Decision day for NBA players may have arrived. And on the eve of perhaps the biggest meeting of the lockout, the league took its talking points to the players and public.
The players' association will meet in New York on Monday morning, a session that could lead to the end of the lockout or send it into a bigger tailspin. Representatives from all 30 teams are expected, as are other players, to examine and discuss a seven-page summary of the NBA's latest collective bargaining proposal to the union.
The proposal, which was obtained by The Associated Press, was dated Friday and addressed to union executive director Billy Hunter. Some who will be in the NBPA meeting said Sunday they had not yet seen it, creating some confusion over what exactly is on the table.
And the loudest voice telling them to take it is David Stern's.
The NBA commissioner sent a memo to players Sunday urging them to "study our proposal carefully, and to accept it as a fair compromise of the issues between us."
In the memo, posted on the league's website, Stern highlights points of the deal and asks players to focus on the compromises the league has made during negotiations, such as dropping its demands for a hard salary cap, non-guaranteed contracts and salary rollbacks.
"We haven't asked for anything more than what we had," Miami player representative James Jones said Sunday. "We understand the times. We understand the economy. We just want a fair deal where both sides are bearing the weight of the present times and with an eye on the future of the game of basketball."
Sounds so simple. But it's not.
By Monday, things could finally become clear - because this union meeting may decide if basketball will be played this season.
But first, the NBA tried reaching the masses directly Sunday night.
Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver went on Twitter and talked everything from contraction (which has been discussed) to sending players to the D-League at slashed salaries (which isn't in the proposal).
Among those asking: Miami's Dwyane Wade and Philadelphia's Spencer Hawes. One of Hawes' questions was "since we have covered all of your alleged losses(and more)why am I not getting ready for a game tonight." The league said it disagreed with the premise.
Wade asked, "why are all your "system solutions" only impacting the PLAYERS?? What have the owners (given) up of significance??" The NBA responded, "The economics & system favoured the players in prior CBA," then again said team losses topped $300 million last season.
Someone asked if the league would consider replacement players. The answer: "Our goal is a season with our current players." Another wanted to know if contracts would become void if the NBPA decertifies, and the league said yes.
Next came a 92-second video the NBA posted to YouTube, which showed projections for a $7.7 million average salary for players in the 10th year of the current proposed deal and even had a hypothetical breakdown of what a team may look like in 2013-14, with a "superstar" making $17 million, an "All-Star" making $14 million, other starters making between $8-10 million and with a total payroll of about $77 million.
That projection means team payrolls will in theory top $115 million by the proposed deal's end, which could come to the chagrin of many owners. On Saturday, Stern said again if the current offer is rejected, a harsher one - where owners would keep about another $120 million of basketball related income annually, along with other system issues players didn't want - will take its place.
"We're not going to cancel the season this week," Stern said. "We're just going to present them what we told them we would."
The NBA wants a 72-game season to begin Dec. 15. For that to happen, a handshake deal would be needed this week, given that Stern said it will take about 30 days to get the season going after an agreement is reached.
There are 17 topics in the memo, including how teams paying a luxury tax cannot acquire free agents in sign-and-trade deals after the 2012-13 season. One of the key points comes on Page 5, where the NBA says "there will be no limitations on a player's ability to receive 100 percent guaranteed salary in all seasons of a contract."
Players have repeatedly said they will reject any deal without guaranteed contracts.
"I'm going to sit down take a look at the deal and analyze it," Minnesota player rep Anthony Tolliver said Sunday, the lockout's 136th day. "Not like it's the first offer or the last offer, but just as one where I'll say 'Would I or my teammates want to play under these conditions?'"
Among the other points outlined in the summary sent to Hunter by Silver:
- The union will choose between accepting either a 50-50 split of BRI or a band where they may receive between 49 percent and 51 percent, depending on economic projections;
- All teams may still use a mid-level exception, though rules vary on whether a franchise is above or below the luxury-tax level;
- Minimum team payrolls would be at least 85 percent of the salary cap in 2011-12 and 2012-13, and 90 percent starting in 2013-14;
- Luxury tax rates would rise after the third year of the deal;
- Maximum contract lengths would not exceed five years, and annual raises would be cut significantly to a maximum of 6.5 percent;
- There would be an "amnesty" provision where a team may waive one player before any season, if that player was under contract at the inception of the CBA, and have his salary removed from the team's totals for luxury-tax and salary-cap purposes.
"I was a little bit more hopeful last week than I am this week," Tolliver said. "I'm trying not to be too negative but it's kind of hard not to when it's been this long and this many meetings. It's hard not to get continuously more pessimistic by the day. Hopefully this deal will blow me away in a good way. But it's hard to believe that's going to be the case."
Meanwhile, talks about decertifying continue - even though the NBA said deals would become void if that happens.
An agent who spoke with the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the ongoing dispute said "a lot of petitions have been signed already," but acknowledged some players aren't sure that move would get owners to relent on any issues.
"I would say the thing I don't like the most isn't about the deal specifically, but is the lack of information on what's actually on the table," the agent said. "That's the most frustrating thing. ... I think that the guys should actually know what's being proposed and decide from there."
Another person directly involved with the negotiations told the AP the NBA side is frustrated that the league's current offer is already being poorly received, even though most players have not seen the proposal.
That person reiterated Stern's words: The next offer will be much worse.
"It's time to think rationally about what we're talking about here," the person involved with negotiations said. "This is the deal. We've come too far. We've talked it out. This is the deal and there are things in this deal that neither side will like. Everyone made concessions. It's time to decide. We all talk about these arena workers and the effect this has on the local economy, all those things. If we mean what we say about those workers, this deal gets done and the season starts Dec. 15."