For all intents and purposes, the the 2011-2012 NBA season died on Monday thanks to the almost criminal actions of Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter. Under the advice of lead negotiator/lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, Fisher and Hunter made a half-hearted effort to sell the owner's last gasp proposal to it's membership. But, if you read between the lines, there was never any real chance that Hunter and Fisher would push the player reps to accept this deal, and there was absolutely no chance that they would risk putting it to a full vote among the NBA players.
As the player reps from each of the 30 teams gathered in New York City today to discuss whether the proposal was acceptable enough to vote on, the presence of famed anti-trust lawyer David Boies indicated that there was never any serious discussion about accepting the offer.This meeting was always about exploring the option of decertification or disbanding as a union and becoming a trade association.
Let's re-visit that again.
The union leaders, rather than trying to sell this proposal to their membership as an acceptable if imperfect deal to their membership, chose to bring in a powerful anti-trust lawyer and allow him and the union's lead negotiator (also an anti-trust lawyer) to push de-certification upon the players. Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter were not looking out for the best interests of the majority of their membership. They were hoping to appear tough and unflinching to their membership, so that both would keep their reputations and power in tact once this all shakes out.
As a result, Fisher and Hunter have allowed Kessel to steer the NBA players and the 2011-2012 NBA season straight off a cliff with regard only for themselves and not the players they supposedly represent. The now defunct Players Union has just picked a fight that it simply cannot win.
Let's be clear what is about to happen here: The NBA players will lose, the NBA owners will lose, the arena employees that count on the NBA to make a living will lose, and most of all, the fans will lose. The only winners in this situation will ultimately be the anti-trust lawyers and litigators who have been DYING for this to happen, literally since the final seconds ticked off the clock in Game 6 of the Finals back in June.
As NBA commissioner David Stern succinctly put it in his rebuttal interview on ESPN Monday afternoon, the Players Association's decision to "disclaim" its rights as a union and sue under anti-trust laws is little more than "a charade and a bargaining tactic". The entire purpose of which, is to try and gain some type of leverage over the owners that will force them to the table and bring forth a better offer that is far more friendly to the players than what has been offered.
The entire basis of the lawsuit will be centered around the idea that the owners didn't negotiate with the players "in good faith", a claim that has been floated any number of times by Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum over the last five months. But, a quick check of the facts shows that this might be the biggest myth of the NBA Lockout.
Yes, it is true that the NBAPA has agreed to surrender roughly $3 billion over the life of the proposed 10 year Collective Bargaining Agreement, a 7% decrease in revenue, which does represent a significant give-back by the union. However, what is often lost in this is the fact that in an effort to meet the players at that number, David Stern had negotiated his owners down from from their proposed 14% giveback that was in the original offer. Not insignificant. Coupled with the fact that Stern managed to convince his owners one final time to increase their offer to the players this past week in the face of potentially losing the season, it's pretty clear that the owners have negotiated fairly. In fact, it's a relatively well known fact at this point, that many of the owners (chief among them San Antonio's Peter Holt) were not happy with the deal as presented, but went along with it in the hopes that the season could be saved.
That's what the players are going to bat with. A total shot in the dark, that maybe, just maybe, this argument might land in front of the right judge in the right court in the right part of the country (read: California). It's even more absurd than the NFL Players Association's attempt to win this same fight back in September.
Were Fisher and Hunter in any way, shape or form as smart as they think they are, they'd know that not only are they going to lose this fight, but the deal that will now ultimately be signed will be much more in the range of the 14% giveback that the hard line owners originally wanted. Also likely to be instituted are a hard cap, salary rollbacks, and potentially even contraction.
And all of this will be going down without even a modicum of input from the vast majority of the union that has never been given a voice in all of this. Only on rare occasions have we heard from someone on the players side during these proceedings who wasn't Derek Fisher, Billy Hunter, or a team rep.
When we have heard from those players (namely Kobe Bryant, Kevin Martin, Steve Blake, and most recently, Glen Davis), the overwhelming opinion has been: let's just take what we can get at this point and get back to work. Davis was the most outspoken of the group about the lack of communication and input he's had as a rank and file member of the Players Union.
"I don’t think I’ve been kept in the loop as far as what’s going on and how things are going on," he said. "I want to be kept in the loop, but when I say that, they say, well, come to the meetings. It’s not just Paul (Pierce) making that decision," said Davis. "It’s also Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter. I talk to players, but my friends are guys like Paul and (Kevin Garnett) - guys who are in a different stage of their careers."
It seems to me that a lot of the, shall we say, less high profile members of the Players Association have been kept out of the loop with regards to what they want out of this situation. Why? Well, for starters, players like Davis are far less equipped to soldier through a long and drawn out process. Their involvement in the talks would only serve to put pressure on the leadership to cut a deal, as players like Davis are more interested in getting back to work than showing how tough they can be to the owners.
At this point though, Fisher and Hunter can't allow any deal cutting to take place for fear of being seen as weak and/or incompetent. Both of their legacies and their reputations are on the line, not to mention their hefty salaries (Hunter makes a reported $2.5 million per year as the Union Chief) as this will be the last time that either is involved in the labor process. They've simply done too much damage to turn back now.
Rookies who left college early (foolishly or otherwise) will now miss a crucial year of development and money, fringe NBA players who are becoming free agents will have to prove themselves all over again, veterans on the final year of their contracts like Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen won't be able to put away that all-important nest egg for retirement (statistics show that one of every four NBA players is broke within four years of leaving the league), and high caliber veterans like Kobe Bryant who are clinging to the tail end of their primes might be denied one final opportunity to win a ring. All because Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, couldn't take the hit to their ego's from the realization that they weren't going to get the best of David Stern in negotiations.
The average NBA career is a little more than four seasons long. Monday afternoon in a downtown New York City hotel, 30 men stood in a room and, under the direction of three other men serving their own best interests, voted to take away as much as 25% percent of the careers of the other 370 members without ever giving them a voice.
When this is all over, and the 2012-2013 season commences sometime around Halloween, the NBA will be a very different place. Veteran superstars will return with their skills diminished, some won't return at all, others will return at a fraction of what they would have made during this season, and some rookies and free agents may never get a chance to prove themselves again. I'm betting that when the dust settles, the last question remaining among those players will be: "Why?" Meanwhile Fisher and Hunter will sit back and say they've won, because they didn't allow themselves to get "punked".
And that's all that mattered to them right from the beginning.