Billy Hunter, Players Toss David Stern An NBA Lockout Lifeline

Not only did Billy Hunter and the players call David Stern bluff on the NBA lockout on Tuesday, but they offered the commissioner a path out of it. Also, a prospect tries to forge a new route to the NBA by way of Spain.

For all the flak the players' union has taken for its lack of a cohesive public relations campaign during the NBA lockout, things couldn't have played out much better on Tuesday. Somehow, Billy Hunter and the union managed to both call David Stern's bluff and toss him a lifeline.

How the union called the owners' bluff is simple: faced with an arbitrary ultimatum, players refused to cave on some incredibly specific, rather arcane transaction constrictions that will affect a relatively small number of players. The rules in the league's offer that the union is rejected have some measure of importance in the grand viewing of free agency and trade movement, and they certainly represent an invisible hand tamping down salaries in the future. But compared to what happens in other sports league, and what the owners are proposing as of Thursday, these are relatively minor concerns. That the players refused to accept them to get a deal is pretty bold.

But at the very same time, the players' union, and Hunter specifically, offered to rescue Stern from a whirlpool of his own creation.

The players will take a 50-50 revenue split ... if they get some help on those system issues. It should be a no-brainer for the owners and Stern. The league has already won a stiffer luxury tax, one that is graduated and should seriously limit how willing teams are to exceed the threshold. The owners will get a penalty on "repeat offenders" of the tax line -- at issue is whether that penalty will be a 50-percent or 100-percent penalty. The invisible hand of the luxury tax is now a fist; owners want it to be a fist wearing brass knuckles, but the bare fist seems powerful enough. If it isn't, we're only seven years away from another collective bargaining spell.

Hunter made his rescue attempt personal, but in a good way. Ken Berger of CBS Sports talked to Hunter late Tuesday. The union director came off as legitimately concerned for his rival.

"My concern and what I'm trying to determine is whether or not David may be a hostage in his own camp. That's what kind of concerns me, what's going on over there. He may not have the sway that he once had. He's been a hell of a commissioner, but I'm not sure."

Stern could meet that with a stone wall, but there's a good chance that Hunter is right, that the commissioner is ready to take this deal and count his lucky stars, but that the fringe ownership holding up the proceedings is refusing to budge. If that's the case, that the Jordan cartel on the edge is that strident and has the votes, we're in trouble. If Stern can't walk into a room with Hunter on Wednesday with complete authority to approve a deal at 50-50 that wipes away a couple or all of the league's final system issue asks, we're in deep trouble.

That seems to be what Hunter is expressing here: hope that Stern maintains the power he always had, that the commissioner's kvetching on the league's labor committee setting the rules is simply that, kvetching to wiggle out of a tough question. Provided that Hunter and Stern continue to behave rationally and treat each other with respect, we should find out on Wednesday. Treat the Holy Ghost well, y'all.

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A NEW PATH

The NBA age minimum has sent a few prospects on interesting paths. While the overwhelming majority of prospects who would have considered going from preps to pros before 2006 have become one-and-done players, a few have gone a different direction. There was Brandon Jennings, who signed a deal to play basketball in Rome for a year after high school instead of going to Arizona. (He ended up as the No. 10 pick in 2009 despite low production in Rome.) Jeremy Tyler went further, leaving the United States with a year left in high school to spend two pre-NBA seasons overseas. It was a disaster, but he still went in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft. Latavious Williams chose the NBA D-League over college, and became a second-round pick.

What Khadeem Lattin, a top-25 prospect in the high school class of 2014, has chosen to do is much different. He'll go to a basketball academy in Spain for the next two years, at which point he may return to the United States to spend time in a college program. Unlike Jennings and Tyler, Lattin won't be getting paid. But he'll certainly be getting a different basketball education than his contemporaries who end up at Oak Hill and the like. He's going to true blue European route, the path that Spanish players follow to the pros.

The upshot for NBA scouts is that a domestic kid now becomes more expensive to track. This is another variable to weigh in future considerations of Lattin as a pro prospect. If Lattin and his team successfully navigate the next few years -- whether that includes a return to Division I basketball, or some pro seasons in Europe -- there could eventually be a stream of prospects who choose this route. Eventually, if the market is rational, basketball academies that have nothing to do with NCAA eligibility/preparation will pop up in the United States. There are already sports academies, but those that include sports like basketball are tailored toward college eligibility. I've never understand why the strict definition of college eligibility should have to be so important to players who are only going to spend a year or two in college. Let's not pretend that studying for the SAT is the best way to learn. It's not. Our cookie-cutter eligibility standards do prospects a disservice, and options outside of the NCAA regime are important. While Lattin may still end up in D-I, the idea his move represents could be a better one than those forged by Jennings, Tyler and Williams.

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The Hook runs Monday through Friday. See the archives.

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