NBA Lockout Watch, Day 125: Reports Have Union Mired In Dispute; What’s Next?
NBPA President and Lakers G Derek Fisher issued a statement through his publicist last night refuting a recent report by FoxSports.com’s Jason Whitlock regarding Fisher’s role in the CBA talks. Fisher said, "The statements made in recent articles on the Fox Sports website are inexcusable. Among the many baseless accusations, to allege that I am working with the league for my personal gain is unequivocally false. The implication that I am doing anything but working in the best interests of the players is disgusting, defamatory and a flat out lie. I have issued a letter through my attorneys demanding a retraction for the libelous and defamatory stories the site and reporter have continued to publish.” Fisher went on to say, “The Players Association, our staff, Executive Director and Executive Committee are unified and working side by side to serve our players. There should be no more distractions. We must continue to negotiate a fair deal for our players” (THE DAILY). NBA Commissioner David Stern also disputed the report that stated that Fisher “secretly met with Stern and [NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO] Adam Silver in an attempt to make a deal.” Stern said, “That would be false” (N.Y. TIMES, 11/2). NBA TV's David Aldridge said, "I don’t buy at all the notion that Derek Fisher has somehow got a side deal with David Stern. I just don’t believe that. I don’t believe that knowing how hard Derek Fisher has worked to try to get a deal for the players" ("Game Time," NBA TV, 11/1). Whitlock yesterday followed up Fisher’s statement, “Here are two words you will not find in Derek Fisher’s 515-word letter addressed to his fellow NBA union members: Billy Hunter.” It is not “remotely a secret in NBA circles that Fisher had been pushing behind the scenes for a 50-50 split on BRI and that Hunter is convinced the union should not accept less than 52-48.” It is also “not a secret that Fisher’s superstar Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant had joined the fight for 50-50.” Whitlock wrote, “It’s been clear that Fisher and Hunter have not been on the same page throughout the lockout. It was just a matter of time before Hunter and the executive committee confronted their freelancing president.” Whitlock added, “I stand by the accuracy, integrity, sourcing and truthfulness of all the stories I’ve written about Derek Fisher during this NBA lockout” (FOXSPORTS.com, 11/1).
HUNTERS OR FISHERS? SI.com's Sam Amick cited a union source as saying that the "perceived chaos" between Hunter and Fisher "wasn't as bad as it might seem." The source said, "There's been disagreement about how to negotiate or what moves to make, but there's no fatal disagreement here" (SI.com, 11/1). In Toronto, Doug Smith wrote, “I wouldn’t want Fisher’s job for almost anything in the world.” Smith continued, “With the disparate personalities in his union, some with unimaginable wealth, others with unimaginable personal issues and backgrounds, the balancing act he has to strike must be incredible.” Smith added, “That he’s done it so far is nothing short of amazing to me” (THESTAR.com, 11/1).
UNION GULF? YAHOO SPORTS’ Adrian Wojnarowski wrote from superstars to mid-level players to rookies, there is an "unmistakable push to complete the final elements of the system and take this labor deal to the union’s 400-plus membership.” Beyond that, there is an "even larger movement to push Hunter ... out the door once these labor talks are done.” A source said, “Billy can’t just say it’s 52 or nothing, and walk out again. That will not happen again.” Wojnarowski noted there is “a vast gulf in the union, and it’s growing with the passing of every day.” There are “two courses for the union: Take the deal largely on the table or blow this up, decertify and lose the season fighting the NBA in the federal courts.” Within the NBPA, “the frustration with Hunter is this: Hunter knows where the deal will be made, but he’s engaged in a smear campaign to frame Fisher as a sellout to the league.” This has “created doubts about Fisher, but it’s hurt Hunter far more.” Once, “he had the stars on his side, and that’s rapidly dissipating.” A player said, “Right now, everyone has to choose sides: Billy or Derek. How the (expletive) did it come to this?” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/1). The AP's Jim Litke writes Hunter's "intransigence has led to speculation that he's taking a hard line to impress players and hang onto his job as much as he's worried about theirs." If the "result is a bad deal -- and whenever it's finalized, it likely will favor the owners -- at the very least it gives him an alibi." There is a "growing sense that the players would vote to take the deal at 50-50, since the only other option is to walk away, decertify the union, and take their fight to the courts" (AP, 11/2). In San Antonio, Mike Monroe wrote the NBPA has "dwindling options as its solidarity frays and its leadership fractures" (MYSANANTONIO.com, 11/1). Knicks G Iman Shumpert in a special to the N.Y. POST writes, "I’ve tried to stay positive, but this lockout is taking a toll on me, as well as the fans, the workers, and the other players. I just want them to 'free basketball.' My mood is definitely beginning to change" (N.Y. POST, 11/2). But Pistons F Charlie Villanueva said, "We are going to stick together, and we're going to make a stand. We're going to stick together and try to get the best deal possible" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 11/2).
SHOULD THEY TAKE THE DEAL? CBSSPORTS.com's Ben Golliver wrote the NBPA's "strategy was to not blink for as long as possible and hope that the NBA's owners were bluffing about being willing to lose games so that they could overhaul the system." But the "owners never blinked" (CBSSPORTS.com, 11/1). In Toronto, Cathal Kelly writes the players "got what they wanted a long time ago -- the shelving of the proposal for a hard salary cap," and the owners "continue to get what they want with each passing day." It "made sense for the players to press their case this far," but it "makes no sense to continue, unless we recognize that the players can no longer accept a deal that they can’t categorize as a win" (TORONTO STAR, 11/2). NBA.com's Aldridge wrote the NBA's owners "are not looking for a decision; they want a knockout, and they're going to get it." The league is "going to get, at minimum, a 50-50 split" of BRI with the players. Aldridge: "The players aren't going to get 52, or 51, or 50.5, or 50.000001, and if they hold out for those numbers, they're not going to have a season. You'd have to be crazy not to see that now, so it's this for the players: take the deal this week or next, or lose the season" (NBA.com, 10/31). In Minneapolis, Jerry Zgoda writes under the header, "NHL Players Have Advice For The NBA: Make A Deal" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 11/2).
PLACING BLAME: CBSSPORTS.com's Ken Berger wrote the owners and players "can't compromise, and the hard liners on each side won't let it happen." Berger wrote if he had to "assign blame," he would pin it "squarely on the hard-line owners and hard-line agents." Every "conceivable aspect of this deal has gone the owners' way." The players "pulled into the dealership looking for a tuneup and instead had their ride battered mercilessly with sledgehammers." Absent "undue pressure from hard-line agents, Hunter and Fisher should be able to sell a 50-50 split to the membership if they get concessions on several key system issues that remain unresolved -- principally related to the luxury tax and exceptions." But it is "clear who's giving the marching orders not to go a penny below 52 percent." Berger: "Look no further than the infamous letter that seven high-powered agents sent to their clients." Former player agent Steve Kauffman said, "If agents, individually or collectively, are trying to derail Billy and the players' union from concluding this deal, that is at best inappropriate and at worst irresponsible. ... Many agents are primarily looking out for their own best interests. And to take it a step further, there are some that I believe don't fully understand the issues and how they affect their own clients" (CBSSPORTS.com, 11/1).
EXHIBITION NOTES: In Portland, Joe Freeman noted Trail Blazers F LaMarcus Aldridge is "hosting an exhibition game at the Chiles Center, featuring several Blazers and other NBA players," with tickets "priced from $25 to $100." Tickets went on sale yesterday and "at the end of the day, fewer than 1,800" remained (OREGONLIVE.com, 11/1). In Memphis, Ronald Tillery notes Grizzlies F Rudy Gay is hosting an "exhibition game next Tuesday" at 7:30pm ET at the DeSoto Civic Center. Tickets cost $30 and proceeds "will benefit the Flight 22 Foundation, Gay's non-profit organization that raises funds for childhood education" (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 11/2).
CONDENSED SCHEDULING WOES: In Boston, John Powers asks if the lockout's eventual end causes the NBA season to stretch into next summer, will the U.S. "still be able to send the 'A' team to London for the Olympics?" Powers notes, "As long as the season ends by the beginning of July, there’ll be time to get the players in camp for the tournament that begins July 29. And if there isn’t a season, the U.S. still can use any of the three dozen players in its pool." USA Basketball Chair Jerry Colangelo said, "We're autonomous. We're not part of the NBA." Powers: "What's encouraging is that the players' agents want their clients at the Games" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/1)…. In Orlando, Josh Robbins wrote with "each day that passes without a new collective bargaining agreement, it becomes less likely that the Magic will play their scheduled March 7 and March 8 regular-season games in London" against the Nets. The league will "attempt to compress as many regular season games as possible into a shorter window of time," but a condensed schedule "might make it impractical and unfair to ask the Magic and the Nets to make such a long road trip" (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 11/1).