He doesn't make this concession very often, but Larry Fleisher, the guiding force behind the NBA players association, says the league owners outfoxed the athletes this year by keeping 55 rookies, 14 more than last year, on opening-day rosters.

"They won Round 1," he said, "but we'll be ready next year."

At issue, according to Fleisher, is an attempt by league owners to save money and lower the players' salary average by cutting veterans with huge contracts and keeping rookies who have agreed to take long-term, low-paying contracts.

"The owners made a collusive decision to keep down the salaries of players not in the star or starting category," he said. "The result is the quality of the game will suffer.They are signing people now not on the basis of ability and who can help them, but on the basis of money. They sat down and said, 'O.K., let's make money now.'"

Fleisher gave two examples. "General managers everywhere agreed this was a poor crop of rookies, yet look how may made it." And he said the NBA board of governors voted to drop the roster level from 12 to 11 (a ruling not yet in force while it is being appealed) "despite the fact their own basket people wanted 12."

What has happened now, he said, "is that the last few first-round choices and the second and third-round people are agreeing to sign for $30,000 to $60,000 and for three to seven years. Then the owners are going to last year's 10th, 11th and 12th men and chopping off their $125,000 salaries.

"We are going to try to alert college players and agents next year about what the NBA is doing. We will ask them tnot to sell their kids down the river with long-term contracts.

"If they can't get a good enough contract, then take the rookie contract outlined in the players agreement: $30,000 miniumum for one year with a one-year option. At least after two years, the players will be free. If enough players do that, then the club owners are going to have to sit down and decided whether they can gamble losing players so quickly."