Ben Golliver – CBSSports.com
In his latest missive, sent just a few weeks after he penned one attacking agents in advance of a NBPA regional meeting in Las Vegas, Fisher asserts that the players “drive this game” and repeats his earlier statements that the league’s owners have a number of “internal issues” that need to be resolved before a deal can be struck.
ESPN.com obtained the letter. Here are a few excerpts.
“There are a number of team owners that will not lose the season over the hard cap system. We’ve been clear from Day 1 of this process that we cannot sign off on a deal that attempts in any way to include a hard salary cap for our teams. That has not changed,” Fisher said. “Unless you, the group we represent, tell us otherwise, we are prepared to hold the line for as long as it takes to preserve the system we’ve worked so hard to build.
“We still haven’t been presented with any real specifics or proposals that include what a new revenue sharing model will look like,” Fisher said. “It is my belief that if they can get us to be short-sighted and agree to an unfair deal they won’t have to share more revenue amongst themselves. They will have gotten what they need from us. We can’t allow that to happen guys. Not under any circumstances.
“It is also my belief that once they have worked out more of their internal issues, the opportunity to negotiate and get a fair deal done is there.”
Fisher’s goal in raising these splinter issues is to provide an explanation for why he needs more time, potentially a lot more time, to get a new deal done and get the players back to work. Waiting just to wait doesn’t do the players any good, and that will lead to restlessness. But waiting makes a lot more sense if the payoff is that the NBA owners are more willing to deal. Conventional wisdom and the size of their respective checking accounts suggest that time is on the owners’ side; here, Fisher tries to flip that idea on its head to reclaim some leverage and bolster internal confidence.
The problem with this tactic is that it will continue to read like empty rhetoic until the owners make a proposal that moves anywhere in the vicinity of a deal. Up to this point, preaching patience hasn’t accomplished much for Fisher and NBPA executive director Billy Hunter. Relying on the owners to set the pace of these negotiations isn’t ideal. Push is coming to shove for the players before our eyes and there is a finite number of times that Fisher will be able to go back to the “patience” card. He hasn’t exhausted those opportunities but I’m sure he would much rather be selling progress than patience after this week’s meetings.
Be sure not to read over the phrase “unless you, the group we represent, tell us otherwise” with regard to the hard cap. That reads an awful lot like hedging. Up to this point, the idea of a hard cap has been a “blood issue” that was not suitable for negotiation. But that clause seems totally unnecessary if the players had truly agreed that the hard cap was to be a “blood issue”. Therefore this almost reads like a door being cracked open or an innocent invitation to the rank and file: “Just tell us to cave and we’ll cave!” Maybe that’s too cynical.
Given the deliberate pace of negotiations, it’s hard to be anything but too cynical.