NBA Commissioner David Stern puts lockout ball in players’ court

David Stern repeated the phrase almost a half-dozen times in his Thursday night news conference.

“We await the response from the union,” the NBA commissioner said, throwing the lockout ball onto the players’ court while teasing them with the premise of a possible 72-game season.

The owners have made their best offer, Stern implied, and it’s up to the players whether there’s going to be basketball this season.

But Stern might not like the union’s response. The early returns show mostly scorn.

“We are trying to grow the game of basketball, and under the terms that have been presented to us, the game of basketball for us from a players’ perspective financially will not be growing,” Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry said Friday during an ESPN radio interview.


“We will actually be getting rid of a class. In life and society there are three classes — there’s the upper class, the middle class and lower class. And what the owners are trying to do right now, what their proposal is, get rid of the middle class so you have one or two guys on each team making ‘X’ and the rest of the guys crunched down at a smaller number and then no middle ground.”

Terry was referring to the mid-level exception, a rapidly shrinking free-agent tool. Teams that were over the salary cap last season could sign a middle-of-the-road free agent for up to five years and $29 million, though that option fell to three years and about $9 million in the owners’ latest proposal.

Lakers forward Metta World Peace seemed to agree with Terry, in his own way.

“It’s bigger than just a lockout. It’s an educational experience,” World Peace said at a promotional appearance for Sungevity, a solar rooftop specialist. “I went through it twice. I got suspended for how I reacted in Detroit [in the 2004 “Palace Brawl”] and saw they were able to take my paycheck. Now I’m locked out again. I can’t receive a check. It’s more educational for me than anything.”

World Peace wasn’t alone in his apparent displeasure.

“We [gave] them 350 [million] per yr plus were taking paycuts,” Phoenix forward Jared Dudley wrote on Twitter about NBA owners. “Obviously it’s not enough.”

The players agreed to a 50-50 split of basketball revenue after earning 57% last season, but they want more concessions from owners on numerous peripheral items such as the mid-level exception and lighter luxury taxes for free-spending teams.

Player representatives from all 30 teams will meet Monday or Tuesday in New York to analyze the latest offer.

If they reject it, the next step might be to dissolve the union or invoke the more expedited “disclaimer of interest,” both of which would allow players to file anti-trust lawsuits against the league.

Times correspondent Mark Medina contributed to this report.