With the clock ticking for the NBA owners and players' union to reach a new collective bargaining agreement before the league's Wednesday deadline, 43 players -- including union officials and player representatives of 29 of the NBA's 30 teams -- met on Tuesday, reiterating their desire to resume labor talks and that the owners' latest labor offer is "unacceptable."
"The players are clearly of the mind that it's an unacceptable proposal," union executive director Billy Hunter told reporters in New York. "But because of their commitment to the game and their desire to play, they're saying to us that we want you to go back, see if you can go back, get a better deal."
Following Saturday's session between the two sides, commissioner David Stern stated the union has until the close of business on Wednesday to accept the NBA's current proposal -- which adopted five "what-if" ideas made by federal mediator George Cohen, including a band that would allow players to receive 49-51 percent of basketball-related income. However, union president and Lakers guard Derek Fisher said the owners' latest offer is essentially a 50-50 split of BRI.
If both sides fail to reach an agreement by Wednesday, Stern said the owners will reset their offer to where it was months ago: a 47 percent share of BRI for the players along with a hard cap.
On Tuesday, union officials sounded willing to accept the NBA's proposal of a 50-50 split, but said the owners would have to make concessions on the unresolved system issues.
"Without those improvements in the system, we don't see a way of getting a deal done between now and end of business [Wednesday] evening," Fisher said. "Our orders are clear, the current offer that is on the table from the NBA is not one that we can accept."
Despite reports suggesting that a group of players are wavering in their support for the union, Hunter said there was very little discussion about decertification. The Boston Celtics were the only team not represented at the meeting on Tuesday.
Bulls guard John Lucas III attended the session in place of team rep Carlos Boozer and alternate Joakim Noah. While no further meetings have been scheduled between the two sides, Lucas is encouraged by the players' unity and knows the union is ready to restart negotiations with the league.
“As players, we’re standing behind our union. Everyone was on the same page and is willing to negotiate some more on the deal, but everyone wants to get back to playing,” Lucas said during a phone conversation on Tuesday night. "As of right now, our union and our players on the [executive] board are doing a terrific job.
“As a collective group, we just want a fair deal for both sides. Not [just] for the players, but also for the owners. At the end of the day, it’s not just affecting both of our parties -- the owners and the players -- but it’s also affecting our fans and the people who work at the arenas.”
Hunter told reporters he "anticipates" both sides will meet ahead of Wednesday's 4 p.m. CT deadline. Meanwhile, in an interview on NBA TV, Stern said whether he agrees to meet on Wednsday "would be guided by the labor relations committee."
The players have continued to make concessions, and appear willing to lower their revenue share to 50 percent, seven percent lower than they received in the expired bargaining agreement. Obviously, a labor agreement can be had, but it will come down to whether or not the league is willing to make the final push, the extra concession.
“When we get to that hurdle, I think we’ll decide what the next thing for us to do is," Lucas said of what moves the players would need to make if the NBA resets its offer. "But for now, we’re standing behind our union. I feel like our union is doing a terrific job.”
Lucas understands the business side of the NBA drives these negotiations, but feels the two sides need to find common ground for a labor deal. As much as NBA fans want to begin watching Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose and LeBron James, among others, Lucas said players are equally anxious to get back on the court.
“[Players] are itching to play ball. We’re willing to negotiate," Lucas said. "We just want, as players, the best deal that’s there for both sides. Everyone just wants to get back to work. We’re trying to do what’s best for us, and the owners have to do what’s best for them [too]. We have to meet somewhere in the middle.”