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Head of NBA players' union calls owners' proposal 'onerous'

Billy Hunter writes in a memo to players that the offer in collective bargaining would 'change the culture of the league.'

May 16, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • NBA union chief Billy Hunter, left, and Commissioner David Stern during a news conference during an earlier labor negotiation.
NBA union chief Billy Hunter, left, and Commissioner David Stern during… (Ed Kosmicki / EPA )

The head of the NBA players' union has called the owners' first proposal in collective bargaining an "onerous" offer that would "change the culture of the league."

As first reported Monday by Sports Business Daily, National Basketball Players Assn. Executive Director Billy Hunter wrote an April 26 memo to players in which he said the NBA is seeking a hard salary cap of $45 million per team with more clamps on guaranteed player contracts.

The league has subsequently offered to phase in the hard cap, a 22% reduction from the current $58-million figure, though the specifics of how it would be phased in are unclear.

Those close to the negotiations say this is merely the opening salvo in a negotiation that will probably play out for most of the summer, with the league's current collective bargaining agreement set to expire June 30.

NBA Commissioner David Stern is navigating a tricky landscape. Forbes reported that 17 of the 30 teams lost money in the 2009-10 season, with total profit less than 5%.

Stern is also hoping to avoid duplicating the NFL's labor drama, where the union decertified just before owners locked out players, and a federal appeals court is determining how things will move forward.

In other words, he's trying to get a lot of money back for the owners while not driving the players into decertification.

An individual close to the situation but unauthorized to speak publicly about it told The Times on Monday that the union does not feel compelled to decertify before the owners institute a lockout, content to watch the NFL model unfold.

NBA players have never been asked to give back money, and their only previous concessions have been accepting shorter contracts and smaller salary increases.

Hunter's memo said owners want teams to abide by the proposed cap number, thereby eliminating the luxury tax that teams, such as the Lakers, must pay currently by matching each dollar in which they surpass the cap.

Owners are also pushing for more non-guaranteed contracts, Hunter told the players in the memo, detailing that the league is seeking to guarantee no more than 50% of a player's first $8 million in salary, and only 25% for deals above $8 million.

The NBA had no comment on the matter Monday. The union confirmed Hunter's memo but declined to comment.

"The nature of the owners' demands is so onerous that I feel it is imperative to reinforce the message of our recent team meetings with this letter," Hunter wrote in the memo.

"A system-wide change in the nature of guaranteed contracts ... not only would harm players' economic interests individually, but it would also significantly change the culture of the league collectively."

The memo detailed that the NBA wants to designate players as minimum-salary, rookies, maximum-salary and "others," the latter of whom would be forced to take salary reductions in order for teams to remain under the cap.

"The important part to keep in mind is that without exceptions provided in our current soft cap system, all players would have to squeeze tightly under a hard [and much lower] cap number," Hunter wrote in the memo.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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