HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The good news first: the two sides in the NBA’s labor dispute will meet again Monday.
The bad news? After spending a huge chunk of Friday’s session and nearly all day Saturday trying to find common ground, the sides are still “miles apart.”
That’s better than galaxies apart and even worlds apart. But it clearly puts us no closer to a solution than we were before the weekend began. That said, Monday’s and perhaps Tuesday’s scheduled sessions can yield more positive returns.
In the meantime, we’ll return to the sobering news that progress has been anything but steady …
Full Season Unlikely?
Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated: The threatened “enormous consequences” have yet to appear, but they will be revealed soon enough. Two days of extended negotiations concluded Saturday with little optimism that the NBA owners and players can end their lockout in time to rescue the full 82-game schedule.
Most fans will say nothing is more important than starting the season on time Nov. 1. But the owners and players have agreed to disagree with their paying customers on that point. It is, in fact, one of the few points on which the union and owners have struck common ground.
They are so far apart on how to divvy up the $4 billion generated by their league — by far the most important issue separating them — that they agreed to not discuss it whatsoever Saturday. Instead they turned their attention to the so-called system issues, including the rules for player contracts, caps on team payrolls, annual exceptions and the like. After spending all of Saturday and much of Friday on these topics they could claim little more than a better understanding of each other’s positions.
“It at least helped us to focus on a couple of issues,” said deputy commissioner Adam Silver. “Some of the earlier meetings have been a little bit more rambling in terms of various issues sort of raised and taken off the table, put back on the table.”
Commissioner David Stern acknowledged “a pretty broad gap” between the owners’ and players’ goals for a new system. “We’re not near anything,” added Stern. “But wherever that is, we’re closer than we were before.”
Stern would not say when the league would announce the cancellation of the remaining preseason games, nor would he hint at a deadline to reach agreement and save the full season. But the likely window is a scant 10 days to two weeks.
Modest Movement On Certain Issues
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: The “modest movement” on system issues that one person in the negotiating room described to CBSSports.com came only after the two sides, at [Billy] Hunter‘s suggestion, agreed to separate the division of basketball-related income (BRI) from the system issues such as the cap, contract length, nature of exceptions and luxury tax. The decision to tackle the two major sticking points in the negotiations separately came after players threatened to walk out of the bargaining session Friday upon learning that the owners have not moved off of their standing economic proposal that would give the players a 46 percent share of BRI — down from the 57 percent they received under the agreement that expired July 1.
“We’re very far apart in BRI and made no progress in that,” NBPA lawyer Jeffrey Kessler said. “So we tried to see if we could make any progress in something else.”
Of course, the system changes each side would be willing to tolerate in a finished agreement would be inextricably linked to the split of revenues. According to a person briefed on the negotiations, the players would be willing to accept more system restrictions if they achieved a BRI share of 53 percent, but there is no chance they would accept what the owners are proposing at their current offer of 46 percent or modestly more than that.
For example, at 53 percent there would be a willingness on the players’ part to discuss modifications to the mid-level exception, eliminating base-year compensation and other restrictions such as the owners’ proposed luxury-tax system, which in its current form would charge a tax of $1-$4 depending on how far over the tax a team spent. The owners have proposed reducing the starting mid-level salary at $3 million, while the players have signaled a willingness to negotiate down to $5 million from last season’s level of $5.8 million.
In addition to BRI and system issues, the other key piece of the puzzle is the owners’ revised revenue sharing system, which Stern has said would triple and then quadruple the existing pool of $60 million. On Saturday, Hunter called the owners’ revenue-sharing plan “insignificant.” Sources say it isn’t just the amount of revenue sharing, but the timing of its implementation, that is holding up that part of the deal.
Under the owners’ revenue-sharing proposal, the Lakers would contribute about $50 million and the Knicks $30 million toward an initial pool of $150 million, sources said. There is reluctance, according to one of the people familiar with the talks, on the part of small-market teams to increase the players’ share of BRI to beyond 50 percent without a stronger commitment from the big-market teams to share more — and to share more quickly in the first year of the deal. Some big-market owners are pushing for a more gradual phase-in of their increased sharing responsibilities and are reluctant to take the hit this coming season, one of the people with knowledge of the talks said.
Given the sheer numbers of issues and the distance between the sides, Hunter said, “It’s a pretty wide gulf that we’re dealing with.”
Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Saturday’s seven-hour session was the longest since the start of the lockout. According to Spurs forward Matt Bonner, a member of the union’s negotiating team, both sides were “burned out” by the process and in need of a break, and they will get one today. Talks will resume with a smaller meeting Monday, followed be a larger one Tuesday, with many owners and players again expected to participate.
Despite the lack of progress, no additional cancellations of preseason games have been announced, and Stern promised there would not be another cancellation announcement before Monday’s meeting.
With no tangible progress to report from the long sessions, Stern walked back from his prior pronouncement that the weekend carried big implications.
“I don’t take myself as seriously as you do,” he said. “It’s good we had the players and owners here, and we could vent a lot of things, and it’s good we’re coming back, in part, on Monday, and in full on Tuesday. And it’s good there were lots of players there giving their support to (union president) Derek (Fisher) and seeing how this difficult process works.
“If we didn’t think there was any hope, we wouldn’t be scheduling the meetings, but that is the best I would say right now.”
At the suggestion of Hunter, nearly all the discussions over two days focused on the salary-cap system. The owners have insisted on a hard cap; the players have been just as adamant on retaining the exceptions that make the cap “soft.”
Determining the split of basketball-related income — the players received 57 percent under the previous collective bargaining agreement, while the owners have proposed a system that would hover around 46 percent over the course of their proposed 10-year deal — was tabled in hopes the sides could get closer on the important cap dispute.
They did not.
“I can’t necessarily characterize things as we made progress and that somehow I’m more optimistic than I was yesterday,” said Fisher, a Lakers guard. “The reality is we still have an extremely long way to go with the exchanges that were made today. There are still huge gaps between what we proposed compared to what they proposed, and obviously we still have the economics that are just kind of sitting out there waiting for us to tackle.
“So there’s a lot of work left to be done, and we’ll keep at this.”
Don’t Go Below 53 Percent
Marc Berman of the New York Post: Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have asked the union to not go below 53 percent. If the union sticks to its guns on that number, there will be no 2011-12 season.
Stern admitted he and Wade went at it during Friday’s session. Wade, who wasn’t present yesterday, became furious when Stern pointed his finger at Wade while lecturing him.
Wade shouted at Stern to stop treating him like a child, and the altercation nearly ended the talks prematurely.
Trying to make light of the near disaster, Stern cracked, “I wrestled him to the ground.”
Stern then added, “Neither of us remember, but there was a heated exchange and I feel passionately about the system we have and what it should continue to deliver for players and owners and he feels passionately, too. If anyone steps up on that, it’s my job on behalf of owners to make the point that needs to be made.”
Tomorrow, the meetings will return to small groups, without any players beyond union president Derek Fisher, and only one of the NBA owners. Tuesday, will return to the larger group.
Friday’s session was attended by 20 players and 11 owners. Yesterday’s featured a dozen players (no big stars) and 10 owners. Stern’s mid-week threat of canceling the season by weekend’s end has been retracted. He repeated his cryptic message meant that once regular-season games are canceled it will be much tougher to strike a deal.
Secret Sunday Meeting …
Chris Sheridan of Sheridanhoops.com: No talks will be held Sunday (at least that was what David Stern and Billy Hunter said publicly. I would not put it past them to meet privately Sunday night. They had one or two super-secret private meetings in 1998 when the start of that season was in jeopardy).
There will be a small negotiating session Monday with Stern, Hunter and their top advisors, and the owners’ and players’ full bargaining committees will reconvene on Tuesday.
Both Stern and Hunter said Friday’ session, in which Stern and Dwyane Wade had a verbal confrontation, was healthy for the process. But they would not say whether it led to any tangible progress in their negotiations on system issues.
“It was mellow,” Hunter said of Saturday’s seven-hour session – the longest session, time-wise, that the sides have spent together since the lockout was imposed the night of June 30. “From my perspective, the owners had to come to some understanding as to where the union and the players are, and to see the resolve that players have, and I think that was conveyed yesterday when we had all the marquee players come in. They’re anxious to get a deal, but our mantra hadn’t changed in that it’s got to be a fair and equitable deal.”
Said Stern: “It was very helpful to have a large group of players in, and to have the owners here. If was a healthy exchange, and that’s a good thing.”
I still believe they are going to find a way to get this deal done in the next several days, but my optimism is now slightly beginning to wane. One thing that is propping it up: Both Stern and Hunter seemed unusually perky after Saturday’s talks. They wouldn’t be that way if things were utterly hopeless. So stay tuned.