Players will lose when the rhetoric turns real

The high stakes game of chicken in the NBA labor negotiations got amped up again over the weekend with the latest ultimatum giving the players until Wednesday to accept a deal on the table.

A deal that commissioner David Stern said includes a split of basketball- related income to the players between 49 and 51 percent, depending on revenue projections from the league.

"We made the proposal because we hope it will be accepted by Wednesday," Stern said. "I'm not going to make percentage guesses or anything like that. We want our players to play and we'd like to have a season. These are the terms upon which we're prepared to gear up and get in as many games as possible."

Never one to turn down the volume on the ill will, embattled union president Derek Fisher seems to have already provided the answer for the players.

"Right now, we've been given the ultimatum, and our answer is that's not acceptable to us," Fisher said.

The NBPA insists that the latest move by the owners was fuzzy math, a sliding scale in which there was almost no way the players could get to the ceiling, leaving them at the 50-50 split they already turned down.

"We just did not get the sense that they really had the intent coming in here to get this deal done," Fisher said.

The Lakers point guard also claimed that what the NBA presented was a series of "what ifs" and not a formal proposal. The players, meanwhile, countered by offering to reduce their guarantee of BRI down to 51 percent, with another 1 percent being placed directly into a fund for retired player benefits.

"We're at a loss why we could not close it out, based on the moves that we made towards the NBA and towards the league in getting this deal done," Fisher continued.

As frustrating as the behavior from both sides has been during these often contentious talks that's what negotiation is -- an attempt by one side to gain an advantage by the end of the process.

But here's the thing, at some point that rhetoric, coming from both sides, is going to stop being used as hyperbole to persuade a particular audience. At some point it becomes real.

Since the start of the lockout back on July 1, numerous reports have talked about so-called 'drop dead dates.' Stern himself has alluded to certain dates as deadlines for starting the season on time or for having basketball on Christmas.

So far all of Stern's threats to shut down the entire season have been idle, but common sense dictates a 'drop dead date' does exist, and each time the players call a Stern bluff another chamber in this game of Russian Roulette is used.

"These are professional basketball players, the finest athletes in the world. How do you think they feel about threats? How do you think they feel about efforts at intimidation?" union attorney Jeffrey Kessler said.

That sounds like Vince Lombardi giving a motivational speech at halftime hoping to pump up his charges, not lucid legal advice. Someone has to explain to the players that it's no longer about the best deal. The best deal was already taken off the table when the owners opted-out of the previous CBA.

It's great to listen to Kessler or Billy Hunter, the hard-line agents or Jason Whitlock. It's probably fun to play Clint Eastwood, stare down the barrel of a gun and laugh it off, but it's also probably prudent to educate the rank-and- file with some of the facts.

It's not pretty and it's not fair, but at the end of the day, the owners have all the leverage. It's not only their ball to take home, they are the ones with the wherewithal to hunker down and survive what will be financial Armageddon.

When the rhetoric finally does turn real, the next proposal from the owners not only promises to be worse, it will be a disaster for the players, 47 percent of BRI with a flex salary cap.

At that point the players will likely use their only remaining option, decertification, with the hopes that the courts take care of things, a strategy that would take months and almost certainly wipe out the entire 2011-12 season.