NBA Owners and Players Association have a Headed Meeting

Every time he read an inflammatory comment about how the league was going to crush the union in collective bargaining talks, Billy Hunter e-mailed it to every NBA player.

Some of basketball’s biggest names definitely received the message.

Fortified by the presence of All-Stars such as LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Carmelo Anthony, the players’ association on Friday let the league know that its proposal for a new deal was unacceptable, seemingly putting a stop for now on negotiations toward a new agreement.

“The players came in there and said, ‘We hope you don’t want to go that way. We don’t want to fight, but if we’re not given any other choice, we’re not going to run from a fight,”’ Hunter said after a press conference.

The union’s executive director said the league tore up its proposal after a “contentious” 90-minute session. But he stressed that doesn’t mean the league is closer to its first lockout since 1999 when the current deal expires on July 1, 2011.

“No, I think that everybody has a different sense of things and nobody wants to see this thing that David Stern has worked and built, the NBA, the successful entity that it is, the brand, we’re not out to damage it or destroy it,” Hunter said.

“So we’re going to make every effort to get an agreement done, we just want an agreement that’s a lot more equitable and one that doesn’t have a structure that’s oppressive.”

The sides began informal talks last summer and things were going well, so Hunter said the players were caught off guard by the strength of the league’s proposal they received on Jan. 29. And he was annoyed by some comments he read from sources on the other side, which he made sure his players saw.

Garnett and fellow Boston teammate Paul Pierce were among the players who then called Hunter and said the players needed to show they were united during All-Star weekend.

“We should be involved,” Anthony said before the meeting. “It’s not only going to affect the players with the lesser contracts, it’s going to affect us, too.

“When you walk into one of those meetings, one of those CBA meetings, and you see myself, you see the LeBrons and the Kobes and the Kevin Garnetts, it’s a stronger presence. So I think we should go in and make our presence felt.”

The union will submit its own proposal, but offered no timetable for when that would happen. Though Hunter said the league wants a deal before James and a star-studded group of players become free agents on July 1, he’s in no rush, since the players believe the current system is working for both sides, and it doesn’t expire for another 16 months.

“It’s going to be incumbent on the owners to try to convince us of the urgency of getting a deal between now and July 1,” Hunter said. “And the way they started, they made a false start and so what they did was they kind of set things back a bit. So we kind of righted the ship.”

The league’s proposal calls for dramatic financial changes, with Hunter saying the league seeks a “hard” salary cap which would eliminate the Bird and midlevel exceptions that teams over the cap can use to sign players if they are willing to pay a luxury tax.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Derek Fisher, the union president, said the players made clear there was “not any way that we were going to be able to use (the proposal) as a starting point for future collective bargaining negotiations.”

“I think what we made clear today is that where they are is not relevant to where we are. We’re not going to begin where they say begin,” Fisher said. “I think that was the purpose of going in today, to make sure they understood that their proposal was not the beginning of the conversation.”

Deputy commissioner Adam Silver, who heads the league’s negotiating team, said in a statement that, “While we do not agree with the players association’s characterization of today’s meeting or the status of the NBA’s bargaining proposal, David will address the subject of collective bargaining during his media availability prior to All-Star Saturday night.”

A person who had seen the proposal told The Associated Press on Thursday that it called for first-round picks to have their salaries cut by about one-third, would reduce the minimum salary by as much as 20 percent, and would guarantee contracts for only half their value. Also, the total value of a maximum salary would drop sharply, as would the total years players could sign for.

The proposal rallied the players, especially after Hunter forwarded them comments from an executive who recently told that, “if they don’t like the new max contracts, LeBron can play football, where he will make less than the new max. Wade can be a fashion model or whatever. They won’t make squat and no one will remember who they are in a few years.”

“I think that maybe they underestimated the response, the blowback that they were going to get to the proposal,” said Hunter, who added it would affect “every player at every level in the NBA” and included “everything that (management) could ever think of.”

The players’ share of basketball-related income would also be slashed from the current 57 percent to well below half. Hunter countered that instead of players giving up so much, the NBA needed to expand its revenue sharing so larger market teams could help the smaller market ones.

“Our position was it was a nonstarter,” Hunter said of the proposal, which he added also seeks “retroactive modification,” meaning contracts signed under the current deal would then have to conform to the rules of the new one.

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