating.

"So while we're willing to make some concessions, which we've already demonstrated, we're not willing to do or make as many concessions as the NBA wants us to make," Hunter continued. "It's too disproportionate. It doesn't make sense. Particularly when our players are the product."

Fisher and Hunter said the players' positions on every issue have included enormous concessions, but they don't see similar accommodations by the league. The union doesn't like the owners' idea to replace their plan for a hard salary cap with a punitive luxury tax, believing it would evolve into an effective hard cap.

The sides also haven't figured out how to divide up $4 billion in annual basketball-related income. Players have proposed lowering their guaranteed cut from 57 percent to 53 percent, while owners are seeking 53 percent of revenue for themselves.

On Friday, NBA commissioner David Stern cited contracts and the luxury tax as demands that the players need to acquiesce to in order for a deal to get done.

"[The players] need to tell us we can have shorter contracts so that under-performing contracts can be replaced by high-performing contracts," Stern told 710 ESPN in Los Angeles on Friday. "And they need to tell us that the luxury tax can be considerably harsher than it already is."

Stern said that owners want a more competitive league and to make it so would entail limiting the financial advantage some big-market teams have over the rest of the teams.

"I would like the league to be more competitive, and to in some ways diminish the [Los Angeles] Lakers' advantage in having that much income in order to pay their players more when you include the luxury tax than other teams," Stern told 710 ESPN.

Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, who has been outspoken at times during the labor impasse, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday that Stern's idea of league-wide competitive balance is "unrealistic."

"Let's just take the owners and the NBA saying we want every team to be competitive," Wade said. "We want every team to have the same chips to start with. You tell me that corporations and business around the world that every is equal one and I'll show you a lie. You have some up here, you have some down here. That's the game. We have some huge markets. We have some small markets.

"To me, it's not about who has the most chips," Wade added. "I think it's about who manages their chips the right way. That's why I think we have a management problem. Small markets have won championships. San Antonio is a very small market and they have four championships in the last 10 years or whatever the case may be. So I don't know how you ever fix it unless you have realistic goals. It has to get a little more realistic and right now, it's not."

Both parties are scheduled to meet with federal mediator George Cohen on Tuesday and owners will hold two days of board meetings starting Wednesday.

Without an agreement to bring to the owners, Stern believes further cancellations are coming.

"Right now, Tuesday, Tuesday, Tuesday, just before my owners come into town, having brought in the labor relations committee and Billy (Hunter) having brought in his executive committee, it's time to make the deal," Stern said Thursday. "If we don't make it on Tuesday, my gut -- this is not in my official capacity of canceling games -- but my gut is that we won't be playing on Christmas Day."

Christmas is traditionally one of the first big days of the NBA season.

"That's an arbitrary deadline just to throw out on Commissioner Stern's part," Fisher said Friday. "We don't see it that way. That's just arbitrary, with no other purpose than to sway player sentiment."

Hunter said that Cohen proposed that the sides meet with him all of next week for mediation, but the owners could not accomodate that due to the board meetings

"My attitude is if they really want to get a deal, we've been negotiating for over two years, the probability or likelihood of getting it in one day [is scarce]," Hunter said.

However, Fisher remains confident they can make a deal to save the season.

"My gut tells me that there's no way Commissioner Stern and the NBA would damage their business by making us miss a whole season," Fisher said.

Hunter said earlier Friday that he fears much worse than canceled games if the lockout drags on.

"If everybody begins to dig into their respective positions, then I think the league will be decimated. It took us five years to recover from the 1998 lockout and there's probability that we may never recover [from this lockout]," Hunter told ESPN before Friday's sit-down with players. "I think there will be some teams that won't survive. Particularly if the season gets shut down, there will be teams that will not be around next year."

Hunter singled out the Sacramento Kings as a franchise that may fall victim to "forced contraction."

If negotiations with the federal mediator next week fail to warrant any movement toward a deal, the players association hopes it has an ace up its sleeve as it awaits the National Labor Relations Board's action on the unfair labor practices claim that the union filed back in May.

"It has been prolonged and I believe it has been prolonged because I believe they have taken this case serious," union vice president Maurice Evans told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "The ruling could weigh heavily on these negotiations as it is the only legal verdict that could in fact end the lockout. We do expect to hear from them within the next two weeks."

Last week, Stern announced the cancellation of the first two weeks of the season. Each week of missed games will cost the players approximately $82 million in lost salary.

Hunter reacted rather angrily to Stern's declaration that the union's deal will only get worse if a solution isn't found quickly.

"It can only get worse for both sides," Hunter said after Friday's meeting, noting the huge amounts of revenue lost without games. "If somebody is pointing a gun at my head, I'm going to point one back at him. ... Teams are going to lose money. The pain is mutual."

Evans agreed that both sides are suffering, but thinks that a prolonged lockout would be worse for the owners.

"The damages that will be suffered will be heavy and devastating on both sides," Evans said. "And frankly speaking, more devastating on (the owners') side. The franchise values losses they'll be absorbing will be massive and they won't be able to recover those. Best-case projection, for a yearlong lockout, you recover in 2023."

For his part, Fisher acknowledged that the longer the lockout drags on, the bigger threat there is to the overall health of the NBA.

"We fully discussed the possibility that a protracted, extended lockout could very well damage our game and damage the business," Fisher said. "We could have a very different outlook on where this game is going if this lockout extends too long. So, we have to balance that."

Kevin Garnett was originally thought to be in attendance, but a union spokesman said the Celtics forward was not at the meeting. Baron Davis and Tyson Chandler were present, along with Jason Kapono, Leon Powe and Chuck Hayes.

J.A. Adande is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Dave McMenamin covers the NBA for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne and The Associated Press contributed to this report.