HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Good luck trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing in the NBA’s ongoing labor impasse.
One minute all seems lost, with voices from both sides (players and owners) dispensing ominous soundbites about their fear that any sort of peaceful accord is anywhere in sight. And then the next, we hear that progress, however slight, is being made and that perhaps there is a chance that common ground is in the distance.
And then comes the announcement, Friday morning, that the league is wiping out the first week of camps and preseason games.
It’s a wicked game being played by those trapped inside of the labor dispute matrix. And we’re forced to do our best to read the tea leaves every day to see if we can decipher fact from fiction.
There Is Still Hope
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: After more than two years of negotiations, it’s finally time to negotiate.
Following a series of small compromises by both sides, it was the owners’ turn to move the needle in a significant way. And they did: According to a person briefed on the negotiations, the league put forth a new number on the split of revenues, or basketball-related income, on Thursday, a step that could help propel the talks forward even as the start of training camps were set to be delayed and preseason games canceled — with such gloomy but fully expected and insignificant announcements expected Friday.
“It’s moving,” said another person with knowledge of the talks. “Not as fast as some people would want, but it’s moving.”
According to one of the people familiar with the bargaining, here is some of what transpired Thursday: After signaling last week that the players’ offer to move lower than the 54.3 percent share of BRI was a starting point that could lead to a deal on economics, league negotiators came back with their own number. Unsurprisingly, the number was lower than what the players had last proposed, though multiple people involved in the talks refused to specify by how much.
The owners’ proposed BRI split was made without specific system details tied to it, and the number itself was “unacceptable” to the union leadership, one of the sources said. Thus, the faces of both sides emerged from the Manhattan hotel after five hours of bargaining and delivered the same vague non-answers with strikingly similar flatlined demeanors and monotone voices.
“I’m sorry, but the most important thing is to see whether we can’t have negotiations conducive to ultimately getting a deal, which is what our committee and our board will like,” commissioner David Stern said on his 69th birthday. “And having these conversations with you doesn’t add anything to that. And that’s the dilemma.”
Cancellation Of Camp Could Send More Overseas
Mike Monroe of the Express-News: The decision could move some key Spurs to join the growing list of players signing on with teams overseas.
Before departing Argentina, where he helped Brazil qualify for next summer’s Olympic tournament, center Tiago Splitter told the Express-News he would sign on with Flamengo, a Brazilian club where former Suns guard Leandro Barbosa currently plays, if training camps were postponed or canceled.
“I do not want to be waiting for something to happen,” Splitter said. “I want to be playing, so if our (Spurs) camp will not start on time then I think I will sign with Flamengo.
“Of course, I will make sure I will be able to join the Spurs when the lockout ends, but I want to be playing and working on my game.”
Spurs All-Star guard Manu Ginobili has an offer to rejoin Virtus Bologna of the Italian League, but his agent, Herb Rudoy, reiterated on Thursday that Ginobili has made no decision about the Virtus offer, even after Thursday’s disappointing news.
Spurs guard Tony Parker, whose stellar play led France to an Olympic berth and a second-place finish in the EuroBasket tournament that concluded last weekend in Lithuania, has indicated his intent to play for French pro league team ASVEL, which he owns, if the lockout lingers into the regular season.
Forward DeJuan Blair already has signed on to play for the Russian team Krasnye Krylya Samara, and has been in Russia for more than two weeks.
“Both Sides Dug In”
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver met with union executive director Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher on Thursday in Manhattan. Afterward, the two sides revealed little publicly about the nature of the talks, but one source briefed on the meeting said “both sides dug in,” suggesting there wasn’t much movement from either the league or the union.
“No announcement to make today,” Stern said, “but the calendar is not our friend.”
A league source told Y! Sports on Wednesday that the league was prepared to announce the delay of the preseason by the end of the week if no progress was made in Thursday’s meeting. Silver said the sides hope to meet again next week.
The NBA’s training camps were expected to open Oct. 3 and six exhibition games were scheduled for Oct. 9. The league is expected to cancel exhibition games through Oct. 15 on Friday and then re-evaluate the final two weeks of the preseason on Oct. 1. The scheduled Nov. 1 start to the regular season also is in danger of being postponed.
“I’m not going to try and make a guess on that one,” Fisher said. “The calendar’s obviously not our friend, but we’re not going to give up on the process because of the time.”
Once a new labor agreement is reached, it is still expected to take two or three weeks for the lawyers to iron out the details and produce a legal document for the two sides to sign. There is expected to be no free-agent signings, trades or other deals until the agreement is signed.
Has Anything Really Changed?
Howard Beck of the New York Times: None of the principals in Thursday’s five-hour meeting would characterize the proceedings, other than to say that it is still worth talking. They plan to meet again next week.
“We’ll keep talking until we figure it out, until we get a fair deal done,” said Derek Fisher, the president of the players union.
Asked if anything had changed from last week, when union leaders expressed deep pessimism after another long meeting, Fisher said, “No.”
If body language and tone meant anything, the signs Thursday were discouraging. The usually talkative Fisher spoke for just two and a half minutes. He sounded weary after taking an overnight flight from Los Angeles, and surely disappointed at the lack of a deal. Stern, who celebrated his 69th birthday on Thursday, was as dour as he has been since the lockout began three months ago.
Stern turned more light-hearted when someone mentioned his glum demeanor.
“No, actually my demeanor is flat, because I don’t have anything to say,” Stern said. “We told them we wouldn’t say anything, I’ve told you I wouldn’t say anything. And so I don’t want to say anything. If you’d like me to smile, I’m happy to smile.”
The owners and players remain divided over both financial and structural issues, although they have closed the gap significantly in recent weeks. The players are prepared to reduce their share of revenue to 53 percent or less, from the current 57 percent, with every percentage point representing about $40 million. But the union has conditioned that offer on retaining a soft salary cap.
Hunter: Owners Still Not Ready To Do A Deal
Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com: In an exclusive interview with SheridanHoops.com, Hunter said the league has made “glacial” movement recently in the amount of aggregate dollars they are willing to devote to player salaries, but those proposals have been hypothetical rather than formal.
“In general, we haven’t made any progress,” Hunter said. ”I really don’t think they’re ready to do a deal. My position is that they said 2 years ago they were prepared to lockout for a year to get what they wanted, and I think the way they’ve negotiated gives every indication that that’s bearing out.
“And while they’re talking about not wanting to miss the season or having to cancel games, I’m not really sure that that’s the truth,” Hunter said.
The sides are not expected to meet again until next week, after the owners’ labor relations committee caucuses to discuss whatever progress was or wasn’t made at Thursday’s five-plus hour bargaining session.
“Not much of anything got accomplished. We spent time talking, but we actually talked in terms of a two-pronged approach, one is economics and the other is the system. We’re still pretty far apart on the economics, so we agreed we’d get together next week and have more discussions on the system,” Hunter said.
As for reported here earlier this month, the sides began September $2.97 billion apart in aggregate dollars over the first six years of the proposed deal, with the owners seeking a 10-year agreement that would not raise players’ salaries and benefits to where they were last season – $2.19 billion — until Year 10.
In recent discussions, owners have shown a willingness to raise their annual dollar disbursement, although the numbers being bandied about have been fluid. And while the difference in aggregate dollars between the two sides appears to have been reduced by approximately $400-$600 million in negotiations over the past month, the hypothetical nature of those discussions makes it impossible to nail down exactly how much the financial gap has been narrowed.
Training camps are scheduled to open in the first week of October, and the first scheduled exhibition games are Oct. 9: Minnesota at Detroit, Memphis at Orlando, Utah at Portland, Golden State vs. the Los Angeles Lakers in Fresno, Calif., and New Orleans at San Antonio.