National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter, under fire from charges of nepotism and conflicts of interest in recent weeks, announced a series of “governance reforms” Wednesday to be presented to the union at All-Star Weekend.
The measures, as described in an NBPA release, seem designed to prevent the sort of abuses in which Hunter was found to have engaged in, according to an independent investigation commissioned by the players and released Jan. 17. That report led to a letter from Arn Tellem, one of sports’ top player agents, to his clients that was made public Tuesday and called for Hunter’s dismissal.
Presumably, those will include greater oversight over NBPA contracts, since Hunter’s most recent extension — upping his annual salary to approximately $3 million — was alleged to have been reviewed only by one attorney, since deceased, without full approval of the executive committee.
The NBPA statement includes a summary of the controversy from Hunter:
“While the external report contains various recommendations in several key areas, it is incumbent upon the Executive Director, Executive Committee, and Player Representatives to ensure the smooth operation of the union. In my work for the NBPA, my priority has always been to promote the interests of the players. Through the benefit of hindsight, as with any executive, there are always things that could have been done better, ” added Hunter.
It will be up to the league’s player reps, and overall union membership, at All-Star Weekend to decide if the moves are better late than never. Or more barn door closed after the horse is gone.
All-Star Weekend is the NBA’s de facto annual convention, a mostly happy mix of basketball, brand-building, show biz, sponsorships and celebration, with a little bit of league business thrown in. Things figure to be a little more heavy this year, however, from the players’ side.
The National Basketball Players Association will be faced with serious questions about executive director Billy Hunter’s fitness to continue in his current position, based on reports Tuesday by the New York Times and Bloomberg News. They represent the latest challenges to Hunter’s performance, coming in the wake of the Jan. 17 release of an independent law firm’s findings. That report, commissioned by the players, was strongly critical of the executive director’s business practices.
In the Times’ piece, Arn Tellem, one of the NBA’s most powerful player agents, called for Hunter’s removal and urged that they take action at All-Star Weekend in Houston. The paper obtained a copy of Tellem’s letter to his players.
“N.B.A. players deserve better representation from the union they fund,” Tellem writes in the letter. “I implore you and your fellow players to take control of your union and your future. It’s time for Mr. Hunter to go.”
Tellem suggests that players should make that decision when the players association holds its annual All-Star meeting on the weekend of Feb. 15 to 17. That is also when the players will discuss the recent audit, by the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. Representatives of the firm are expected to present the findings and answer questions.
In his letter, Tellem suggests that Hunter should not be allowed to attend that meeting to prevent him from any attempt “to intimidate and manipulate.” Tellem writes: “Hunter is betting that the players — historically passive — will let him slide. I hope you don’t. Clearly, Hunter has violated your trust.”
The Bloomberg story reported that Hunter dismissed family members from union roles after the Paul, Weiss report cited its findings of nepotism and conflict of interest The moves were disclosed in a Jan. 23 letter Hunter wrote to a special committee of players.
The New York-based union paid almost $4.8 million to Hunter’s family members and their professional firms since 2001, according to public records. Hunter makes $3 million a year as union chief.
“Hopefully this decision will alleviate any concerns raised by their employment,” Hunter wrote in the letter. “These measures are being taken although the report noted that both of them were highly qualified, not overpaid, and were contributing members of the NBPA staff.”
Robyn Hunter, the director’s daughter, ceased working at the union on Jan. 25, according to the letter. Megan Inaba, his daughter-in-law and director of special events and sponsorships, will leave on Feb. 17 after the National Basketball Association’s All-Star weekend.
Hunter, 70, also secured a letter of resignation from Prim Capital, which employs his son, Todd.
Hunter, through union spokesman Dan Wasserman, declined to comment on the letter or his family’s employment changes.
The independent report of two weeks ago focused on Hunter’s ethics and raised questions about the approval process for his current five-year contract as director, worth approximately $15 million. Tellem’s letter was highly critical of Hunter’s performance in leading NBA players through the 2011-12 lockout.
Tellem was one of six agents who, at the height of tensions during the dispute, called for the union to decertify, which would have removed him as a principal in the process. He resisted, only later accepting the players’ strategy to file a “disclaimer of interest” as a less strident – and perhaps less effective – alternative.
More from the Times story:
Tellem devotes a major portion of his letter to criticizing Hunter’s handling of the lockout, saying that the union chief was “tactically, strategically and logistically unprepared” and that Commissioner David Stern “outmaneuvered Mr. Hunter from the get-go.” The decision to reject decertification, Tellem writes, showed that Hunter was “more concerned with saving his job and salary than in making the best deal for the players.”
The procedure for firing Hunter is not entirely clear, although it would presumably begin with the 60 or so player representatives (two from each team). The union also has a nine-player executive board, but that board has seven vacancies because of the union’s failure to hold an election within the last year. An election is scheduled for All-Star weekend.
Last year at this time, parties on both sides – owners and players – were happy just to have salvaged a season that could include a 2012 All-Star Weekend. The 2013 edition figures to be a lot more work and a little more heated.
The investigation, authorized in April 2012 by the National Basketball Players Association, focused on Hunter’s business practices, possible misuse of union funds and allegations of nepotism and conflicts of interest. It was conducted by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.
The findings? Hunter did nothing that would rise to the level of “criminal acts.” But he did violate “fiduciary obligations” to put the union’s interests ahead of his own and “did not properly manage conflicts of interest.”
The 469-page document, along with a 39-page executive summary, concluded: “Based on the findings of this report, the BPA should consider whether Mr. Hunter should remain as the Union’s Executive Director and whether new and more effective controls should be enacted to govern the NBPA, its Foundation and its Executive Director, whoever that may be.”
The independent review and financial audit sprang from union in-fighting that came in the wake of last season’s lockout and eventual settlement. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan also has been investigating NBPA business practices.
In a statement released late Thursday afternoon, Hunter said: “While I strongly disagree with some of the findings contained in the report, I am pleased it recognized that I have not engaged in criminal acts nor was I involved in misappropriation of union funds. … In my work for the NBPA, my priority has always been to promote the interests of the players.”
Union president Derek Fisher – whose attempted ouster by the Executive Committee led to the Paul, Weiss investigation – issued a statement saying he looked forward to reviewing the report’s findings and recommendations. “As there is an ongoing investigation by the Government as well,” Fisher’s statement read, “I hope that this is a chance for us to become an upstanding, strong organization with the sole purpose of serving the best interests of current and future players.”
Amid tension stemming from the lockout – driven by accusations that the union conceded too much and splintering among the NBPA execs, rank-and-file players, some high-profile NBA stars and a group of elite agents – the Executive Committee voted 8-0 seeking Fisher’s resignation. Fisher refused and instead asked for an audit of the NBPA’s business practices. (Hunter’s stance was that an audit had recently been done, was not necessary and would have cost the union as much as $400,000.)
The NBA declined to comment on the union matter.
Among the findings that could threaten Hunter’s term with the NBPA:
The union “never properly approved Mr. Hunter’s current employment contract with the union” as required by its constitution and by-laws. Also, Hunter knew that his contract had not been approved, yet failed to disclose that to the Executive Committee and the player reps. [Hunter, in his statement Thursday, noted: "Regarding my contract … it was ratified by the NBPA Executive Committee and signed by President Derek Fisher. I believe the contract and extensions are valid."]
Hunter received $1.3 million for “accrued but allegedly unused vacation time (146 days)” without providing an independent review of records or advice to the union on its obligation to make the payment.
He involved family and friends in union business as vendors or employees, including daughter Robyn Hunter; daugher-in-law Megan Inaba; Prim Capital, a financial services company where Hunter’s son is a partner, and the law firm Steptoe & Johnson, where daughter Alexis works.
Hunter “created an atmosphere at the NBPA that discouraged challenges to his authority.” It cited an instance in which former player and NBPA secretary-treasurer Pat Garrity was stopped by former general counself Gary Hall from talking about potential conflicts of interest.
Hall, who died in May 2011, curiously was the only union attorney involved in negotiating Hunter’s contract. That contract paid him $3 million for the year that began July 1, 2011 and reportedly has three years remaining.
The report also was critical of some business decisions by Hunter and others within the NBPA that showed “poor judgment” or “display insensitivity to conflicts of interest.” Among them:
Hunter approved a pay of approximately $28,000 to cover personal legal fees incurred by Charles Smith, a former Executive Director fo the National Basketball Retired Players Association.
He “spent union funds on luxury gifts for Executive Committee members, including nearly $22,000 for a watch he gave to Derek Fisher in June 2010.”
He made “questionable choices” when charging travel expenses to the union, pursued “atypical” business ventures as potential NBPA investments and ran the NBPA Foundation “without regard for its by-laws or governance standards applicable to non-profit entities.”
Fisher, members of the Executive Committee and even player reps are cited in the report for not properly monitoring Hunter’s activities or following union procedures. For example, Fisher did not put Hunter’s contract to a vote, as required by the by-laws.
That contract pays Hunter approximately $500,000 more than NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith receives and double or triple what their MLB and NHL counterparts are paid. Hunter’s salary jumped by $600,000 on the day the 2011-12 lockout began.
Now 70, Hunter assumed the role of Executive Director in 1996 and steered the NBPA through two lockouts that resulted in shortened regular seasons. He negotiated every NBA collective bargaining agreement in that time with the league’s owners and familiar adversary, commissioner David Stern.
Prior to this involvement with the NBPA, Hunter played professional football for the NFL’s Washington and Miami franchises and worked as a U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California at San Francisco.
The question now, as labor unrest in the NBA takes on a post-lockout meaning and tilts one way, is: Does he stay or does he go?
Or as the report itself asked, Should Mr. Hunter remain as Executive Director? Here is how it summarized, leaving the hard choices up to the NBPA’s and Hunter’s willingness to fight:
“The Player Representatives and the Executive Committee could decide that it is possible for Mr. Hunter to rectify the problems he has created and serve as an effective Executive Director in the future despite the issues of the past. Should they decide to permit Mr. Hunter to continue leading the Union, they may wish to retain independent counsel to negotiate a new employment contract…”
“But the Union need not keep Mr. Hunter. If the NBPA’s Player Representatives and Executive Committee members decide for any reason that the Union deserves a fresh start, they are free to do so. They may choose not to ratify or renegotiate Mr. Hunter’s employment agreement, appoint an acting Executive Director and authorize a search for a new Executive Director.”
TNT analyst David Aldridge contributed to this report.
“Do Not Open Till Christmas.” It’s something that is so magical when it’s written across brightly wrapped packages arranged under a tree, but sure can look miserable when it’s slapped across the entirety of the NBA regular-season schedule.
Everyone found that out last year, when a bitter labor lockout chopped 16 games, most of the preseason and nearly three months off each team’s 2011-12 season.
For perspective, think of all the games, stories, moments and highlights generated already in 2012-13 — with about 70 percent of the schedule still to be played. Now, think about all that was lost –- beyond whatever financial or stability gains were achieved by the warring owners and players in their CBA talks –- as everyone waited and wondered and worried for the NBA to begin last season.
The league won’t be celebrating any sort of anniversary on Tuesday. The five games stacked up that day will be special -– Christmas games always are -– but they won’t be extra-special in the way the holiday and Opening Day got rolled into one, pulling a season back from the brink.
Boston coach Doc Rivers, asked recently for his takeaway from last year’s lockout, said: “I got to see a lot of Duke games [where his son Austin Rivers played] –- I thought that was terrific. I got to go to Hawaii, to the Maui Classic –- I thought that was fantastic. My [golf] handicap was as low as it’s been in years. And then we had a whole season, in my mind. And that was terrific.
“I’m gonna stop there.”
Houston coach Kevin McHale was even more circumspect. He stared blankly, then raised his gaze to the ceiling when asked for his lockout memories. “I’m trying to think if there was anything good,” he said. Of his glassy expression, he added: “It keeps me from getting in trouble.”
Muzzled under penalty of hefty fines, NBA personnel avoided talking about the lockout last season like it was a pass-around fruitcake. It remains something about which many folks in and around the league would rather not speak, because it was one of the NBA’s more regrettable episodes.
Oh, it wasn’t as bad as the lockout that chopped the 1998-99 season down to just 50 games per team. But it was bad in its own right, costing them all hundreds of millions of dollars and forcing a hurried-up, ground-down product on the public.
“Pointless,” Miami’s Dwyane Wade called it the other night. “We ain’t going to go into all that -– I just think it was a pointless lockout.” (more…)
CHICAGO – Serious men tackling significant issues. That’s how some past leaders of the National Basketball Players Association view their group’s history, and that’s why the current power struggle within the union is so troubling to them.
“They’re making too much money,” said Oscar Robertson, a former NBPA president whose lawsuit to prompt free agency in the NBA is nearly as legendary as his Hall of Fame career and triple-double feats. “There are no goals to strive for anymore. They got together and got the collective bargaining agreement resolved. There’s no goals now.”
The CBA that the players and owners ratified in December ended an acrimonious, five-month labor lockout, salvaged a shortened 2011-12 season and got the NBA to eve of what it hopes will be a memorable postseason. The deal also shifted $3 billion from the players to the owners if it runs its full 10-year term, caused factions within the union’s ranks and led to the intramural conflict now between NBPA president Derek Fisher and executive director Billy Hunter.
Fisher has asked for an independent audit of the union’s finances and business practices, which allegedly include compensation and opportunities funneled to Hunter’s family members through direct employment and affiliations, according to stories by Yahoo! Sports and the New York Times. The executive committee of eight current and former NBA players responded by voting 8-0 asking for Fisher’s resignation, which the veteran point guard has declined.
It all has bubbled over, in an age of endless media coverage, at an awkward time of year for those involved, putting the union’s business very much in the sports world’s streets. “What bothers me more than anything,” said Robertson, the NPBA president from 1965-74, “if they’ve got a problem, why don’t they settle it within their organization instead of going public with the whole thing? We settled all our problems within.”
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Embattled players’ union president Derek Fisher said Friday night he would not quit despite the executive board of the National Basketball Players Association requesting his resignation in an 8-0 vote.
“I don’t agree with the executive committee’s decision to ask for my resignation,” the Thunder’s backup point guard said after the 103-92 victory over the Kings at Power Balance Pavilion. “It’s not something that I plan to do. I’m going to continue to push – not just as the president of the Players Association, but as a member of the Players Association – for what I think is the right thing to do. That is simply to take a look at the way we conduct our business, not just our finances, our overall business practices, and try to do a much better job than we have in the past serving our members.”
An internal fight with executive director Billy Hunter spilled into full public view after Fisher pressed to conduct a review of Hunter and the union. Hunter pushed back by rallying support to push Fisher out.
“I’m obviously spending more time on my phone communicating than I would like to be, especially at this point of the season,” Fisher said. “But I also challenge people to think about why I would chose consciously to do that. Normally at this time of year, the one thing that I’ve always wanted to concentrate solely on is helping lead a team to a championship. That’s what I am trying to do here with the Thunder, is to make positive contributions to a great team, and we’re trying to win a championship. That’s what I would really like to focus on solely.
“As I’ve tried to state, if this was just about me, that’s what I would do. I would just concentrate on basketball. But because this is bigger than me, this is bigger than any other one person, it’s really about all players and what’s best for our guys, then I’m willing to take the hits and some of the scrutiny that will come with some of the decisions right now.”
In-fighting between executive committee members of the NBA players’ union and President Derek Fisher escalated Friday night, with Fisher refusing to resign while urging the league’s 30 players reps to demand review of his performance and the union’s business practices and finances.
All of this would have grabbed far bigger headlines had it occurred six, eight or 12 months ago – before the NBA and the union agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that will run at least through the 2016-17 season. Fisher, executive director Billy Hunter and the eight National Basketball Players Association vice presidents who have lined up behind Hunter in this skirmish were front and center then, with the league in a lockout that lasted five months.
Now it is more of an inside-basketball story that might not grab most fans’ attention. The players involved are mostly back at work on the courts, with the playoffs looming. But the political maneuvering by Hunter – who fended off a call by Fisher for an audit of Hunter’s performance, turning that into an 8-0 vote of non-support for the union president – and Fisher might explain some of the union’s inconsistencies and reversals during the CBA negotiations.
ORLANDO – After booking and attending more union meetings and collective bargaining sessions than any of them cared to attend last summer and autumn, members and officials of the National Basketball Players Association rested Friday.
That is, they cancelled their annual All-Star meeting, which had been scheduled for Friday afternoon. Reason: Nothing on the docket.
“This is the first time in a long time,” Billy Hunter, the union’s executive director.
A year ago, the NBPA meeting was a must-attend for both union members and NBA media, with early salvos fired at All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles in what would become a five-month-long lockout. The subsequent grueling rounds of negotiations, posturing and legal threats before a new labor contract was reached between the owners and the players led directly to the current shortened 66-game season.
But by getting a deal shortly after Thanksgiving, the league was able to open on Christmas Day and preserve All-Star Weekend itself. With, naturally, some tradeoffs, like additional back-to-back games, the loss of practice time and what seems to be a spike in player injuries.
“I think it’s a little early yet [to judge the season],” Hunter told NBA.com. “We’ll be in a better position to make a judgment by the time we hit the playoffs. Right now, I just think it’s good that it’s back.”
Hunter said he believed the focus on injuries doesn’t take account for the freak nature of many – like Clippers guard Chauncey Billups blowing out an Achilles tendon – and attributes them incorrectly to the lockout and its aftermath. But he doesn’t agree the premise of some NBA head coaches, who joke that the players enjoy this schedule because it’s all games and few practices.
“If you’ve got ambitions on winning it,” the union chief said, “and you feel you have the horses to do it, and you need the coordination and synchronization, then you want to practice. Because you want to get to know one another and get to know the plays, etc. Just going out and going through the motion, the OJT [on-the-job training], I don’t know if that’s the right way to go about it.”
Besides, Hunter said, fatigue sets in from games too. Said Hunter: “[Deputy NBA commissioner] Adam Silver says, ‘They’re just adding two more games a month.’ But to the players, it doesn’t look like that. They think they’re playing many more games over a much shorter period.”
The new 10-year CBA has a clause allowing either side to re-open the deal after the 2016-17 season, a move both sides anticipate. Until then, they’ll split the proceeds (approximately 50-50 of basketball-related income) and rise or fall with the game’s popularity. At the moment, the NBA says its metrics – TV ratings, attendance, merchandise sales, corporate sponsorships and Internet traffic – all are trending up.
And Hunter, no longer in automatic-adversary role, agreed. “Everywhere I go, if I see 10 people, nine of them are coming up to me, shaking my hand, thanking me that we were able to resolve it and happy that the NBA is back in play,” he said. “I am surprised. It just goes to show the number of people who are interested in basketball and even the number of people who followed it through the lockout.”
It shows, too, that some of the fears about a fan backlash were overstated. The NBPA exec offered one explanation for people’s willingness to embrace the NBA anew. “Look at what’s happening in the world,” Hunter said. “It’s all inter-related. People are under stress, and one thing about stress: certain things excel in down times. Sports historically has sold. Things like alcohol and cosmetics – they don’t take a dip. It’s a distraction.
“Sports is a way for people to come and lose themselves for a few hours. They forget about their problems. They root for their teams and they have a catharsis.”
As long as fans are having that catharsis, the players’ union can skip its meeting. For a while, anyway.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Merry Christmas NBA fans. Our 149-day lockout nightmare, and the NBA’s “Nuclear Winter” is over.
It’s a little early, but most appropriate now that there is a tentative settlement agreement on lawsuits that will pave the way for a collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and its players, reached after a marathon, 15-hour Black Friday-early Saturday negotiating session in New York.
That means the shortened 2011-12 season starts on Christmas Day, a 66-game season with training camp and free agency starting simultaneously on Dec. 9 and season-opening slate of games – Boston Celtics at the New York Knicks; Miami Heat at the Dallas Mavericks; and Chicago Bulls at the Los Angeles Lakers — that should serve as a fitting return our beloved game for fans around the globe.
All that said, a multitude of issues remain. But the framework of the new deal is done — we’ve been telling folks for months now, this thing wasn’t officially over until we had NBA Commissioner David Stern and (former) union executive director Billy Hunter sitting next to each other smiling … “Yahtzee!”
As NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner reported before the sun rose over the hideout, “players are to receive a “band” share of basketball-related income ranging from 49 percent to 51 percent depending on the league’s growth (with a more reasonable shot at 51 than in previous offers). A laundry list of system issues, meanwhile, are intended to make the NBA more competitive across its 30 teams.”
Opinions will vary in the coming days and weeks about winners and losers. We will leave that for others to decide (more on that below). But I think it’s clear that the owners returned to the table ready to compromise in ways (the players already had) to ensure that we see NBA basketball before in time for the 2011 on that 2011-12 season to mean something.
In that respect, it’s a win-win for all sides (players/owners and most importantly the fans). Now, back to the news at hand (with a special HT hat tip to the dogged Ken Berger of CBSSports.com for breaking the story) …
Howard Beck of The New York Times: As a frantic Black Friday gave way to a sleepy Saturday morning in Midtown Manhattan, the biggest deal of all was consummated in a law office tucked between FAO Schwartz and the Apple Store. With handshakes, sighs and weary smiles, the N.B.A. and its players resolved a crippling labor dispute, allowing them to reopen their $4 billion-a-year business in time for the holidays. A 66-game season will start on Christmas Day, ending the second-longest lockout in league history. The deal was reached at about 3 a.m. Saturday, on the 149th day of the lockout, after a final 15-hour bargaining session at the law offices of Weil, Gotshal and Manges. “We’ve reached a tentative understanding that is subject to a variety of approvals and very complex machinations,” the league’s commissioner, David Stern, said at 3:40 a.m., “but we’re optimistic that that will all come to pass, and that the N.B.A. season will begin on Dec. 25, Christmas Day, with a tripleheader.” Training camps and free agency will open, simultaneously, on Dec. 9, giving teams two weeks to prepare. The three Christmas games are likely to be the ones that were already on the schedule: Boston at the Knicks, followed by Miami at Dallas and Chicago at the Los Angeles Lakers. The rest of the schedule will be reconstructed and released in the coming days. “We’re really excited,” said Peter Holt, the San Antonio Spurs owner and chairman of the league’s labor-relations committee. “We’re excited for the fans. We’re excited to start playing basketball, for players, for everybody involved.”
Brian C. Mahoney of the Associated Press (via The Washington Post): After a secret meeting earlier this week that got the broken process back on track, the sides met for more than 15 hours Friday, working to save the season. Stern said the agreement was “subject to a variety of approvals and very complex machinations, but we’re optimistic that will all come to pass and that the NBA season will begin Dec. 25. The league plans a 66-game season and aims to open training camps Dec. 9, with free agency opening at the same time. Stern has said it would take about 30 days from an agreement to playing the first game. “All I feel right now is ‘finally,’” Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade told The Associated Press. Just 12 days after talks broke down and Stern declared the NBA could be headed to a “nuclear winter,” he sat next to Hunter to announce the 10-year deal, with either side able to opt out after the sixth year. “For myself, it’s great to be a part of this particular moment in terms of giving our fans what they wanted and wanted to see,” said Derek Fisher, the president of the players’ association. A majority on each side is needed to approve the agreement, first reported by CBSSports.com. The NBA needs votes from 15 of 29 owners. (The league owns the New Orleans Hornets.) Stern said the labor committee plans to discuss the agreement later Saturday and expects them to endorse it and recommend to the full board. The union needs a simple majority of its 430-plus members. That process is a bit more complicated after the players dissolved the union Nov. 14. Now, they must drop their antitrust lawsuit in Minnesota and reform the union before voting on the deal.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: The owners made “significant moves” toward the players on several important system issues that long separated the two sides, a union source told Yahoo! Sports Saturday morning. “There’s still some tweaking to those that needs to be done,” the source said. After the tentative agreement was announced, some players privately said they would not vote for the deal, believing they had conceded too much to the owners. Still, there is not believed to be enough support to block ratification. “We’re optimistic that the [agreement] will hold and we’ll have ourselves an NBA season,” NBA commissioner David Stern said at a brief news conference held in New York with Players Association executive director Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher. Free agency and training camps will start on Dec. 9, Stern said. Under the current agreement, the regular season would have a 66-game schedule that begins on Christmas Day with three games: Boston Celtics at the New York Knicks; Miami Heat at the Dallas Mavericks; and Chicago Bulls at the Los Angeles Lakers. Players are not expected to be permitted to start working out at their team facilities – or with coaching staffs – until camps open on Dec. 9. “It’s finally great to wake up to this kind of news,” Houston Rockets guard Kevin Martin said.
Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated: • Jeffrey Kessler nearly killed the deal. Again. Sort of. Kessler, the union’s outside counsel, has been a lightning rod for criticism during this process and a frequent target of Stern for what the NBA believes has been a disruptive influence in the negotiations. On Friday, Kessler nearly torpedoed the negotiations again when he, via speakerphone, asked the NBA for a 51 percent of the basketball-related income. Stern and Holt, who have been vehemently opposed to giving the players any more than 50 percent, rejected the proposal. While Kessler was merely the vessel delivering the union’s message, his offer infuriated representatives from the league and, according to a source close to the NBA’s Labor Relations Committee, nearly ended the negotiations. The two sides stayed at the table, however, and, according to the source, eventually agreed on a band that will give the players between 49 and 51 percent of the BRI. • The NBA is happy with this deal. The players are OK with it. Complete details of the new CBA won’t be disclosed for a few days, at least, but it’s clear the NBA got much of what it wanted. It reduced the players’ share of BRI by at least six percent (or $240 million per season) and will ultimately put significant restrictions on player movement, through the luxury tax, that will prevent big or more attractive markets from luring top players away from their incumbent teams. ”I think it will largely prevent the high-spending teams from competing in the free-agency market in the way they [have] in the past,” [NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam] Silver said. “It’s a compromise. It’s not the system we sought out to get in terms of the harder cap, but the luxury tax is harsher than it was in the past deal and we hope it’s effective. You never can be sure, but we feel, ultimately, it will give fans in every community hope that their team will be able to compete for championships and that their basis for believing in their team will be a function of management rather than how deep the owners’ pockets are or how large the market is.” The players? It seems they got a deal they can live with. While many players will likely be unhappy with the concessions made by the union, the majority will vote to approve the deal, in part because they believe it’s the best deal they can get and in part because they are not willing to sacrifice an entire season’s salary.
Henry Abbott of ESPN.com: Common sense suggests players – many of whom have not followed all that closely, and almost all of whom love playing NBA basketball – will approve the deal. But Hunter’s caution is not without reason. Compared to Stern, Hunter has a bigger, less predictable group that has surprised him more than once in this process with stridence. There are more than 400 players, for one thing. For another, many of them are incredibly competitive and are sensitive to the idea Stern and the owners have walked on them. And the players not only have real power — some of them are plaintiffs in a case that must be dropped for the NBA to operate – but they also have some bitter pills to swallow, including spending cuts that will affect several free agents in the years to come, a smaller mid-level exception, and less job security for many rank-and-file players. There may be some salesmanship in how Hunter, Derek Fisher and the Players Association handle the next few days. If I were doing the selling, these are some of the points I’d make: *NBA free agency – the bedrock of every players’ market value — is not everything it once was, but it’s alive and well. There is no hard cap, and every team will have at least some kind of mid-level exception every year. * The Bird exception has led to some of the league’s best-paid, winningest, happiest players, and is essentially untouched. *Minimum team payrolls will be climbing. The league instituted this in the name of competitive balance. But it will be in effect whether or not better players are available for stingy teams to sign, and whether or not owners know how to spend that money wisely. That’s a win for free agents. The Grizzlies reportedly signed Zach Randolph in part because they had to get their salaries up to the league minimum. There will be more deals like this in the future. * The best way to really make a lot of money as a non-superstar NBA player is to touch off a free-agent bidding war. Revenue sharing will help even the most tight-fisted teams to join these once in a while. If $3 million or so sounds like a decent salary to you, right now, for the first time have as many as 30 teams that both want you and can afford you.
Chris Sheridan of Sheridanhoops.com: Here are some of the key details of those moves, according to a league source who was privy to the details of the tentative agreement and shared those details with SheridanHoops.com. _ On the financial split, the players will receive between 49 and 51 percent of revenues, depending on annual growth. The players had complained prior to Saturday that the owners’ previous offer effectively limited them to 50.2 percent of revenues, but the source said 51 percent was now reasonably achievable with robust growth. _Owners dropped their insistence on what would have been known as the Carmelo Anthony rule, preventing teams from executing extend-and-trade deals similar to the one that sent Anthony from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks last season. This means that if Dwight Howard, Deron Williams and Chris Paul want to leverage their way out of Orlando, New Jersey and New Orleans, they will still be eligible to sign four-year extensions with their current teams before being immediately traded elsewhere. _ Teams above the salary cap will be able to offer four-year mid-level exception contracts to free agents each season. Previously, owners were asking that teams be limited to offering a four-year deal one year, a three-year deal the next, then four, then three, etc. _ The rookie salary scale and veteran minimum salaries will stay the same as they were last season. Owners had been seeking 12 percent cuts. _ Qualifying offers to restricted free agents will become “significantly” improved. The sides had already agreed to reduce the time for a team to match an offer to a restricted free agent from 7 days to 3. _ A new $2.5 million exception will be available to teams that go blow the salary cap, then use all of their cap room to sign free agents. Once they are back above the cap, they will be able to use the new exception instead of being limited to filling out their rosters with players on minimum contracts. _ The prohibition on luxury tax-paying teams from executing sign-and-trade deals was loosened, although the freedom to execute those types of deals will still be limited.
After 15 hours of negotiations Friday-into-Saturday –- and 149 days of lockout start to finish -– representatives of the NBA owners and players reached a tentative deal on settling their various lawsuits that should lead to a new collective bargaining agreement that will salvage a shortened 2011-12 season beginning on Christmas Day.
Details of what will become a new labor contract still were vague when the meeting ended after 3 a.m. ET at a New York law office. But the bones of a deal reportedly call for the players to receive a “band” share of basketball-related income ranging from 49 percent to 51 percent depending on the league’s growth (with a more reasonable shot at 51 than in previous offers). A laundry list of system issues, meanwhile, are intended to make the NBA more competitive across its 30 teams.
NBA commissioner David Stern and Billy Hunter, the former executive director of the players’ former union, met with reporters in an impromptu joint news conference shortly after the meeting.
“We’ve reached a tentative understanding,” Stern said, “that is subject to a variety of approvals and very complex machinations. But we’re optimistic that will all come to pass and that the NBA season will begin on December 25th, Christmas Day, with a triple-header.
“We’re very pleased that we’ve come this far. There’s still a lot of work to be done in a lot of places, with a lot of committees and player groups and the like. But we’re optimistic that it will hold and we’ll have ourselves an NBA season.
Stern said the owners’ labor relations committee would be briefed Saturday, with the agreement passing then to the overall Board of Governors. The commissioner said he expects both bodies to endorse the deal.
Said Hunter: “We’re going to turn it all over to the lawyers here and have them work out all the details. We’ll be able to then talk with you further as that process proceeds.” It could take a week to 10 days for the players to re-form their union and ratify a formal CBA.
Stern and Hunter did share a few details on the shortened season. A 66-game regular-season schedule, first reported by the New York Times Wednesday, is likely, pushing the start of a full playoff bracket a week or so later into spring. The plan is for training camps and free agency to both begin on Dec. 9, though details remained sketchy. All-Star Weekend in Orlando, initially set for Feb. 24-26, is expected to be preserved.
Technically, the talks that stretched from noon Friday into the wee hours Saturday were aimed at settling the antitrust lawsuit filed last week by the players when they dissolved their union. But the essence of that settlement will serve as the new CBA, assuming remaining “B-list” issues are worked out, lawsuits by both the players and the league (anticipating the union’s disclaimer of interest) get dismissed, the union gets re-formed with the league’s approval and the deal is ratified by both the NBA’s 30 owners and its 430-plus players.
The “A-list” issues, though, were the ones that had hung up the season, forcing what will be an opening night delayed by 55 days. They’re the ones that caused bargaining to break down Nov. 14 and they’re the ones that needed to be addressed to both sides’ satisfaction –- or tolerable dissatisfaction -– for the tentative agreement to get struck.
Finding middle ground on those was key. Among them:
– The mid-level exception for non-taxpaying teams will have a maximum length of four years every season (instead of alternating at four years, then three years). Starting salary can be as much as $5 million.
– There apparently will be a “mini” MLE for taxpaying teams, restricting the amount they can offer to free agents.
– A 10 percent maximum escrow tax will be withheld without the unlimited “true up” amount requested by the owners in their previous offer.
– Extend-and-trade deals –- as used by Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks last season –- will be modified but not eliminated in a new CBA. That could impact players such as Orlando’s Dwight Howard and New Jersey’s Deron Williams.