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Decertification threat looms as NBA talks resume

As Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher spent Thursday afternoon attempting to prove there is no rift at the top of the NBPA's leadership, were a group of players plotting a coup? According to reports by the New York Times and Yahoo! Sports, about 50 players were on a conference call organized by their agents to discuss the possibility of dissolving the union if an acceptable deal wasn't reached this weekend.

There would need to be far more support than just 50 players, which represents barely 12 percent of the membership, to achieve a majority vote to decertify the union. They'll need 30 percent just to start the process with the National Labor Relations Board. But just the threat alone -- and the publicity of it -- could be a tactic to gain some kind of leverage going into Saturday's resumption of collective bargaining talks.

"Unfortunately, it's come down to almost power versus power," Hunter said. "Now it's all about breaking the players."

Decertification was a legitimate option in July, when the lockout began, but Hunter did not want to go that route. One reason could be because dissolving the union would mean Hunter would no longer be in control, as individual players would then take on the owners in various lawsuits, as we saw in the NFL labor battle last spring.

But to make this move now would be like taking a poison pill for the 2011-12 season. With so many legal maneuvers necessary to complete the process, on top of the league's own litigation against the union, the battle would be moved from the negotiating table to the courts. And the sides have made too much progress toward an agreement to just simply give up now.

That's not to say the union is ready to surrender to the 50-50 split of Basketball Related Income just yet. Fisher acknowleged there was a groundswell of anxiety from players -- as we've seen via Twitter and elsewhere -- who are ready to take a deal just to get back on the court, "but,"  Fisher said, "not at the expense of accepting a bad deal."

The feeling is that Saturday's meeting has to produce some sort of effort toward a resolution for there to be any reason to believe this season can be saved. And perhaps there is something to be read in the words from the union's general counsel, Ron Klempner, who has been refreshingly even-tempered and unpretentious thus far in comparison to fiery quote-machine Jeffrey Kessler, the union's outside counsel.

Klempner was responding to a point I made about the NHLPA's fight in 2004-05, which ended in a lost season that, in hindsight, was something several NHL players regretted. Klempner correctly said that in the case of the NHL and NHLPA, they were fighting over major and dramatic changes to their system, which was far more of a contentious situation than between the NBA and NBPA.

"Here, our platform as been reasonable," Klempner explained. "We're looking to come to [the owners] and to meet them. Just as people are asking us, 'It's a small gap, shouldn't you just cut a deal halfway?' The same thing is on them and it's just not worth it for them. They really do have to come and meet us halfway."

And then there was this from Hunter: "I don't think there should ever be a circumstance where owners make the same or more than players."

With that, we will filter out the white noise of the agent-driven Decertification Army and the scandalous reports of Fisher's alleged back-door deals with David Stern and spoil the ending for you:

There will be a 51-49 agreement.

It is a split that Stern said he never had a chance to negotiate when Hunter walked away from the table last Friday after the league re-introduced the 50-50 split.

Certainly, as ESPN's Chris Broussard and Ric Bucher both reported this week, there are owners who aren't happy with the 50-50 split, so you can imagine a move to 51-49 will be even tougher for Stern to sell. But that doesn't mean he can't. Or won't.

The league already has $100 million in revenue sharing coming from the two richest teams, the Knicks and Lakers, combined. James Dolan and Jerry Buss are basically agreeing to help bankroll the weak sisters of the league just to get the game back to business. This hasn't been emphasized enough.

And yes, that group of influential agents hiding behind the curtain have drawn the line at 52.5 and will wield the threat of decertification if that number dips again. But that doesn't mean they'll get enough support to dissolve the union. Or will actually try.

The players already got the owners off one of the early, contentious issues: a hard cap. This point has been overlooked too often.

So as you read through and enjoy all of the well-written, earnestly-reported accounts of the mayhem and drama surrounding this masquerade, understand this: if there is going to be any kind of season in 2011-12, it'll be with a 51-49 BRI split.

That's the deal for the owners to make. That's the deal for the players to take.

New York Sports