Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBA players' union, speaks… (Frank Franklin II / Associated…)
It was the players' turn to strike back at the NBA lockout.
Forty-three of them met Tuesday in New York and floated an easy-to-decipher message to NBA owners: Thanks but no thanks. The latest offer from the owners to end the 132-day lockout was rejected again by the players' union.
"We were able to get an extremely specific and focused gauge on where our players stand at this point," union President Derek Fisher said at a news conference. "Our orders are clear: Right now, the current offer that is on the table from the NBA is not one that we can accept."
The players are seeking 52% of basketball revenue while NBA Commissioner David Stern has made a sliding-scale offer in which they could make 49% to 51% after earning 57% last season.
Players, however, contend they would never receive more than 50.2% under the latest offer. They have until Wednesday at 2 p.m. PST to accept the NBA's deal or face a weaker offer from owners.
"They think this one's bad?" said a person familiar with the owners' proposals. "Wait'll they see the next one."
Players would reportedly receive 47% of league revenue in the next proposal, and existing player contracts would be rolled back by an unspecified percentage.
But the talk of the day was the current proposal. The union refused to even put it up for a vote of its 439 members.
"As much as they want to play basketball, they're still of the mind-set that they're not going to accept a bad deal, and that's the message that we have to send, I guess, to the other side," union Executive Director Billy Hunter said.
In addition to the disparity in basketball revenue, players want better compromises from owners on peripheral issues, including a softer luxury-tax penalty for teams that are over the salary cap.
"They don't need to be bullied into taking a bad deal," said a prominent player agent who was familiar with the negotiations. "There's a reason [owners] want this to be a 10-year deal. They know the deal is so bad for the players that they want to lock them in as long as possible."
The agent said there was "absolutely" no way there would be a deal Wednesday. The proposal after the deadline wouldn't be accepted either.
"Remember the ABA?" the agent said, referring to the old American Basketball Assn. "There will be an ABA before the players accept 47% [of revenue], a hard cap, rollbacks and all that stuff. At some point the owners have to come to the fact that the players are the product."
Hunter said he heard through the "underground" the NBA might cancel games through Dec. 25 if a deal wasn't reached Wednesday, a potentially devastating blow for a commissioner who always cherished the NBA's ability to showcase itself with a handful of key matchups on Christmas Day.
The NBA has already canceled games through November, but, in a lighter moment, Stern said there were no plans for further cancellations.
"I don't know what ground [Hunter's] talking about and under what ground he's looking," Stern said.
If a deal isn't done in two weeks, though, Christmas Day games will likely be thrown out the door.
Hunter also said there was "very little discussion" Tuesday about possibly dissolving the union, an extreme legal measure that could eventually allow players to file an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA.
For now, players appeared to be unified after emerging from their meeting in which 29 of 30 teams were represented. Boston was the only team without a player there.
"Once the league's offer was spelled out clearly, everyone said it was worse than they thought," Cleveland Cavaliers forward Anthony Parker told the Associated Press.
Bresnahan and Turner reported from Los Angeles.