Here’s a rough refresher on what has happened in the last few days of the NBA lockout. At the beginning of the week, players’ union officials met their constituents with a proposal from the owners in hand and David Stern’s “take this by Wednesday evening or we burn the whole thing down” ultimatum hanging over their heads. Those union members present decided that the proposal’s push for a 50-50 split of basketball-related income would only be acceptable (i.e. worth a union vote) with the loosening of other “system issues” that set limits on teams’ ability to spend, as well as players’ ability to earn and to move between teams. So, the union reps went back to the league looking for those revisions, and the two parties met for most of Wednesday and Thursday. Negotiations went right through Stern’s supposed deadline until they broke late last night. Then, yet another turning point (or perhaps a tipping point) was established.
In the press conferences, it became immediately evident that Stern and company had sweetened their previous offer marginally, tweaking a few clauses (the value of the mid-level exception, the rules for sign-and-trade) ever-so-slightly in the players’ favor. The league made this offer with the added message that a reluctance to accept it would drive them to “reset” their offer to a 47 percent players’ share of the BRI, an oppressive “flex” salary cap, and all the other blatantly unpalatable stuff that they’d originally promised for Wednesday night. But they totally meant it this time. Stern also declared that, if this offer is accepted, the league has made arrangements for a 72-game season beginning on December 15.
The concessions made weren’t nearly enough for the Billy Hunter and the few union representatives present to flat-out accept, since not that much had actually changed. Even so, they announced their intention to present this “new” deal to the union and determine their next move by Monday or Tuesday. So, the metaphorical ball is now in the players’ metaphorical court (one pines for the day when the players’ encounter an actual ball in an actual court), and there are a few foreseeable outcomes:
1. The players, perhaps with some convincing, could vote on the present offer and accept it. Some other minor issues (“B-list” things like the age limit and drug testing rules) would have to be resolved and the owners would have to vote on the document as well, but this is presumably the smoothest track to basketball being played by December.
2. The players could spit on the new proposal (probably by voting against it, but actual spitting isn’t out of the question) and move in the direction of decertification, which would lead to litigation and basketball never being played ever again and me burrowing into the earth to live among the worms and beetles because life above ground is too cruel and basketball-less. Whether or not this option comes to fruition, decertification is going to be explored further.
3. The players could bring the offer back to the league asking for more revisions. Stern made it sound like this isn’t an option, but he’s made it sound like that before.
That’s roughly what we’re looking at. Stern and Silver made a few shrewd moves — providing details on an abbreviated season, broadcasting uncertainty over whether their own constituents would accept this “new” offer — to make the players seem like the villains should a resolution not be reached. Whether or not that pressure is enough for the union to settle for this loss (and nobody on either side denies that this would be a loss for the union) remains to be seen. To be fair, the union never voted on the previous proposal. I could be wrong, but it seems possible that a quiet majority of the union’s membership was prepared to accept the previous, even less appealing loss. A few players have expressed some desire to just bite the bullet and get the season started (Steve Blake and Kobe Bryant have been seemingly pushing in that direction) while others take the league’s offer as an affront and have responded with indignation (Read through Kevin Durant’s Twitter timeline, or Danny Green’s, or just talk to any agent). Should this actually come to a vote, it will be fascinating to see precisely how the union’s 450-odd members divide on the issue.
So, what happens next week could set basketball back in motion, or it could pretty much obliterate it for the foreseeable future. Or, as has been the case throughout this lockout, it could merely shift the center of gravity and prolong our collective limbo. For now, we wait. Again.