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Players target 'system issues'

50-50 split of revenues tolerable if owners back off on other measures.

By Rick Bonnell
rbonnell@charlotteobserver.com

The NBA Players Association wants a meeting with league officials today, looking for tweaks to the owners' proposal that would allow the union to settle this lockout before more than November is trimmed from the schedule.

The league delivered an ultimatum to the players that if they didn't accept what's currently being offered - approximately a 50-50 split of revenues and numerous changes in how free agents are signed - by the end of business today, the owners' position will only toughen.

After a New York meeting of players representing the 30 NBA franchises Tuesday, union President Derek Fisher and director Billy Hunter proclaimed the players won't accept what's on the table. But they also indicated they could live with a 50-50 split if the league would back off some of the systemic measures, intended to inhibit big-market teams from spending far beyond the luxury-tax threshold.

"We hope they come back with something fair, something we can sign and get back playing," Bobcats player representative Matt Carroll told the Observer. "(The system issues) are more important to us now" than the split of revenues.

Carroll said there was little discussion of decertifying the union, considered the nuclear option - the measure most likely to cancel the 2011-12 season. Decertifying would likely tie up this process in the federal courts for months.

In a funny moment during Tuesday's proceedings, Hunter was asked about Bobcats owner Michael Jordan. When Jordan was a player during the last lockout (1998), he famously told then-Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin that if he couldn't make a profit, Pollin should sell his team.

Now Jordan is in the role of small-market owner, driving the hardest bargain with the players.

Hunter's comment on Jordan: "I would have him give the same advice he gave Abe Pollin - I would tell him to take his own advice."

Despite the fire that comment implies, it's clear Hunter and the union are looking for a negotiated solution that avoids players losing paychecks in December and beyond. But the union has difficulty accepting various changes the NBA wants, including:

A major increase in the tax the highest-spending teams would pay back to the league for outsized player payrolls. The league feels the luxury tax isn't punitive enough in its current form to discourage big-market teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics from skewing competitive balance.

Limitations on tax-spending teams' ability to sign free agents through devices like the mid-level exception. That's allowed teams like the Celtics and San Antonio Spurs to give sizeable contracts to aging complementary players like Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess.

Limiting what a tax-spender can do in trades, such as when the Denver Nuggets did an extend-and-trade last season. That allowed a tax team to turn Carmelo Anthony into an array of New York Knicks.

The intent of all that is to lessen the gap between what a big-market team, like the Lakers, can do compared to a small-market team like the Bobcats can afford.

The lockout has been about the $300 million loss the NBA claims from last season, but it's also about Commissioner David Stern's concern that there's not competitive balance, similar to the NFL.

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