Larry Fleisher, general counsel for the NBA Players Association, said today that under the league owners' proposed contract proposal, Virginia's Ralph Sampson could be offered only the NBA's minimum salary of $40,000 a year.
"And there would be nothing Ralph could do about that," said Fleisher. "And we don't think that's right."
Last year, Sampson turned down a contract worth a reported $1 million per season and chose to remain in school for his senior year. Sampson is expected to be the first player selected in the June draft.
The Houston Rockets have the worst record in the NBA, and because they own Cleveland's No. 1 draft choice as well, may get the first two picks. But Fleisher said the Rockets' total payroll is above the salary limit the owners have proposed, which means Sampson could be signed only for the minimum $40,000 unless the Rockets reduce their payroll.
When the players association set an April 2 strike deadline last week, there were reports that under the league's proposed guaranteed compensation plan, team payrolls would be limited to $4 million, while guaranteeing each club would spend at least $3 million. The league then would create a fund, in addition to individual salaries, that would be financed by a fixed percentage of NBA revenues, and would be disbursed to the players according to a formula established by the union.
Fleisher said today the proposed ceiling by the owners is "slightly over $2 million and the weaker teams would only have to spend 50 percent of that."
The NBA has proposed that previous contractual commitments in excess of the maximum team salary would be honored, even though it would push that team's payroll over the limit.
Fleisher said the owners paid approximately 57 percent of their gross to the players last year, but are proposing only 40 percent in their guaranteed compensation plan. The players are asking for "no less than 55 percent" in the new agreement.
Fleisher said the players want a higher percentage, but have agreed in principle to the guaranteed compensation plan. The question is when to institute it.
The owners want guaranteed compensation to start immediately, but the players don't want it to begin until after the 1986-87 season.
That is when the 1976 Oscar Robertson suit settlement expires. It was that settlement that established the current free-agent system in the NBA, which has enabled salaries to rise to an average of $246,000 a year.
The Robertson settlement established the right of first refusal, in which a free agent can negotiate with every team in the league and then present the best offer to his former club. The old team has 15 days to match the offer or allow the player to leave.
"We signed a court order when we made that settlement," said Fleisher, "and we aren't going to change it because some immature and egomaniacal owners can't control themselves.
"It took us six long years to get that settlement and we aren't going to give it up now," said Fleisher. "More than 200 players will become free agents in the next three years and we aren't going to take that away from them."
"If we waited four years to implement the plan, all of the players would have a chance to plan ahead, and the gross revenues in the league would be high enough so as no players would get hurt by it," he added.
"We can live with the plan--we just can't live with it now. What we want to do is negotiate for the interim, sign a very modest labor agreement that will keep the league going for three years and then, in four years, go to the guaranteed compensation plan. All we are asking for now are increases that will keep up with the cost of living. We don't want anything else."