The NBPA is once again in wagon-circling mode, as Derek Fisher fired off another one of his emails to players on Monday. And this one addressed allegations from two reports -- one written by Fox Sports' Jason Whitlock and the other spoken by ESPN Radio's Stephen A. Smith -- that suggested Fisher, the union president, was pushing to get a deal for his own benefits.
The Whitlock story suggested Fisher was in the pocket of commissioner David Stern and drew parallels to Fisher's predecesor, Michael Curry, who led the union to a deal in 2005 and then promptly found himself a job on the coaching staff in Detroit and, a few years later, was given the head position.
Obviously this is a dangerous connection to make, especially at a point where the union is making a stand against meeting the owners at a 50-50 deal, which by many accounts is the only hurdle left in making a deal to end this lockout. Billy Hunter, the union executive director, won't go below 52.5 percent and led the players away from the negotiating table last Friday, when many believed a deal would be struck.
According to the New York Times, the sides are "95 percent done" with the last major hurdle -- and it's a big one -- being the split of Basketball Related Income. This, of course, is the cog that makes the entire deal work.
Whitlock and Smith claim Fisher, along with his Laker teammate Kobe Bryant, is ready to take 50-50. And this kind of a story not only taints Fisher's standing as the calm, cool and collected union leader, but may also create controversy within union ranks. Most players are already anxious and frustrated as it is with games lost this season. And as we wrote in Sunday's Newsday, there is a prevailing belief that a 50-50 deal would pass if brought to union membership for a secret ballot vote.
Still, in this letter, which was published by ESPN Los Angeles, Fisher insists, "My goal, the Executive Committee's ONLY goal is to present you with the most fair deal possible."
And as for the allegations, Fisher insists his loyalty is to the players, not any potential opportunities that could come from developing a cozy relationship with David Stern:
"Usually I wouldn't even dignify absurd media reports with a comment. But before these reports go any further, let me say on the record to each of you, my loyalty has and always will be with the players. Anyone that questions that or doubts that does not know me, my history, and what I stand for. And quite frankly, how dare anyone call that into question. The Players Association is united and any reports to the contrary are false. There have been no side agreements, no side negotiations or anything close. We are united in serving you and presenting the best options and getting everyone back to work.
The attempt by "sources" to divide us will be unsuccessful. We will continue to work every day to do right by you, the businesses that depend on our league and our fans."
Negotiations over billions of dollars is a ruthless game.
Remember that early in October, Stern made sure to mention that Hunter wasn't involved in sidebar talks about the 50-50 concept. That kind of information can make players wonder who exactly is in charge here. What the owners have to want is to rile up the membership, who may hear information from their leadership, but do also read media reports to see what the owners' side is saying, and get them to push for a vote.
This doesn't work the other way because Stern imposed a gag order on all NBA owners and employees, who are forbidden to discuss the terms, details or even their opinions about collective bargaining. So unless you get a rogue owner like Miami's Micky Arison, who had a few not-so-subtle tweets Friday night suggesting he isn't one of the hardline owners, you aren't hearing anything but a unified message from the owners' side.
Arison, by the way, was reportedly fined $500,000 by the league for his comments, most of which were deleted from his Twitter account. How serious is the league about maintaining this unified message? Arison's fine was five times that of the one issued to Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, who over the summer was slapped on the wrist for talking about Andrew Bogut's potential to an Austrailian newspaper.
Of course fans don't want to hear about PR-spin campaigns right now, they want to hear that the sides are back at the negotiating table and hammering out a deal. Right now, however, there are no talks scheduled but there is a strong belief that the sides will come together at some point this week for one more try at the BRI.