- Associated Press - Friday, November 4, 2011

The NBA’s owners and players are preparing to climb into the ring once again in their ongoing labor fight, and the latest round is shaping up as the most divisive yet.

The two sides are scheduled to meet Saturday in New York with talks at a standstill, a group of players threatening to disband the union and a section of owners digging in their heels on what they’re willing to offer to get a deal done.

Only one thing appears certain; the threat of losing the 2011-12 season has never been greater.

About 50 players held two conference calls this week to discuss decertification — dissolving the union — because they are unhappy with negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

According to some labor law and antitrust experts, a vote to disband could destroy hopes for even a shortened season.

The move could swing some negotiating leverage to the players, antitrust attorney David Scupp said Friday. But he added that taking the fight to court through an antitrust lawsuit also would make it difficult to resolve the matter in time to have a season.

“Once you get the courts involved and you end the collective bargaining process, it does slow things down and it does make it a little bit more complicated,” said Scupp, who works at New York-based law firm Constantine Cannon.

The first month of the NBA season, originally scheduled to tipoff Tuesday, already has been canceled, with more games on the chopping block if an agreement is not reached soon.

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 that group of players worked behind the scenes to build momentum to eliminate the union.

The owners also show signs of not being on the same page. Miami Heat owner Mickey Arison was fined last week for hinting on Twitter that he was ready to get a deal done while several smaller-market owners are said to be holding out for more concessions from the players. The owners are scheduled to meet Saturday before resuming negotiations to affirm their bargaining position, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press. The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the meeting.

At issue from the beginning has been the division of about $4 billion in basketball-related income, 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 required a lengthy lockout, wiping out the entire 2004-05 season. And the NFL is making money, not losing it.

The players have offered to reduce their share of revenue 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.

That 50-50 split is unacceptable to the players, as well as some owners.

The New York Times reported Friday that a group of 10-14 owners, led by Charlotte’s Michael Jordan, was upset that players were offered a 50-50 split and want the players’ share to be no higher than 47 percent.

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