Note: See the full story after the jump for updates to the original story.
Following a meeting of player representatives this morning in New York, the NBA Players Association announced this afternoon that they have rejected the latest offer from the NBA owners and have filed a disclaimer of interest, paving the way for litigation against the league. They will disband the Players Union immediately, effectively avoiding the oft-discussed waiting period before decertification could be finalized. Billy Hunter led off the NBPA's press conference with a sentence that nobody wanted to hear: "We've arrived at the conclusion that the collective bargaining process has completely broken down."
The immediate consequence, as described by the NBPA and legal experts in the media, is that the battle over the new CBA moves from the boardroom to the courtroom. Derek Fisher stated that the decision to reject the offer and file the disclaimer was a unanimous decision. The move comes as something of a surprise given that most had expected the union to either vote on a revised version of the owners' most recent proposal or to move forward with a decertification process that would have allowed time to continue negotiations with owners.
"This is where it stops for us as a union," said Fisher.
ESPN NBA insider Ric Bucher stated on SportsCenter that he believes the possibility remains for further negotiations, though the willingness of either party to continue after this setback has to be questioned. Commissioner David Stern has insisted that the league will reset to a very strict proposal now that the union has rejected the offer on the table. This includes, presumably, a 53-47% BRI split in favor of the owners, a very rigid flex cap, and potential salary rollbacks and non-guaranteed contracts.
Make no mistake, the entire season is in grave danger.
UPDATE #1: David Stern, appearing live on SportsCenter about 40 minutes after the NBPA's announcement, stated that the union threatened a lawsuit months ago and the owners anticipated this development. Stern said, "Billy Hunter has decided to put the season jeopardy..." He insisted that any split among owners was superficial, not related to market size, and that he was confident he could use his "powers of persuasion" to convince all the owners that the offer on the table was a good one for the league, had the union accepted the proposal. Instead, Stern's language was severe, and seemed to communicate a feeling that negotiations would be difficult, if not impossible, going forward. There was no mention of the owners' "reverted" proposal, so only time will tell how the league will react to this development.
UPDATE #2: While no one knows exactly how the situation will evolve from a legal standpoint, SI's Zach Lowe offers an overview of what might happen next.
The smart money remains on the two sides settling in some form before January, the point at which the season would be lost. "Today is Nov. 14," Hunter told a small group of reporters after the meeting. "That is ample time for us to save the season." But Feldman warns that the timetable just got longer. The two sides must exchange court papers, argue before a judge, reach a settlement, re-form the union and sign a new CBA. The season isn't dead, but it is in far more danger than it was 24 hours ago.