- Associated Press - Friday, November 4, 2011

NBA players could have a choice Saturday: Accept a 50-50 division of basketball-related income or risk having more owners join the hardline faction that wants a 53-47 split in its favor_ and a hard salary cap.

When talks resume, they may quickly break down unless the sides can compromise on positions that seem to be hardening by the minute.

A person briefed on the owners’ position Friday told The Associated Press that there were many hardline owners who want a deal at 53-47 in their favor as well as a hard cap, and that the rest wouldn’t go beyond a 50-50 split.

Players have been seeking 52.5 of revenues in their favor _ leaving a gap of about $100 million annually vs. the owners’ proposal _ and there is a group of players who have discussed decertification of the union if they are forced to accept less than 52.

Both sides return to the bargaining table Saturday with federal mediator George Cohen, with some salary cap system issues still unresolved along with the BRI split.

Only one thing appears certain _ the threat of losing the season has never been greater.

Two people with knowledge of the negotiations told the AP that the divide between the sides could grow wider if serious progress isn’t made this weekend. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the negotiations.

“Both sides started out with everybody together. Everybody was together because both sides were asking for the world,” one person said. “Now we’re into real life, and neither side is going to get everything we want.”

At issue from the beginning has been the division of about $4 billion in revenues, along with a system makeover that Commissioner David Stern insists must happen to fix what he considers a broken economic model.

Owners are determined to reshape the league by creating a system like the NFL or NHL, where spending is capped and small-market teams truly can compete with the big boys. But reforming the NHL’s financial structure wiped out the entire 2004-05 season. And the NFL is making money, not losing it.

The players have offered to reduce their guarantee of BRI from 57 percent to 52.5 percent, a concession they feel is more than enough to cover their end of the league’s stated $300 million in annual losses. Owners have offered a 50-50 split, along with significant changes to the system that include a more punitive luxury tax on teams that exceed the salary cap, shorter contracts and a lower mid-level exception.

But that 50-50 split is unacceptable to the players, as well as some owners, who want the players’ share to be no higher than 47 percent.

“When people hear 50-50, they think, `Oh, it’s going to be a partnership. That’s half,’” Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade told the AP in a recent interview. “No. It’s not. That’s not how it works.”

And one person with knowledge of the discussions said there’s no guarantee a majority of owners would be “willing to do 50-50 for very much longer.”

That’s a big reason why decertification talk bubbled to the surface this week amid reports that union president Derek Fisher and executive director Billy Hunter are not seeing eye to eye. The union spent most of Thursday trying to project a united front even as a group of about 50 players held two conference calls to build momentum to eliminate the union.

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