Players consolidate lawsuits, but court ordered talks best hope
If you were holding out hope that David Stern and Billy Hunter were going to be having pleasant phone conversations over the holiday weekend, and that the NBA on Christmas still could happen, well, we’re sorry.
The next NBA owners and players negotiations will likely be because a judge ordered them, a source close to the labor dispute told ProBasketballTalk.
Those talks — and maybe a settlement out of them — would happen in the coming weeks, in time to have a partial NBA season. And when those talks start there will be significant pressure on both sides to reach an agreement, more than there has been at any point up to now.
On Monday, the players voluntarily withdrew their case in Northern California and will amend their case in Minnesota. It is now a consolidated case of the two, but still a class action on behalf of the players, something attorneys for the players said would speed the process along. Carmelo Anthony remains the first name on the lawsuit, other players listed include Chauncey Billups, Kevin Durant, Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo and more.
The league responded to that with some legal jabs, because that’s what they do.
“We assume that (lead players attorney David) Boies was not happy with either the reassignment of the case from Oakland to San Francisco or the fact that the new judge scheduled the first conference for March 2012,” said Rick Buchanan, NBA Executive Vice President and General Counsel. “This is consistent with Mr. Boies’ inappropriate shopping for a forum that he can only hope will be friendlier to his baseless legal claims.”
The league was forum shopping with its preemptive lawsuit back in August, but whatever. The league has until Dec. 5 to answer the claim, they likely will do by calling the union’s “disclaimer of interest” a sham. Bottom line for fans, if it comes to the judge deciding this case you can kiss the current season goodbye. Fans need to hope for a different resolution.
Over the weekend, we had passed along a report that there had been some recent “back channel” negotiations going on between the league and the players association.
That talk is “nothing significant” PBT was told. That’s not going to help.
Instead the battle remains on the antitrust legal front. The players’ attorneys are pushing for summary judgment (not an injunction, as the NFL tried and failed to get). Still, summary judgment hearings would not happen until the spring (April or May), which means by then the 2011-12 NBA season would be lost.
Hope of a partial season springs from the fact in the next few weeks (likely after Dec. 5) we can expect the judge to order more mediated negotiations between the two sides, PBT was told. Mandated mediation is commonly part of anti-trust lawsuits, essentially a chance for the judge to make sure the two sides really want to go down this path. To give the sides one more chance to settle their differences without a judge involved. (It is possible one side picks up the phone and calls the other to ask for a negotiating session, but that is the less likely scenario. The owners have said they wouldn’t do that and players attorney Boies said he would not because the league is not receptive.)
A judge likely will order mediated negotiations by the middle of December if not before, according to the source. Talks would start soon after. This would be similar to the talks when federal mediator George Cohen sat down with the sides last month.
The one key difference would be the level of pressure on both sides to figure this out — the players do not want to lose a season of salary ($2.2 billion), the owners do not want to lose a season of revenue (at a much higher percentage for them than the last deal), plus neither side wants to damage the game by costing a full season. What is the point of fighting over how to divide up the revenue pie if the pie itself gets smaller?
In addition, the threat of summary judgment — which would certainly be a huge loss for whichever side did not convince the judge of its case — is another motivation for both sides to figure this out.
The challenge is that people from both the owners and players have suggested they will come into the next negotiations with the last offer they made off the table. Stern has threatened a “reset” offer of 47 percent of BRI for the players and a “flex cap” that is really a hard cap. The players have suggested in kind their last offer of a 50/50 BRI split with more system issues leaning in their favor is something the owners may never see again.
This is not where either side wanted to end up. Union officials have said that the disclaimer of interest was the route of last resort — they wanted to negotiate in good faith. That’s why they didn’t decertify in July or August, they thought this could be worked out. After David Stern’s last ultimatum they felt they had no choice. League officials will tell you they expected this — which is why they filed a preemptive suit back in August — and that the union had bad timing to do disclaim interest now. The league says it has given far more than many owners wanted just to make a deal.
For better or worse, the courts are involved now. For fans they can just hope that the upcoming mediation sessions will turn out different than the last ones.