That’s sweet music to the ears of basketball fans everywhere.
With Stern and union executive director Billy Hunter smiling and joking with one another as they walked out of that New York hotel late last night signaling that today’s bargaining session (which begins at 10:30 a.m.) could very well be the final push needed to bring our beloved game back, clearly it’s time to make a deal.
But everyone’s tone has changed dramatically since last week, when NBA Commissioner David Stern‘s absence from federally-mediated talks (the doctors sent him home) coincided with what was the most dramatic detour to date in the progression of these negotiations.
Union executive director Billy Hunter spoke of a potential deal being ready within the next five or six days and Stern even floated the notion of an 82-game season being worked out, provided the sides come to a consensus on a new deal in rapid fashion.
That sets up this afternoon’s bargaining session in New York as perhaps the (latest) most critical day in the process. Another positive day of talks could provide us with more than just a glimmer of hope — (although, the Prime Minister warns that we shouldn’t go dreaming about unicorns and rainbows until we see Stern and Hunter shaking hands at one of these post-session pressers) …
From front-office executives to player agents, optimism is rapidly rising that there’s significant momentum toward reaching an agreement and saving most, if not all, of the 82-game regular season. Union executive director Billy Hunter said he “assumes” the full schedule could be saved if a deal is reached by “Sunday or Monday.” Stern said the league will work with the union to schedule as many games as possible.
The two sides didn’t discuss the split of revenue – a contentious issue in previous negotiating sessions – instead taking Hunter’s suggestion they “park” the discussion while negotiating system issues. Stern indicated the talks likely won’t return to the split until the league and union have finished with the system. League and union officials will continue to meet in small groups Thursday. Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt will brief the owners’ labor-relations committee before talks resume.
We can dispense with all of the pleasantries now and get down to brass tacks. Forget about when the season starts. Most fans are wondering this morning if there will be a season. The unthinkable a few weeks ago has become our new reality …
Something To Salvage?
Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated: Can the season be saved? The answer is yes, so long as the NBA owners are willing to negotiate into January, as they did to resolve their previous lockout in 1999.
Understand that two weeks of NBA games have been wiped away, and that more cancellations are to come. Nothing important is likely to change over the next two weeks that will enable basketball to be played in late November or early December.
On and on it will go, with both sides looking back to the salvation of the ’99 lockout. That resolution a dozen years ago may have influenced these extended talks that failed Monday night in New York. As much anxiety as both sides were feeling to reach an agreement this week, they weren’t experiencing the ultimate pressure that will be felt later this winter when the entire season is at risk. “The problem,” said a former league official who was involved in the negotiations that shortened the 1998-99 season to 50 games, “is that people tend to look at early January as the drop-dead date.”
He was worrying that the absolute final offer from either side may not emerge for another 12 weeks. Not until the final days of this calendar year will the owners fully understand the consequences of losing a full season during a recession, while more than 400 players find themselves confronted with the likelihood of a full year without an NBA paycheck.
In many ways these entire negotiations have gone according to form. It is not the formula anyone would have desired, but it has been entirely predictable. The owners lock out the players July 1, with little negotiating done for most of July and August, followed by sudden urgency to make a deal that can save the full season.
Lost Games Part Of The Plan?
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: On the sidewalk out on 63rd Street, sirens wailing and knucklehead cameramen jostling for position and cursing each other, here was Billy Hunter living in his own movie. Regular-season games lost on his watch, and on David Stern‘s, just as they’d discussed two years ago.
“It goes back to a comment that David said to me several years ago, when he said this is what my owners have to have,” Hunter said Monday night, after the first two weeks of the 2011-12 NBA regular season were canceled. “And I said, ‘Well, the only way you’re going to get that is, you prepare to lock us out for a year or two.’ And he’s indicated to me that they’re willing to do it. So my belief and contention is that everything that he’s done has demonstrated that he’s following that script.”
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.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We’ve all known for a while now that the first week of October would serve as a crucial week in these NBA labor talks.
No progress before then and the opening days of this month could be a make-or-break time for both sides, not to mention the millions of us around the world biting our nails hoping that our first love (the NBA) would come back to us … and soon.
It’s hard to categorize the things that have gone on in recent days as true progress. Sure, there have been meetings. Ideas have been exchanged. But no one is talking in a way that suggests that even the loose framework of a deal is under way.
We won’t know exactly what that means until the sides emerge from that meeting room in New York and explain themselves after yet another day of exhausting conversation about how to close the gap between what the owners want and the players are willing to give.
But if the developments of the past 24 hours are any indication, everyone seems to be digging in and the clock continues to tick …
Agents Urge Players To Stay Strong
Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated: In a letter to their clients, Arn Tellem (Wasserman Media Group), Bill Duffy (BDA Sports), Dan Fegan (Lagardère Unlimited), Jeff Schwartz (Excel Sports Management), Leon Rose and Henry Thomas (Creative Artists Agency) and Mark Bartelstein (Priority Sports and Entertainment), outlined what is deemed acceptable and unacceptable going into the biggest day of negotiating yet.
• With the National Basketball Players’ Association having already offered to drop the players’ portion of basketball-related income from 57 percent to 52 percent, the agents implore players to insist on “no further reduction of the BRI received by the players. A source close to the union told SI.com recently that any agreed-upon deal in which the players received 51 percent could possibly be ratified but would likely lead to the ousting of Billy Hunter as the NBPA’s executive director, so this is in line with those parameters.
• A system in which the current structure of the Bird and mid-level exceptions remains the same.
• No reduction in salary from existing levels for maximum contract players.
• No changes in unrestricted free agency and improvements on restricted free agency.
• “Refuse any deal that excludes players from the explosive growth of the NBA.” Owners’ proposals that have started with players receiving 46 percent of the BRI have included drastic declines in their percentage of the pie in the later years of the agreement.
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.”
A source told NBA.com’s David Aldridge that at one point, NBA commissioner David Stern was emphatically directing a comment — and pointing his finger — at [Dwyane] Wade, the Miami Heat’s All-Star guard. Wade objected and interrupted Stern, reportedly saying: “Don’t point your finger at me. I’m a grown man. I have children.”
The meeting broke at that point. A few minutes later, Stern sought out Billy Hunter, NBPA executive director, to briefly talk privately. Soon thereafter, the session resumed.
While no one sounds ready to declare that a deal is imminent or even in the works, there is no doubt that everyone involved understands that it is time to get down to the business of solving their differences before it’s too late …
Stars Step Into the Spotlight
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: Before a stunning confrontation between Dwyane Wade and NBA commissioner David Stern in Friday’s labor meeting, Wade, LeBron James and Chris Paul told their Players Association peers that they’re willing to sit out the season rather than make further concessions to the owners, sources told Yahoo! Sports.
Wade, James and Paul were at the forefront of a strong players presence at a Park Avenue hotel for Friday’s contentious bargaining session. In a private union meeting prior to the bargaining session with owners, James kept reiterating to the group of elite players that they shouldn’t give back a greater share of the league’s basketball-related income (BRI) than what they’d already conceded in previous negotiations.
“We’re all together on 53 [percent], right?” James said. “All together on 53 right?”
“LeBron, Wade and Paul want to fight this so hard, they don’t seem scared about missing the season,” one source in the negotiating room told Yahoo! Sports.
James, Wade and Paul believe the owners are bluffing in threatening to ultimately cancel the season to get the changes they want in the collective bargaining agreement, a source in the meeting said. In the meeting with union peers, the three stars declared their willingness to miss games rather than drop down from the 53 percent of BRI the union has proposed to the NBA.
Despite the bold talk out of the sport’s biggest stars, the union privately has expressed a willingness to move further toward ownership this weekend with an understanding that Stern wants desperately to cut a deal with the players and avoid a prolonged work stoppage.
If nothing else, the owners did see the star players’ resolve on Friday. Once the players entered the room with the owners, Wade reacted harshly to what he perceived as Stern’s condescending way of lecturing him on the issue.
Union Holding The Line
Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated: There was widespread speculation entering the weekend that the union might be willing to make compromises in order to salvage the income from a full 82-game season. But two union sources said the players agreed to hold firm during an emotional private meeting Friday before the afternoon negotiations, with crucial leadership provided by [Paul] Pierce, the 2008 NBA Finals MVP of the Celtics.
The union leadership reviewed the recent give-and-take of the negotiations amid repeated questioning by Pierce and heated talk from James. Others spoke up as well, but when Pierce was told that the union had already offered to cut its revenue-share from 57 percent to 54 percent of Basketball Related Income (BRI) in order to help the owners deal with their operating losses, he urged his fellow players to unite behind Fisher and union chief Billy Hunter in not yielding further.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Stunning is the only way to describe the mood shift here at the hideout in the past 24 hours.
From giddy anticipation for potential progress that could come from the first full bargaining session since the lockout began to the depths of despair in the aftermath of said meeting producing nothing of the sort. I tried to warn folks. No deal would be struck. The two sides were probably not going to move off of their initial positions. They did not.
The owners and players (and their representatives) are as far apart right now as they were when this entire ordeal began. It’s as if the calendar hasn’t moved one bit since July 1.
NBA commissioner David Stern and union executive director Billy Hunter might even agree on that. There is no next bargaining session scheduled. Not even a brief get together for coffee. Nothing.
You can choose sides all you want, but as far as these eyes can see the only real losers in this entire affair are those of us who love the game and want to see it played as soon as possible.
Still, we have to gauge the reactions from all sides and examine the fine points of each and every argument. More importantly, we have to sort through the rubble now and figure out exactly where we go from here. Because optimism is no longer a part of this equation …
The Union’s Next Test … Decertification
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: When [Hunter] goes to Las Vegas on Wednesday for the most important players meeting of his tenure as executive director, does he find a coup awaiting him?
“Now Billy has to go to Las Vegas with nothing to bring the players,” a prominent agent told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday night.
“He’s chosen a particular path, and there hasn’t been any progress on that path. There was all this false optimism in the last week about how the league was going to come with a new proposal that he could take back to the players, and they came with nothing. Stern wants to stall, and stall until the players start missing paychecks.
“Billy was hoping that he could keep the players engaged, excited that a deal was coming. There was all that rhetoric of good feelings, and today was the day that Stern was going to come with a proposal. He was relying on the fact that Stern would negotiate in good faith with him, that he didn’t want to lose games. He thought that Stern would blink, start to negotiate. He was relying on the fact Stern didn’t want to hurt the game, and he was wrong.”
Yes, there had to be a pit in Hunter’s stomach. Three hours waiting for the owners to debate among themselves, big markets wanting to cut a deal, and small markets willing to lose games – lose the season – to get guaranteed profits and maybe a better chance to chase championships.
There’s a big labor meeting in Las Vegas on Thursday, and Hunter is competing for the hearts and minds of his rank-and-file players. He’s already lost the top agents, who are laying the groundwork for a coup, sources told Yahoo! Sports. The decision to make a move on Hunter could come as soon as this week, agents privately said.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – At least we can all agree on one thing where this lockout is concerned, no one — and we mean NO ONE — is happy about it!
The news out of New York Thursday afternoon prepared us all for what was to come, the NBA’s first lockout in 13 years commenced at 12:01 this morning. It didn’t take long for the feedback to start rolling in from the assembled punditry.
Here is a brief morning sampling of opinions from around the country …
Ian Thomsen of SI.com: How long will this go on? Union chief Billy Hunter anticipated that another meeting will be called in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, he and union president Derek Fisher must consider the unlikely option of decertifying and putting their case into the court system, if they believe they can’t get a fair hearing from the owners.
The alternative is to continue to talk over the summer with the small goal of finding some minimal terms on which both sides can agree. As the next season approaches and both sides are confronted by real pain — a loss of income for the players, and a loss of fan support for the franchises should games be canceled — maybe then there will be a willingness to meet in the middle, with an understanding that their shared business must continue on, even if neither side is particularly happy with the terms.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – One of the main reasons Chris Bosh decided to take his talents to South Beach and join LeBron James and Dwyane Wade was exposure. He wanted more of it and knew he’d get it there as opposed to what he’d experienced in Toronto.
Be careful what you ask for Chris, because you’re probably getting more than you bargained for these days. And it’s not just from NBA types who have raised eyebrows about Bosh’s performance so far (he’s averaging 13 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists for the 4-1 Heat). It’s coming from all directions.
I know less about the NBA than I know about Norwegian politics. But I did leave the basketball game wondering how in the world anyone would think Chris Bosh is on LeBron’s and Dwyane Wade’s level. It should be the Big Two and Three-Quarters in Miami instead of the Big Three, shouldn’t it?
It’s one thing for the basketball punditry to question Bosh’s ability to thrive alongside James and Wade, but when an impartial observer like King decides to take that shot, it makes you wonder.
Jarrett Jack, one of Bosh’s best friends since their days at Georgia Tech, offered this extremely insightful take:
“Sometimes when you play with a superstar or an All-Star type of guy, you tend to defer,” he said. “I think all of us do. ‘Get it to Chris, or get it to LeBron [James] or get it to Dwyane [Wade],’ without doing your normal, instinctive, aggressive thing. [With Bosh gone], it allows people to spread their wings, grow and see where they are as players for an overall season, which is kind of cool. We don’t have to worry about, if we don’t get him 25 shots, it’s going to be hell on Earth. It’s kind of cool being able to go out there and play.”
Bosh still has plenty of time to find his groove and do exactly the same for the Heat, “just go out there and play.”
We are, as Heat fans reminded us here at the hideout last week after that loss in Boston, just days into a season that will stretch into the summer of 2011.
We’re not writing Bosh off . Not yet. We’ll wait on the real Bosh to show up.