Both the NBA and the NBPA emerged from Monday's meetings pointing to Tuesday as a critical moment in the collective bargaining process, with strong indications that it was time for the best offers from both sides in an attempt to save the season.
There will be a large group of players on hand Tuesday, including Knicks stars Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, and though all have maintained a united front behind union leaders Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher, the confidence has been waning. And now Hunter and Fisher not only have the pressure of reaching a deal with the league to ensure its membership won't lose any paychecks this season, they now have a group of the game's most powerful agents advising their clients to shoot down any agreement that goes beyond what the union has already conceded.
While the league and union were, as deputy commissioner Adam Silver put it, "setting the table for [Tuesday's] meeting, agents from six major agencies -- Arn Tellem from Wasserman Media Group, Bill Duffy from BDA Sports, Dan Fegan of Lagardere Unlimited, Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports Management, Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports Management and Leon Rose and Henry Thomas of CAA -- sent a letter to their clients warning them about rushing to take a bad deal.
This letter was first reported by ESPN.com, but also obtained by SI.com's Sam Amick, who posted a copy of it on Twitter.
"The Current Proposal Hurts Your Earning Potential," reads one heading in the letter, which goes on to say, "The NBA demands deep cuts and major 'givebacks' that will cripple your earning potential and the earning potential of every future NBA player."
Another heading says "Refuse Any Deal that Excludes the Players from the Explosive Growth of the NBA" and points out how the league has enjoyed record attendance and television ratings and how franchise values have escalated. The letter then goes on to warn players to "Never Respond to Ultimatums or Threats," with reference to the "doomsday scenario" that is canceling the season.
Ironically, the letter includes it's own scare tactic: "If you don't fight to preserve your rights now, you will pay the price in each pay check you receive for the rest of your career. It is your career, your family, your income, your future. What will you do?"
Finally, the letter implores players to "contact the union and educate yourself to fight for what is important" and insists that players should not accept a deal that involves further reduction of the percentage of BRI received by the players, that eliminates the Bird Rights and Mid-Level Exceptions from the previous CBA, that reduces the maximum salary or contract length or changes unrestricted and restricted free agency.
The letter closes with this: "Remember, it is not about when or how fast a deal is reached, it is about taking the time to secure the best deal."
Coincidentally, that's exactly what Fisher, with Paul Pierce standing beside him, said after today's meeting when he issued a three-minute statement and declined to take any questions.
"We're aware of the calendar and that our backs are against the wall in terms of regular season games and what those consequences will be," Fisher said. "But we still have to be respectful to the process and not rush through this, realizing there are a great deal of ramifications for years to come."
David Stern without question has dangled the season cancellation threat without making it himself and everyone who steps into the conference room on Tuesday knows what will come if there isn't any progress made toward a deal. What the agents did with this letter is not only create more fear and confusion among the ranks, but also provided the NBA with a readymade villain to point to if or when the decision has to be made to cancel regular season games.
But what the agents also did was make sure their players aren't lured into anything just because they are anxious to get the season started. These agents represent the game's biggest stars and highest-paid players, but also a great deal of the middle class, which is certain to get squeezed in a more restrictive system with less money to go around.
This letter was, if anything, an attempt to manufacture some leverage for the players against owners on the eve of the most important meeting, to date, in the collective bargaining process. If it merely gave the owners enough reason to change their strategy, the letter worked.
But if not, the players will then be in for a long, costly battle. And the union, mainly Billy Hunter, might not be able to survive it. Perhaps that was the plan all along.