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Cohen wants NBA, NBPA to keep talking

George Cohen has pulled the owners and players closer than they've ever been in this five-month lockout ordeal and he doesn't want them to quit now.

After Saturday's talks, which he returned to mediate, ended with both sides once again pointing fingers and volleying accusations, Cohen released a statement that seemed far more optimistic than the last time he presided over the talks.

"We regret that they were unable to reach agreement on the issues," Cohen said. "We continue to offer our assistance and remain in contact with the parties."

Two weeks ago, when three days of mediation blew up after a hardline stance was taken by the owners, Cohen released a more terse statement that said: "...after carefully reviewing all of the events that have transpired . . . no useful purpose would be served by requesting the parties to continue the mediation process at this time."

So Cohen went from "it's no use" to "we're here to help" in a matter of two weeks. And there's still three business days to roll up the sleeves and give it another go.

And according to a report by CBSSports.com, the union is redy and willing.

And while the union plans to hold a meetting on Tuesday in Manhattan with its executive committee and player representatives from all 30 teams, don't think that there will be silence between the league and the union up until Wednesday's 5 p.m. deadling for the players to accept the owners' latest deal.

There will have to be communication between the sides -- perhaps the cooler heads such as deputy commissioner Adam Silver and president Derek Fisher will chat -- before any dramatic decisions are made.

Despite all of the angry rhetoric, know this: the leaders from both sides have no ambition to blow this thing up. Their jobs now not only involve battling each other in negotiations, but holding off the angry mobs, as well.

Though David Stern would not call the move to put an expiration date on the most recent proposal by the owners an ultimatum, that's essentially what it is. This allowed combative union lawyer Jeffrey Kessler used it as a misguided rallying cry to boil the testosterone of the anxious 400-plus players in the NBPA. A very dangerous tactic.

But while these ultimatums from the owners are getting tiresome, there is really an obvious timing purpose for using Wednesday as a drop-dead date.

Remember that Stern has already said the league will need at least a month to prepare for the start of a season. If a deal was accepted on Wednesday, it would take about a week or more before all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed before training camps could officially open. That takes us to mid-November.

Step back from the brawl to see the bigger picture: This is about preserving the coveted Christmas schedule, a huge ratings bonanza for the league and its major broadcast partners, ESPN and TNT.

If the league can't start the season in time to host a Christmas Spectacular, they're looking at the 1998-99 scenario of 50 games smashed into a small amount of time with no marquee day of their own like the Christmas provides.

So while players spent most of their Sunday calling, texting and meeting with each other about what is being pushed on them as their only other option to accepting the NBA's latest offer, the league authored two formal proposals and sent them to the NBPA.

One was the offer presented in early morning hours on Sunday at a Manhattan hotel, based on Cohen's list of "What If" scenarious that he outlined during most of the eight hours of talks. This one (essentially a 50-50 BRI split with added restrictions on luxury tax-paying teams) had to be accepted by Wednesday at 5 p.m.

The other was not as much a proposal as it was a warning, as it outlined the next bargaining stance the league's owners planned to take if the players did not accept the previous deal by Wednesday. This threat was that the owners planned to re-set the negotiations back to the summer, when a hard salary cap system and a 53-47 split in favor of the owners was on the NBA's agenda.

Threats are meant to intimidate and warn, but generally do incite an aggressive response, especially from a group of highly competitive athletes. So rather than appear as if they are submitting, players now are more open to the idea of decertification, even though the majority of them have no idea what it means.

First of all, if you are an NBA player in favor of decertification, you had better be ready to accept losing not just the 2011-12 season, but possibly some or all of 2012-13 as well. Why? Because antitrust litigation often takes years, not months, to complete.

The NFLPA went the route of decertification last spring mainly because it was in their rights to do it before their collective bargaining agreement with the NFL expired. If they didn't, the union would have to wait six months to decertify, as agreed in the previous CBA.

Even by decertifying, the NFLPA did not achieve its goals. In fact, decertification failed to force the NFL to end the lockout. It took four months for a federal court of appeals to rule that the lockout was allowed to continue and that federal law, as cited in the Norris-LaGuardia Act, prohibits a judge from issuing an injunction during an impasse between a company and its labor union.

The NBA also already fired a preemptive strike against the decertification move by filing a federal lawsuit in August to prove NBA's lockout does not violate antitrust laws. In the suit, the NBA also stated that a decertification move by the union would lead to all contracts being voided. 

This is the mess of litigation that awaits the players -- and owners -- should Wednesday come and go without a deal. And as Cohen has brought these two warring factions within a percentage point of each other on the revenue split with some luxury tax details to hammer out, it seems like they are too close to give up now.

New York Sports