Instead of asking how John Wall feels he has improved, how Andray Blatche’s shoulder is healing, if JaVale McGee has developed any new post moves, how Jordan Crawford will adjust to playing alongside Nick Young (assuming Young re-signs in free agency), how draft picks Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton will fit in, or if this is the season that Flip Saunders can steer the Wizards in the right direction, the supposed first day of training camp is centered around the same topic as the past three months: when are the league and its union going to reach a compromise on a new collective bargaining agreement?
The owners and the players are expected to meet again in New York on Tuesday — for what National Basketball Players Association president Derek Fisher referred to as “very huge day” — to determine if the two sides can avoid canceling regular-season games. Training camps have already been postponed, the first week of the preseason has already been canceled, and — though the league hasn’t made any formal announcement — more preseason games will have to be sacrificed, if for nothing more than the calendar dictates that they will have to be.
But before they reach any kind of agreement, a group of agents representing six of the most powerful firms jointly crafted a letter that advised their clients not to accept any deal in which the basketball-related income revenue split dips below 52 percent or requires them to accept any other systematic changes to the previous system. A PDF of the letter can be found here.
Mark Bartelstein (Priority Sports and Entertainment), Bill Duffy (BDA Sports), Dan Fegan (Lagardere Unlimited), Jeff Schwartz (Excel Sports Management), Leon Rose and Henry Thomas (Creative Artists Agency) and Arn Tellem (Wasserman Media Group) represent more than half of the league’s players and have strongly pushed for the union to pursue decertification.
“The bottom line is simple as this, the players association has been trying for months now to make a deal. The owners don’t want to make a deal unless it’s on their terms,” said one of the agents behind the letter. “That’s not negotiating. So if you can’t make a deal that you think is fair and just for both sides, then you have to look at what your alternatives are. You can’t keep knocking your head against the wall.”
The letter warns that a reduction of the players’ share of BRI to 52 percent will result in “severe ramifications on free agency and your ability to obtain your true market value.” It urges players to “fight” for maintaining the existing structure of the Bird and mid-level exceptions, no reduction in maximum salaries from existing levels, no reduction contract lengths and no changes to unrestricted free agency and improved restricted free agency.
It also demands that the NBPA submits any proposed agreement to a vote by all players and request adequate time to make a decision. ESPN.com’s Ric Bucher reported on Monday that when the union and owners reached a deal in 1999, players were barely given more than 24 hours to review the proposal. They also had to be present to have their vote count in a show of hands, but a total of 184 votes — less than half of those eligible — were recorded.
“Remember,” the letter states, “it is not about when or how fast a deal is reached, it is about taking the time to secure the best deal.”
Fisher countered a push from agents for decertification last month with a letter of his own and was able to rally the players behind the reunion. But the two sides don’t appear to be any closer to resolving their differences after several cram bargaining sessions in recent weeks.
“We know that our backs are against the wall in terms of regular-season games and what those consequences will be,” Fisher told reporters in New York on Monday. “But we still have to be respectful to the process, not rush through this, realizing that there are a great deal of ramifications for years to come. So we have to be responsible in that regard.”
Commissioner David Stern said on Monday that it would be difficult to have an 82-game season start on Nov. 1. “It would be great to be able to make some real progress” on Tuesday, he said. “Whether that’s possible or not, I don’t know.”