HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It’s been a while since we’ve heard from NBA Commissioner David Stern in this space. He was such a huge presence ’round these parts during the lockout that we felt it necessary to give him a little break in the aftermath of the deal getting done and the season starting.
After 15 hours of negotiations Friday-into-Saturday –- and 149 days of lockout start to finish -– representatives of the NBA owners and players reached a tentative deal on settling their various lawsuits that should lead to a new collective bargaining agreement that will salvage a shortened 2011-12 season beginning on Christmas Day.
Details of what will become a new labor contract still were vague when the meeting ended after 3 a.m. ET at a New York law office. But the bones of a deal reportedly call for the players to receive a “band” share of basketball-related income ranging from 49 percent to 51 percent depending on the league’s growth (with a more reasonable shot at 51 than in previous offers). A laundry list of system issues, meanwhile, are intended to make the NBA more competitive across its 30 teams.
NBA commissioner David Stern and Billy Hunter, the former executive director of the players’ former union, met with reporters in an impromptu joint news conference shortly after the meeting.
“We’ve reached a tentative understanding,” Stern said, “that is subject to a variety of approvals and very complex machinations. But we’re optimistic that will all come to pass and that the NBA season will begin on December 25th, Christmas Day, with a triple-header.
“We’re very pleased that we’ve come this far. There’s still a lot of work to be done in a lot of places, with a lot of committees and player groups and the like. But we’re optimistic that it will hold and we’ll have ourselves an NBA season.
Stern said the owners’ labor relations committee would be briefed Saturday, with the agreement passing then to the overall Board of Governors. The commissioner said he expects both bodies to endorse the deal.
Said Hunter: “We’re going to turn it all over to the lawyers here and have them work out all the details. We’ll be able to then talk with you further as that process proceeds.” It could take a week to 10 days for the players to re-form their union and ratify a formal CBA.
Stern and Hunter did share a few details on the shortened season. A 66-game regular-season schedule, first reported by the New York Times Wednesday, is likely, pushing the start of a full playoff bracket a week or so later into spring. The plan is for training camps and free agency to both begin on Dec. 9, though details remained sketchy. All-Star Weekend in Orlando, initially set for Feb. 24-26, is expected to be preserved.
Technically, the talks that stretched from noon Friday into the wee hours Saturday were aimed at settling the antitrust lawsuit filed last week by the players when they dissolved their union. But the essence of that settlement will serve as the new CBA, assuming remaining “B-list” issues are worked out, lawsuits by both the players and the league (anticipating the union’s disclaimer of interest) get dismissed, the union gets re-formed with the league’s approval and the deal is ratified by both the NBA’s 30 owners and its 430-plus players.
The “A-list” issues, though, were the ones that had hung up the season, forcing what will be an opening night delayed by 55 days. They’re the ones that caused bargaining to break down Nov. 14 and they’re the ones that needed to be addressed to both sides’ satisfaction –- or tolerable dissatisfaction -– for the tentative agreement to get struck.
Finding middle ground on those was key. Among them:
– The mid-level exception for non-taxpaying teams will have a maximum length of four years every season (instead of alternating at four years, then three years). Starting salary can be as much as $5 million.
– There apparently will be a “mini” MLE for taxpaying teams, restricting the amount they can offer to free agents.
– A 10 percent maximum escrow tax will be withheld without the unlimited “true up” amount requested by the owners in their previous offer.
– Extend-and-trade deals –- as used by Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks last season –- will be modified but not eliminated in a new CBA. That could impact players such as Orlando’s Dwight Howard and New Jersey’s Deron Williams.
Negotiations aimed at ending the N.B.A. lockout quietly resumed Tuesday, with a goal of resolving the dispute in time play games on Christmas, two people close to the talks confirmed Wednesday afternoon.
The exact participants are not yet known, but it is presumed that the talks are being conducted through lawyers for both sides, because of pending litigation. The talks, which began Tuesday and were continuing Wednesday, were first reported by Yahoo! Sports.
There are some necessary constraints on the talks because of the moves made last week by the players to disband their union and file an antitrust lawsuit. Negotiations are now considered part of settlement talks relating to the litigation. As such, the lawyers for the N.B.A. and the players must lead the way on an agreement.
Billy Hunter, the former executive director of the players union, is technically part of the legal team representing the players and could be part of the settlement discussions. Derek Fisher, who was the president of the union until it disbanded, is not involved in the talks. It is unclear whether Commissioner David Stern is involved at this stage.
If the parties can agree to the framework of a deal, the union will have to be reconstituted to negotiate certain items and to adopt a new collective bargaining agreement.
The parties need at least a handshake agreement in the next few days if the N.B.A. hopes to have games on Dec. 25 — the day that traditionally kicks off its national television schedule. It will take about four weeks to get a season started, given the time required to complete a labor deal, sign free agents and hold training camps.
There might be something to give thanks about (NBA related, that is) after all!
Are they circling the wagons with this pow-wow and gearing up to take another stand against the owners? Or is this the beginning of the end of the “stand united” campaign and the union’s solidarity movement?
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Perhaps “no comment,” officially, is the best thing anyone could say at this late stage of the NBA lockout.
After more than five hours of closed-door negotiations in New York Sunday night, the two sides agreed to stay quiet about what was said and resume negotiations Monday at 2 p.m. ET.
“We don’t have any comment at all, other than we are breaking for the night and reconvening tomorrow afternoon,” NBA Commissioner David Stern told reporters after emerging from the meeting, which was scrapped as of late Friday night only to be revived over the weekend.
The continuation of talk is better than the alternative. Stern issued a Monday deadline for a new labor agreement to be reached before the first two weeks of the regular season were canceled. Union executive director Billy Hunter was scheduled to fly to Los Angeles this morning for a previously scheduled regional meeting with players, but will instead be back in the meeting room alongside union president Derek Fisher and the rest of their negotiating team.
“We’re not necessarily any closer than we were [going into] tonight,” Fisher told reporters when he hit the New York sidewalk shortly before midnight.
Stern, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, owners Peter Holt of San Antonio and Glen Taylor of Minnesota, and senior vice president and deputy general counsel Dan Rube met with Hunter, Fisher and union vice president Mo Evans. Attorneys Jeffrey Kessler and Ron Klempner were also present.
Getting all of them in a room together just two days after both sides agreed that they would not meet without the precondition that the players accept a 50-50 split of BRI was a victory in itself. The introduction of the 50-50 split is what shut down talks Tuesday, when the players rejected the notion outright. According to Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Mannix the subject was not discussed at all during Sunday’s session, which focused solely on … .
We won’t find out exactly where things stand until someone speaks about it in-depth, and preferably on the record. (Both sides agreed not to do so, according to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com.) But the clock continues to tick on Stern’s deadline.
But it appears that the Los Angeles Lakers superstar is certainly interested in finding a place to sharpen his skills back his in his beloved Italy:
“Italy is my home,” Bryant told reporters earlier this week while on a promotional tour in Italy. “It’s where my dream of playing in the NBA started. This is where I learned the fundamentals, learned to shoot, to pass and to [move] without the ball … all things that when I came back to America, the players my age didn’t know how to do because they were only thinking about jumping and dunking.”
Unlike many of his NBA counterparts that have flirted with and even embraced the idea of playing overseas during the lockout, Bryant has extensive ties to Italy. He spent his formative years there while his father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, starred in the Italian League.
There is also the issue of the NBA labor meetings going on today and through this weekend in New York. Progress made in those meetings could certainly have an impact on whether or not Bryant decides to continue to pursue what he called “a dream” to play in the Italian League.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We’ve known all along that some sort of compromise was the only way to solve the NBA’s labor issue in time for the regular season to begin on time.
But all we’ve heard for weeks is that the sides were so far apart that an on-time start was little more than a pipe dream. Well, dream on folks. If the rumblings from Tuesday’s meetings in New York have any table scrap of truth to them, significant progress could be on the horizon.
We’ll temper our optimism with the full knowledge that nearly every sign of progress throughout this saga has been followed up with an equally devastating setback of some sort. But as the clock continues to tick away on the season, the fact that both sides have something to talk about is good enough for us … (especially with talks scheduled to resume today):
Sources: Owners Ease Up On Hard Cap Demand
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: Owners have indicated a willingness to drop their insistence on a hard team salary cap in exchange for adjustments to the luxury tax system and key spending exceptions, two people with knowledge of the negotiations told CBSSports.com Tuesday night.
The offer by league negotiators came Tuesday in a brief, two-hour bargaining session that set the stage for what one source described as “an important day” on Wednesday.
“It’s put up or shut up time,” said the person, who is connected to the talks but spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the negotiations.
The flexibility in the owners’ longstanding insistence on a hard team-by-team cap, first reported by Yahoo Sports, comes with significant strings attached. Among the many concepts league negotiators proposed Tuesday were a more punitive luxury tax and adjustments to two key spending exceptions that teams had under previous agreements: the Larry Bird exception and the mid-level exception. Both would have been eliminated under the owners’ original proposal from two years ago, with many of those dramatic systemic changes living on in subsequent proposals until Tuesday.
There is a feeling among two people who have been briefed on the talks that the owners will come forward Wednesday with an enhanced version of the concepts proposed Tuesday. According to the sources, among the additions could be a proposed 50-50 revenue split, which to this point the league has not reached in terms of the players’ average share over the life of a new CBA in its previous proposals.
As for the system changes the owners proposed Tuesday in exchange for relaxing their stance on the hard team salary cap, one of the people briefed on the talks said union officials regarded them as “alarming.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For anyone that decided to parachute into the NBA lockout saga today, you made it just in time for a rather interesting edition of “He said, He said.”
NBA Commissioner David Stern told the Boston Globe that the union cancelled a scheduled meeting. Players Association officials disputed that claim to Yahoo! Sports, saying there was no meeting with Stern and the league’s negotiating team scheduled, and then countered with this twist:
“The NBA refused to have a staff meeting [Thursday],” a union official said. “Billy Hunter has been with the [National Labor Relations Board] the entire week, including Thursday, and the NBPA was told that Stern would be completely unavailable to meet for the next two weeks.”
The truth (the whole truth and nothing but the truth) is clearly somewhere in the middle of this seemingly harmless mix up. Stern and Hunter are big boys, so whatever tweaking that goes on between the two sides is tolerable so long as the end result is one that leaves everyone smiling.
Plus, with the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies on tap Friday night and Hunter with the National Labor Relations Board all week, it’s obvious there were not going to be any big time face-to-face negotiations this week. If a smaller session was proposed, by either side, and then scrapped for whatever reasons, we can live with that … provided there are more substantive talks planned for the near future.
Besides, after weeks of grim news, Stern did offer some encouraging news to the Globe when he said that he expects there will eventually be a deal struck that would keep us from hoops Armageddon for the 2011-12 season:
“I expect that we’ll make a deal because the alternative is very destructive,” he said. “It’s destructive of $2 billion worth of player salaries and it’s destructive most important to our fans of the game. And if it spirals badly everyone gets hurt. But in some ways I worry because the players have more to lose, especially those in the later stages of their career. So we’re going to do everything we can when the rhetoric slows down to get this thing back on track.”
That’s a much different tone than what we heard in the hours after the first full negotiating session between the two sides just a couple of weeks ago, when the league filed that unfair labor practice charge against the union with the NLRB to prevent a potential decertification.
That’s a much rosier outlook than what Hunter provided last week, when he suggested to a conference at the National Bar Association in Baltimore that the 2011-12 season could be in jeopardy if things don’t change drastically in the coming weeks.
Obviously, things might get a little messier before they get better.
Taking the posturing to a new level as the lockout begins its second month, the executive director of the players union suggested Wednesday the season is already in jeopardy, telling a conference at the National Bar Association in Baltimore that “If I had to bet on it at this moment, I would probably say” there will not be a 2011-12.
“We’re $800 million apart per year,” Billy Hunter, the head of the National Basketball Players Assn. told about 200 people during a seminar at the conference, according to the Baltimore Sun.
The NBA declined comment.
In the same Sun story, Hunter said David Stern was being limited by some owners in negotiations, insisting the commissioner take a hard line in trying to negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
“In the last six or seven years, there is a new group of owners to come in who paid a premium for their franchises, and what they’re doing is kind of holding his feet to the fire,” Hunter said.
So it is we have reached a new stage of the labor dispute: Stern portrayed as a puppet. That’ll get a few laughs around the league.
While Hunter’s words are ominous, they also come with the usual, if unspoken, disclaimer that these are the things people say in heated public negotiations. Same with statements from Stern and other league officials. Things get said. Things get settled.
Hunter could turn out to be right from months away – no one would be shocked if the lockout carries into the season, at which point the calendar becomes as much of an opponent as the other side at the negotiating table. But for now, it’s more gut feeling than fact. It might even be another scare tactic.
During a lockout NBA players who continue to be under contract with an NBA team are free to play anywhere they want, whether for their national teams and/or for club teams.
If an NBA player requests to play for a club of a FIBA affiliated league, the NBA will not object but will state that the player will have to return to his NBA team as soon as the lockout ends. Consequently, FIBA will deliver a letter of clearance subject to the receipt of a declaration signed by the player, stating that he will return to his NBA team when the lockout is over.
“As the world governing body for basketball, we strongly hope that the labour dispute will be resolved as soon as possible, and that the NBA season is able to begin as scheduled,” said FIBA Secretary General and IOC member, Patrick Baumann.
“In view of our role to promote basketball worldwide, we support any player wishing to play the game, wherever and whenever. We do so while obviously taking the interests, rights and obligations of all parties into account,” he added.
“We are delighted to see that, in spite of widespread doubts related to the lockout, National Teams competing in this summer’s Olympic Qualifiers will be able to count on the participation of most of their NBA stars.”
With several high-profile NBA players already declaring their intentions to play overseas, and others mulling their options, the only thing that wasn’t clear was whether or not there would be complications from FIBA.
This morning’s announcement eliminates that potential issue.
*** NOTE:FIBA says each club will decide whether or not they shall sign a waiver clearing them of any responsibility towards the player in case of injury or other reasons preventing a player from returning to the NBA and from fulfilling his obligations vis-à-vis his NBA team.