NEW YORK — The NBA players' association, not Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, proposed the elimination of the salary cap during negotiations aimed at ending months of labor strife, a league official said Tuesday.
NBA senior vice president Mike Bass said union executive director Billy Hunter made "several misstatements" during an hour-long podcast with ESPN.com on Monday. Among them was the revelation of the salary cap plan, which Bass said was actually an exception to the cap, not the elimination of it.
Hunter said that, during a meeting last week, Cuban proposed what he called a "game changer" — a plan to replace the salary cap with a heavy tax for teams that spent to a certain level. Hunter said the players were interested in discussing it further and that two or three other owners in the room were really excited about it, but then were told by the owners they wouldn't pursue it.
"On behalf of the league, Mark Cuban proposed adding a new salary cap exception, not eliminating the salary cap," Bass said. "It was the union that, in response, proposed eliminating the salary cap, a proposal that was even worse for the NBA than the union's prior proposals."
Hunter speculated during the podcast that owners backed away from the idea of eliminating the salary cap because it had been implemented under Commissioner David Stern long ago.
"And so I don't know whether there's any pushback because of that," Hunter said. "But we were prepared to pursue that whole idea of going into a different direction, where we would be able to, wouldn't have to worry about a cap. So the exceptions, salaries, all of that would be, there would be no limit with the exception of there being obviously a cap at the top, i.e., a quite heavy tax that teams would have to confront if they went above a certain number.
"But what happened was the owners decided, at least the leaders of their delegation, decided they had to take it back in a different direction. They said we don't want to address that."
The NBA does not allow owners to comment on the negotiations. A person briefed on the content of the meetings said Cuban's actual proposal was much different than what Hunter suggested, and was surprised the union ignored it given that it would have met much of what players were seeking.
The sides met for three days with a federal mediator before talks broke down after players said owners insisted they commit to a 50-50 split of revenues before any further discussions about the salary cap system could continue. Though staffs from the sides have met since, no full bargaining sessions have been held and the NBA is expected to announce soon that more games will be canceled.
Union officials were angry with the league's characterization of the breakdown of the talks Thursday. Now the league is unhappy with Hunter's portrayal of the negotiations, such as when he mentioned items like a hard salary cap and salary rollbacks that owners are no longer proposing.
"In his podcast interview with Bill Simmons, Billy Hunter makes several misstatements and blatantly mischaracterizes the parties' negotiations, the financial benefit to players from the NBA's latest offer, and the benefits from the system changes the NBA has proposed to improve team competitiveness," Bass said.
Bass also said the union has proposed a 10-year collective bargaining agreement, with mutual opt-outs after years six and eight. Owners have been seeking a 10-year deal, but the union has repeatedly said it doesn't want to go longer than six years.
The union would like players to get out from the rookie salary scale quicker than five years, with Hunter mentioning MVP Derrick Rose and Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin on the podcast as players who are underpaid because they are still locked into their scale figures.
"In response to the union's suggestion that top-performing rookies have an opportunity to get higher pay, we have proposed a new bonus pool for rookie scale players who earn designated league honors like MVP and All-NBA first, second, or third teams," Bass said. "Billy fails to mention this."
However, union spokesman Dan Wasserman said the league has never presented a dollar figure that would go with the bonus pool.
Bass also disputed Hunter's notion that the owners are seeking a more favorable CBA because many of them lost money in their other businesses as a result of the economic downtown.
"The owners reasonably believe they should have the opportunity to make a profit in a business that annually generates over $4 billion in revenue and pays the players over $2 billion," Bass said. "It has nothing whatsoever to do with making up for losses in other businesses."
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