UPDATE, 10:05 p.m.ish ET: The players’ union Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher met the media briefly Thursday night, reporting some progress on “system” issues. The two sides did not talk about Basketball-Related Income.
Neither Fisher or Hunter looked what you would call “fresh.” But that doesn’t mean they were beaten. Not by a long shot.
“It gets tougher right down at the end,” said Fisher, the president of the National Basketball Players Association.
That sounded promising. “The end” part.
“I think we’re within striking distance of getting a deal,” Hunter said.
After Hunter and Fisher spoke — maybe for five minutes — NBA Commissioner David Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver took their turn at the table. They were tired-looking, too, but smiling. Both, in fact, were in the back of the room when Fisher and Hunter talked.
“I must say, it’s good to see you at a rational hour,” Stern said, who last talked to the media about 3 a.m. Thursday.
“There’s an element of continuity, familiarity and I hope trust that I would hope enable us to look forward to tomorrow, where I would hope there would be some important and additional progress,” he added.
That sounded very promising.
Stern also told David Aldridge he finally has an “idea” of what a deal might look like.
Well … promising. Again.
And then Stern, in direct response to a question, offered up what we all have been waiting for. He said that it would be a failure not to get a deal in the next few days considering the momentum that has been gained over the last two days.
Break out the optimism! Again!
“There’s no guarantees that we’ll get it done, but we’re going to give it one heck of a shot tomorrow …,” Stern said, adding that he thought the union was in a similar state of mind. “We’re prepared to negotiate over everything. We’re looking forward to it.”
And so, the night breaks up with a renewed sense of optimism. We are now closer to an agreement than we’ve ever been.
UPDATE, 9:45 p.m.ish ET: Reporters in New York are being told that the union can’t continue tonight because their economist — Kevin Murphy — is needed. He’ll be there for the morning session.
Murphy, as NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner found out, is a smart guy. The union wants him in its corner, especially when BRI matters arise.
News conferences coming up here and on NBA TV.
UPDATE, 9:30 p.m.ish ET: We’re getting word now that the talks are done for the night. Still lots to do.
Early word is that they’ll reconvene Friday morning at 10:30.
So much for the long night …
UPDATE, 9:20 p.m.ish ET: Our man David Aldridge reports (video above) that the sides are still going back and forth on “system” issues, most notably the luxury tax.
We told you this could be a long night.
As talks pass their seventh hour in this latest labor chat, ESPN’s Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) tweets a couple of important updates. First, Broussard says, the owners and players have broken for dinner. No word on who’s paying.
Secondly, Broussard tells us, the “next round of talks” will finally center on figuring out how owners and players should split Basketball-Related Income, still the pink elephant in the negotiating room. According to Broussard, the players are standing firm about not going below 52 percent of BRI, though their last public position was at 52.5.
Broussard didn’t say in his 140ish characters whether the “next round” means tomorrow or post-dinner. Either way, it’s not going to be a five-minute conversation.
UPDATE, 7:30 p.m.ish ET: Some 5 1/2 hours into the latest tea party among owners and players, it’s clear that what’s in the air now smells less and less like optimism and more like all-out desperation.
Those who have followed the 100+ day trudge toward possible lost games and, perhaps, a lost season have had their moments of optimism, to be certain. Less than 12 hours or so ago, if you remember. The fact that the owners and the players’ union are meeting at all remains, no doubt about it, a positive sign. Remember, the two sides did not get together at all in the month of July, after the last collective bargaining agreement expired at midnight on June 30.
But as both sides work toward finding some kind of common ground, it’s probably best to temper that optimism with a little realism.
Yes, they’re talking. Yes, they may be closer on some things like the length of contracts and, maybe, the structure of the luxury tax. Sign-and-trades and things like that. But the hard work, as we’ve pointed out all day, has not even been front-burnered yet. And we’re running out of time.
The 82-game season is in real jeopardy, maybe days away from death (if it’s not DOA now). What follows if any games are scrapped will not be pretty. If owners start to lose the money that comes with a full schedule, as NBA Commissioner David Stern has said many times, the offers from the league will get much tougher for the players to swallow. These negotiations will get even dicier than they are now.
That’s no reason for all-out pessimism, either. We’ve been down this road before, and a lot of people would prefer a shorter season anyway. Maybe not as short as the 50-game set that happened the last time these two sides partied like this, after the ’98 lockout dragged into the ’99 calendar and the season didn’t start until early February. But a shorter season, it’s figured, is better than nothing.
Whatever happens, though, a lazy summer mostly filled with rhetoric and inactivity has given way to a crunch time fall stocked with late-night meetings and, yes, a palpable sense of desperation. Everybody around these talks feels it. The question is whether those that matter can do anything about it.
UPDATE, 5:30 p.m.ish: According to TNT’s David Aldridge (check out the video above), the two sides have not broached the subject of BRI yet, which means … which means the big lifting is still to come.
Instead, D.A. says the structure of a luxury tax — one of the “system” issues that the two sides worked so hard on in their 15-hour session yesterday (and this morning) — is still being debated. The league wants a harsher one than is in the just-expired agreement in order to discourage big-spending teams from going over the salary cap. The union fears a tax that is too punitive would restrict player movement.
This could be a long night. This could be a long weekend.
UPDATE, 5 p.m.ish ET: The latest round in the NBA’s labor talks has cleared the three-hour mark in New York. No word, official or otherwise, on what’s going on inside the negotiations. The usual gaggle of NBA reporters — from the Associated Press, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Yahoo! Sports, CBS Sports.com, NBA.com and others — has descended on the hotel’s lobby to tweet and otherwise report throughout the night.
This is the 119th day of the lockout (see NBA.com’s indispensable labor timeline here), and it may end up being both the most important and the trickiest. The BRI split that the two sides are said to be discussing has brought these talks to a screeching standstill before, most notably after the three days of federal mediation last week. The players have lately suggested a 52.5-to-47.5 division of BRI (with the players receiving the biggest chunk), though that’s probably not been formally offered. The league is, or has been, dead-set on a 50-50 share. The two sides have also discussed a sliding scale in which the share would move depending on how the revenue rises or falls.
A couple of things to remember there: BRI does not include all revenue that the league generates. Owners take some $600 million that isn’t included in the BRI pot, so the players insist that any 50-50 split really means than they get less than 50 percent of league revenue. The players also contend that a drop to 50 percent of BRI is an unpalatable 12 percent cut from their last contract, in which they earned 57 percent of BRI.
The owners counter that the 57 percent was too much, that it was in the last — now expired — contract (so it should have little bearing on a new one), and that they need a major financial reset this time around to give each team a chance to not only make a buck or two, but for each team to have a chance to compete for a championship.
There are arguments galore on both sides, of course. Which is how we got here in the first place.
OCT. 27, 2 p.m.ish: The two sides in the NBA’s almost four-month-old labor siege came together again Thursday, ready to attack maybe the biggest difference remaining between owners and players — the split of revenue that is known as Basketball-Related Income.
After 15 hours of talks Wednesday, which lasted into the pre-dawn hours of Thursday, members of the owners’ labor relations committee are sitting down with the executive committee of the players’ union at a swank Manhattan hotel to try to figure out an equitable solution to their standoff. Though a strange sense of optimism began to pervade among followers late Wednesday and into Thursday — both sides said progress had been made on some of the so-called “system” issues in a proposed new collective bargaining agreement — everybody involved knows better than to get too giddy. It was only a week ago that a federally mediated gathering failed miserably when the owners would not budge on their insistence that a 50-50 split of BRI had to be accepted to continue the talks.
“Really Encourage about hearing whispers about a deal being close.. Hope both sides can get it done and feel good about it,” Suns forward Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) tweeted Thursday afternoon.
“BRI still a major lift 4 both sides,” TNT’s David Aldridge tweeted as the meetings started Thursday.
The stakes, at this point, are extremely high. A full 82-game schedule may still be possible, but that’s becoming less likely by the hour. It’s generally accepted that a month is needed between a handshake agreement and the start of the regular season. If an informal agreement is reached this weekend, that would mean the end of November, at the earliest, for the season’s start. NBA Commissioner David Stern already has announced the cancellation of the first two weeks of the season — it was to start on Tuesday — though Thursday morning he was noncommittal on the possibility of retaining the full 82-game schedule.
Among those in attendance for the players: Billy Hunter, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association; Derek Fisher, the Los Angeles Lakers point guard and the union’s president; and Washington Wizards guard Mo Evans, the vice president of the union. Economist Kevin Murphy, who took part in the 15-hour marathon Wednesday and Thursday on behalf of the players, will not be there as the talks re-set on Thursday afternoon. (Murphy explained the union’s position in a talk with Steve Aschburner of NBA.com. Aschburner also will be tweeting from the talks.)
Stern and NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver head the owners’ contingent.