Posted on: October 1, 2011 7:17 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 9:17 pm
 

Stern: 'We're closer than we were before'

NEW YORK -- After nearly eight hours of bargaining Saturday, negotiators for the NBA and its players association broke for the weekend -- still with no agreement and no regular season games lost, but "closer" to a compromise on system issues, commissioner David Stern said.

At the suggestion of National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter, the two sides "decoupled" the issues of the split of revenues and the system that would go with it, attempting to "break down the mountain into separate pieces," NBPA Derek Fisher said. The two sides exchanged proposals "back and forth," players' committee member Maurice Evans said, and agreed to meet again Monday in a small group with only the top negotiators and attorneys and Tuesday with the full bargaining committees.

"We're not near anything," Stern said. "But wherever that is, we're closer than we were before."

Hunter characterized the two sides as being "miles apart" even on the system issues that separate them as the owners and league negotiators try to incorporate system changes they feel "entitled to," Hunter said, by virtue of dropping their insistence on a hard team salary cap. Stern said no announcement regarding further preseason games being canceled would be made Monday, but warned that it's "day by day" after that.

Stern did not answer a direct question about when regular season games would have to be canceled, saying, "Stay tuned."

"I don't know whether the 11th hour is Tuesday or not," Hunter said. "... Time is moving in that direction."

The "modest movement" on system issues that one person in the negotiating room described to CBSSports.com came only after the two sides, at 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."

But make no mistake: While the two sides remain entrenched on economics and don't see eye-to-eye on system, either, the work of building an agreement from the ground up -- piece-by-piece through a system both can agree on -- and then backing into the economic split is the only way this is going to get done in time to preserve regular season basketball.

"We weren't going to be able to make major, sweeping progress on the entire economics and the system at the same time," Fisher said. "We felt that maybe if we split them up and try to go at them one at a time ... we can at least get some momentum and some progress going."

The passion and emotion that were exhibited Friday were replaced by a "mellow" astmosphere on Saturday, according to Hunter. This was partly due to the negotiating process being focused on specific system issues as opposed to being more "rambling," as deputy commissioner Adam Silver said, and hinged on avoiding -- for the time being -- the most difficult problem facing the negotiators: how much of the league's $4 billion each side gets.

In addressing the passion that erupted early in Friday's session attended by superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and others, Stern acknowledged a "heated exchange" with Wade. Without addressing the specifics of how Wade took exception to Stern's pointing and lecturing, Stern said, "I feel passionately about the system that we have and what it has delivered and what it should continue to deliver for the players and the owners. And he feels passionately, too. And I think that if anyone should step up on that, it’s my job, on behalf of the owners, to make the points that need to be made."

The stars were mostly absent Saturday, with LeBron, Wade and Melo heading to North Carolina to play in committee member Chris Paul's charity game. Among the players joining Fisher and committee members Evans, Roger Mason, Theo Ratliff and Matt Bonner on Saturday were Paul Pierce, Baron Davis, Arron Afflalo and Ben Gordon. The owners' committee was the same as it was Friday -- i.e. no Mark Cuban or Wyc Grousbeck -- with James Dolan leaving early to join the NHL's Rangers on an overseas trip.

Silver singled out Pierce in particular for being vocal in the bargaining sessions, and joked, "You have have heard Dwyane Wade had a few things to say in the meeting. ... The owners certainly heard the passion from the players and right back at them from the owners."

So what happens next? In a perfect world, the small groups of top negotiators are able to tailor the issues discussed the past two days into the framework of a system each side can agree to. Then, as Hunter said, it has to be "linked up again" with the split of revenues. To get all owners on the same page, the sharing of that revenue has to be addressed, too. In the absence of significant progress by Tuesday, the league will have to cancel another week or the remainder of the preseason schedule. Regular season games wouldn't be far behind.

But if a deal is going to get done to avoid all that, this is the only way to do it: divide the mountain of problems up and tackle each one separately. The stakes only get bigger, and the positions more entrenched after the next five days. The mountain gets bigger.

"The window is now to get a deal," one front office executive said. 

And if not now? Brace yourselves.


Posted on: September 30, 2011 8:56 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 12:31 pm
 

Star power stirs up NBA talks

NEW YORK -- Flanked by some of the biggest stars in the game, players' association president Derek Fisher stood in a ballroom at a Park Avenue hotel Friday and declared that the willingness to reach a new collective bargaining agreement is there on both sides.

Next will have to come the movement, the tipping point that pushes the negotiations to the point of compromise. And that point did not come Friday, when stars like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen got to see for themselves what the owners are asking of them as they seek a system that gives all 30 teams an opportunity to compete and be profitable.

After some initial ugliness -- a person familiar with what happened in the negotiating room told CBSSports.com that some players were initially infuriated by how little the owners' stance has changed -- the bargaining session took on a tone of cooperation that signaled to some players that a deal was within reach.

UPDATE: But not before it appeared that Friday's bargaining session would be short-lived, and that there wouldn't be any more talking this weekend.

According to a person familiar with the negotiations, the owners and players met initially at about 2 p.m. ET and broke up to discuss the situation privately among themselves. The players, furious at seeing first hand the owners' offer of 46 percent of basketball-related income (BRI) -- down from their previous level of 57 percent -- were unanimous about what to do.

"Let's go," one of the players said, according to a source. "There's no reason to go back in there."

The players decided to return to the bargaining room with a much smaller group. Among those joining Fisher for the second session were James, Wade, Anthony, Kevin Durant, Baron Davis and committee member Chris Paul. None of the players joining Fisher sat down during this portion of the talks, a person with knowledge of the meetings said.

It was at this point that Wade took exception to commissioner David Stern's tone and gesturing -- the commissioner evidently was pointing his finger while speaking to the players -- and "stood up for himself," a person with knowledge of the meeting said. According to two people familiar with the incident, Wade warned Stern not to point his finger and made reference to not being a child.

Several versions of the quote were reported. According to a witness, Wade's tone was not threatening. But the upshot was clear: This was a potentially galvanizing moment for the players, who finally got the kind of star participation -- and leadership -- that they've lacked at key moments in these talks. In Wade, the players have found their Michael Jordan circa 1999, when the Bulls star famously told the late Wizards owner Abe Pollin to sell his team if he couldn't afford to run it.

After the confrontation, union chief Billy Hunter and Stern met privately, seeking a way to calm nerves and preserve the rest of the negotiations. Hunter, according to the person with knowledge of the talks, convinced the players to go back in -- selling them on the idea that the negotiating process had to be respected and telling them that the two sides would switch from the split of basketball-related income (BRI) to system issues.

It was after session that began at 6 p.m. and ran for about an hour that the two sides agreed to return to the bargaining table Saturday. The takeaway for the players, sources said, was the definite impression that the owners want to have a season.

"I don’t think it was a sense of now or never, but I think there was definitely a sense of, 'It’s time to stop throwing ideas around and let’s actually work towards making these ideas happen,'" said the Heat's Udonis Haslem, attending his first bargaining session. "I heard enough to really believe in my heart that both sides will work tirelessly to find a middle ground. I don’t know if that will happen."

Indeed, both sides tamped down expectations that a deal had to be achieved by the end of the weekend to prevent cancellation of some -- and perhaps all -- regular season games. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver said, "There are a lot of issues on the table," and questioned whether a deal could be consummated by Sunday strictly from the standpoint of "the number of hours in the day."

The rhetoric about the entire season being in jeopardy if a deal wasn't reached this weekend was "ludicrous," Stern said Friday -- just two days after pointing out that there would be "enormous consequences" from a lack of progress and that they "won't be a question of just starting the season on time."

The two sides will meet again Saturday morning with nearly the full committee of owners and multiple players on hand in addition to the NBPA's executive committee.

Joining the big stars with Fisher, Hunter, and several committee members in the union's post-meeting news conference were Davis, Elton Brand, Ben Gordon, Andre Iguodala, and others as Fisher challenged those who've questioned the involvement of the game's biggest names in the bargaining process.

"Some of our guys have been questioned in terms of their commitment to this process, to the players' association and to the game," Fisher said. "Their presence here today, we all know for picture’s sake says a lot. These guys have always been with us."

James, Wade and Anthony abruptly left the news conference without speaking with reporters, climbing together into an idling SUV waiting for them outside the hotel.

But their presence, without question, was felt in the bargaining room. According to two people involved in the talks, several owners who typically are the most boistrous in the meetings -- including Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and Suns owner Robert Sarver -- were noticably subdued. "Much tamer," said one of the sources. "They know it's time."

The owners were represented by nine of their 11 committee members, with Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban absent. Heat owner Micky Arison, facing the potential destruction of his Big Three (two of them being in the room), was the only owner not on the committee who attended.

The only progress described by anyone Friday (other than the fact that they'll meet again Saturday) was the state of the owners' revenue sharing plans. Stern revealed for the first time that the league is prepared to triple the current revenue sharing pool in the first two years and quadruple it starting in the third year.

But even that issue is clouded in big-market, small-market politics and the issue of when the high-revenue teams will begin to substantially increase their sharing. According to two people familiar with the owners' revenue sharing plans, the Lakers and Knicks would be called upon to pay the lion's share -- with the Lakers paying roughly $50 million and the Knicks $30 million -- into the new pool. But some big-market teams are increasingly reluctant to share their growing local TV revenues; the Lakers, for example, recently signed a 20-year, $3 billion deal with Time Warner that dwarfs some teams' total revenue.

Stern said Friday the players "know precisely" what the owners' revenue sharing plan will look like.

"They know as much as we know," Stern said. "We’ve told them about generally how it’s going to work. We haven't given them a piece of paper, but that will not be the issue that separates us."

So what happens now? After the cleansing process of stars voicing their opinions, threatening to walk out and calling out Stern in front of his owners, the time comes now for smaller groups, cooler heads and compromise. It is the only thing we know at this point about these talks: Both sides want a deal. Both sides want to play.

Both sides have room to move on the economics, too. The owners will quickly lose their appetite for certain non-negotiable system changes once they realize that addressing their losses is within reach. And the players will prove to be willing to negotiate on certain key system points -- such as a modest reduction in the mid-level exception and a more punitive tax system -- once they get the anticipated economic move from the owners.

The owners having witnessed the star players' resolve, and the players having witnessed the owners' willingness to make a deal, won't hurt. Because there will have to be a deal eventually, so why not soon? Why not now? Because, as one source offered, it would be "crazy not to."

And he might as well have been speaking for both sides.



Posted on: September 28, 2011 3:30 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2011 5:01 pm
 

Efforts to save season reach 'key moment'

NEW YORK -- Calling it a "key moment" in efforts to reach a collective bargaining agreement, commissioner David Stern said Wednesday that the full negotiating committees from both sides will meet Friday and through the weekend as they try to save the 2011-12 season.

"There are enormous consequences at play here on the basis of the weekend," Stern said after league negotiators and representatives for the National Basketball Players Association met for a second straight day at an Upper East Side hotel. "Either we’ll make very good progress, and we know what that would mean – we know how good that would be, without putting dates to it – or we won't make any progress. And then it won’t be a question of just starting the season on time. There will be a lot at risk because of the absence of progress."

In addition to the players' executive committee and the owners' full labor relations board, union president Derek Fisher said several "key players" will be attending Friday's meeting. Among them are expected to be LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, sources said, with other stars like Amar'e Stoudemire and Kevin Durant possibly joining the negotiations.

Deputy commissioner Adam Silver said the two sides agreed to expand their presence because "whatever decisions we are now going to be making would be so monumental" as to require the presence of those who'd be signing off on them.

You didn't have to read to closely between the lines to catch the meaning from Stern and Silver, who sought to ratchet up the pressure on getting a deal or risk not simply an on-time start to the season, but indeed the whole thing. With training camps already postponed and a first batch of preseason games canceled, Stern said the two sides are "at a period of enormous opportunity and great risk."

"I can't say that common ground is evident, but our desire to try to get there I think is there," Fisher said. "We still have a great deal of issues to work through, so there won't be any Magic that will happen this weekend to just make those things go away. But we have to put the time in. We have a responsibility to people to do so."

The incremental rise in doomsday talk from Stern signaled that the negotiations are entering a new phase, where the threat of a canceled season will become a leverage point for both sides. If no agreement is reached by the end of the weekend -- the four-week mark before the scheduled regular season opener -- it would be virtually impossible to get a subsequent deal written, hold abbreviated training camps and a preseason schedule, and pull off a shortened free-agent period.

And yet neither side evidently was prepared to move enough Wednesday to get within reach of a deal. That moment of truth, one way or another, should come in the next 96 hours.

Once the league agreed to replace its insistence on a hard cap with the more punitive luxury tax and other provisions -- a "breakthrough," as one person familar with the talks called it -- it sparked "the process of negotiation" that the two sides have arrived at now. 

"There could be some compromises reached," the person said.

According to multiple sources familiar with the talks, the owners did not enhance their economic offer Wednesday, instead focusing on using systemic changes to hit the number they are seeking to achieve -- still 46 percent for the players over the life of a new deal. The problem, sources say, is that the players are not willing to accept a deal at that percentage, and that some of the systemic adjustments the league has proposed as alternatives to a hard team cap will act like a hard cap -- such as a luxury-tax system that rises from dollar-for-dollar tax to $2 or more.

NBPA executive director Billy Hunter has called a hard team salary cap a "blood issue" for the union, and Fisher wrote in a letter to the union membership this week that he and Hunter will continue to oppose any deal that includes one "unless you, the group we represent, tell us otherwise."

In addition to what they presented as hard cap alternatives -- which also included a reduction in the Bird and mid-level exceptions -- league negotiators also have presented a concept that could drive a wedge in the players' association. In exchange for keeping certain spending exceptions in place -- albeit in a reduced form -- one idea floated by the owners was a gradual reduction in existing contracts -- the "R" word, as in rollbacks -- that would minimize the financial hit for players who will be signing deals under the new system.

Such a proposal would alleviate the problem of players such as James, Wade, Stoudemire, Anthony, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson having outsized contracts compared to stars who'd be faced with signing lesser deals under a new system. In essence, the players who already are under contract would take a percentage cut in the early years of a new CBA -- 5 percent the first year, 7.5 the second and 10 percent in the third year, sources said -- so that players like Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams wouldn't bear a disproportionate share of the burden when they sign their max deals under the reduced salary structure the owners are seeking.

The provisions are not geared strictly for the star class of players; in fact, the proposed rollbacks would be across the board, "for everyone," a person with knowledge of the idea said. And while this concept may alleviate the problem of having future stars bear more of a burden, it would create other problems -- not the least of which is the players' unwillingness to accept a percentage of BRI in the mid 40s that would make such rollbacks necessary.

It is for this, and other reasons -- such as restrictions the owners would want even in a soft-cap system -- that a person familiar with the owners' ideas told CBSSports.com Tuesday night that what they were proposing was deemed "alarming" by union officials.

And it is why Stern said Wednesday, "We are not near a deal."

"I'm focused on, let’s get the two committees in and see whether they can either have a season or not have a season," Stern said. "And that’s what’s at risk this weekend."

But amid all the comments made throughout these negotiations, it was an ordinary fan who hit a home run Wednesday with the most sensible statement yet. As Hunter and other union officials spoke with reporters on the street outside the hotel hosting negotiations, a guy in a white luxury sedan stopped in the middle of the street and started pounding on his door panel.

"We want basketball!" the fan shouted. "Stop the playing and get it done!"

He then drove off, heading west, having made the most sense of anyone.

Posted on: September 28, 2011 9:05 am
 

Don't get your hopes up

NEW YORK -- No one can predict what will happen Wednesday when negotiators for the NBA and the players' association get together for what is unmistakably a pivotal day in efforts to preserve a full season.

Whether they can agree on how to divide up the pie (or cake, as the case may be) ... whether they can find a middle ground on the system issues that bedevil them ... and basically, whether they can all just get along ... all of that is anyone's guess.

Mine?

Sorry to say it, but don't get your hopes up.

Yes, there has been meaningful movement in the past several weeks. First, union chief Billy Hunter signaled a willingness to negotiate the players' share below his previously offered 54.3 percent -- but only if the owners agreed on the spot to give up their all-out pursuit of a hard cap.

Last week, the owners made an economic move -- albeit a modest one -- from the previously offered 44 percent of BRI (basketball-related income) to 46 percent, with system issues still to be addressed.

And Tuesday -- well, Tuesday was a turning point in these high-stakes negotiations, one way or another. On Tuesday, the owners checked their religious zeal for a hard team salary cap at the door of the negotiating room and hit the players with a series of what the two sides dubbed "concepts and ideas."

In speaking with several people familiar with the talks, the term "concepts and ideas" is merely code for "players give up stuff they've had for decades, but at least they won't have a hard cap .... except, they will." Some of the owners' concepts -- a more punitive luxury tax and limitations on the Bird and mid-level exceptions may strike union negotiators as having those "looks like a duck and clucks like a duck" characteristics. In other words, by the end of the day, you may very well hear from the players that the owners' idea of a soft or softer cap is really just another hard-cap proposal in disguise.

In fact, there are some rabble-rousing factions within the player ranks -- i.e. powerful. frustrated agents -- who do not consider the owners' willingness to drop their pursuit of a hard team salary cap as any kind of victory at all for the players. As far as these hard-liners are concerned, any system that caps the overall amount of player salary in the system -- such as the 57 percent in the previous agreement and whatever percentage the two sides agree on here -- is by definition a hard cap.

This interpretation is not lost on Hunter, who along with union president Derek Fisher finds himself in the hottest of seats Wednesday as the calendar marches toward more cancellations -- more preseason games next week, and soon, real ones. But Hunter's job isn't to placate the hard-line agents, just as David Stern's job isn't to please only the hard-line owners who want their, um, cake and eat it, too.

Their job is to get a deal done, and the time for the sort of meaningful compromise is just about here.

Could it come together on Wednesday? It could, and it should. As sources have maintained for at least a week, there is a deal there for the taking if both sides want one.

Will it come together on Wednesday? Look at the calendar. If the drop-dead date for canceling the start of the regular season is Oct. 14 (as is the case, in my thoughtful estimation), then will each side come forward with its last, best offer and move as far as it's going to move on Sept. 28?

Sadly, I doubt it. If you're a fan of the NBA and want this thing over with, my advice: Hope for the best on Wednesday, and prepare for the worst.

Posted on: September 27, 2011 10:11 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 11:10 pm
 

Sources: Owners drop insistence on hard cap

NEW YORK -- 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."

Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, has often referred to a hard team salary cap as a "blood issue." Union president Derek Fisher scoffed at the owners' June proposal of a "flex cap" with a spending midpoint and a range as being, for all intents and purposes, a hard cap. Paramount in the players' opposition to a hard team cap is that the NBA already has a spending cap in the aggregate; under the previous CBA, the players were limited to 57 percent of basketball-related income (BRI), with an escrow system in place to guarantee they'd get no more and no less.

Even if the owners improved their economic proposal to 50-50 on Wednesday -- up from the 46 percent average share sources said they offered last week -- it seems unlikely that union officials would accept that without significant pushback on the system adjustments that are tied to it. And it is even less likely that Hunter and Fisher, under pressure from powerful agents pushing to dissolve the union through decertification or a disclaimer of interest, would be able to garner support for such a deal in the face of such opposition.

"We already have a hard salary cap," one person connected to the talks told CBSSports.com Tuesday night. "That train left the station in the last collective bargaining. If you accept that as an important victory point, then we've been bamboozled."

Whether viewed as a meaningful concession or not, the revelation from the owners Tuesday set the stage for an absolutely critical day of negotiating on Wednesday. With more preseason games on the chopping block next week and with an on-time start to the regular season unlikely if there's no deal, this is the moment of truth these negotiations began inching toward last week when league negotiators made a specific proposal on the BRI split for the first time since they offered a flat $2 billion-a-year over the first eight years of a 10-year deal back in June.

Though a person with knowledge of the talks said the union deemed the owners' 46 percent offer "unacceptable," Hunter and Fisher believed it was the starting point in the real negotiations to save the season. 

In another wrinkle that could be key to the talks, the NBPA's unfair labor practices charge against the league has been transferred from the National Labor Relations Board's regional office in New York to the general counsel in Washington, D.C., a person with knowledge of the situation told CBSSports.com. The case file includes the regional director's recommendation about whether a complaint should be issued against the NBA, but the file is sealed, the person said.

After what is expected to be an exhaustive review of the case by the NLRB's Washington-based legal staff, a decision will be rendered on whether a complaint should be filed. Though Hunter is feeling pressure from agents who are pushing for the union to decertify -- a tactic that the NFLPA used, to little effect, in its bargaining talks with the NFL -- a person with knowledge of his thinking said Hunter is determined to keep the union together until the NLRB rules. A favorable ruling for the NBPA could result in a federal injunction lifting the lockout, thus shifting significant leverage to the players.

The NBA subsequently filed its own unfair labor practices charge against the NBPA, and it is possible that the NLRB may not rule on either case in time for the two sides to negotiate a settlement that would save the season.

Amid the divided opinions on decertification, Fisher sent a second letter to union members this week in which he again urged unity and tried to reassure players that he and Hunter would not sell them out just to get a deal. Fisher reiterated the union's resistance to a hard team salary cap and promised to fight for players to share fairly in the league's revenue growth -- which is expected to continue rising at a 4 percent-a-year clip, plus the possibility of massive gains in the NBA's broadcast rights deals when they expire after the 2015-16 season.

"We’ve been clear from Day 1 of this process that we cannot sign off on a deal that attempts in any way to include a hard salary cap for our teams. That has not changed,” Fisher said in the letter. “Unless you, the group we represent, tell us otherwise, we are prepared to hold the line for as long as it takes to preserve the system we’ve worked so hard to build.”

After Tuesday's meeting, Fisher emerged in a far more upbeat mood than he and commissioner David Stern had exhibited following last week's meeting. The two sides broke off talks about three hours shy of a typical session and said they needed to retreat to their own offices for private meetings before reconvening on Wednesday.

"We’ve talked extensively about ideas and concepts," Fisher said. "These are things that, if we could get into the range or get into the zone, maybe we can put a deal together."

Time, and new ideas, are running short.
Posted on: September 27, 2011 6:13 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 7:07 pm
 

Fisher: 'Maybe we can put a deal together'

NEW YORK -- Negotiators from the NBA and its players' union ended bargaining talks after about two hours Tuesday, retreating to separate meetings at their offices with both sides acknowledging that there was something to think about.

Whether it was enough to propel the negotiations toward the possible foundation of a new collective bargaining agreement, commissioner David Stern said, "We will know more after (Wednesday's) session."

Derek Fisher, president of the National Basketball Players Association, said the two sides "talked extensively about ideas and concepts. These are things that if we could get into the range or get into the zone, maybe we can put a deal together."

The league and union will reconvene Wednesday morning with one eye on the religious calendar -- Thursday and Friday will be off limits for several key negotiators due to Rosh Hashanah -- and one eye on the basketball calendar. About four weeks remain before the scheduled start of the regular season, or approximately the amount of time that would be needed to finalize details of any deal points agreed upon and crank up free agency and a truncated preseason schedule.

Optimism? It's almost impossible to read tea leaves and body language in these talks, but Wednesday seems like a turning point -- one way or another.

"Sometimes when you discuss concepts, you want to go back and think about it," Stern said.

What is there to think about? That is the $1.9 billion question. At last check, that's how far apart the two sides appeared to be on the economics as they prepared to tread on the hallowed ground of system issues -- the hard salary cap vs. the existing system with a plethora of exceptions and a luxury tax. Sources have told CBSSports.com that both sides have signaled a willingness to negotiate system issues, with one person connected to the talks saying that a deal is "there for the taking."

Asked whether Tuesday's session was dedicated to the economic split or the system, Fisher and Stern said they discussed both.

"We’re not holding anybody accountable to ideas being thrown out in the room," Fisher said. "It’s really just a process that we’re trying to go through."

After the dour disposition he exhibited after last week's meeting, Stern was all smiles Tuesday -- but cautioned reporters not to read anything into it. He described the meeting, about three hours shorter than the sessions typically have run, as "quality time."

"When I didn’t smile the last time, I was described as something between dour and surly, so this is my smiling face," Stern said. "And we had a … we’re looking forward to reconvening tomorrow."

Or, maybe it was the cake that I had delivered to the negotiating room (see pic below), which resulted in the requisite laughs on the sidewalk outside the Upper East Side hotel where the bargaining took place.

"Most important," Stern said outside the hotel, "we've saved the cake for breakfast."

ken-berger-cakeAll kidding aside, the split -- how much of the league's $4 billion in annual revenues each side should get -- remains the crux of the negotiations. According to sources, the owners made the last economic move, increasing the proposed players' share of basketball-related income (BRI) from about 44 percent in their late June proposal to 46 percent. The players' most recent proposal called for a salary freeze in 2011-12 (the same $2.17 billion they made last season) followed by a 54 percent share of BRI as a starting point for the rest of the deal.

The key economic sticking point is that the owners have failed to offer the players what they consider to be a fair share of future revenue increases, which union economist Kevin Murphy and others have estimated at 4 percent a year. In fact, under the owners' June proposal of a flat $2 billion annually for eight years, the players' share would decline from about 51 percent in the first year to 39 percent in the eighth. 

One important point to consider about the early ending to Tuesday's meeting: Murphy was traveling from the West Coast and unable to attend the session -- which was hastily scheduled after NBPA executive director Billy Hunter postponed a regional meeting in Miami to hold two days of bargaining sessions instead. It is believed that Hunter agreed to Tuesday's meeting with the understanding that he would not be prepared to move forward with economic proposals without Murphy there to examine them -- especially if the numbers involved the players' share of future revenue increases.

The owners have pushed from the beginning for a 10-year deal, while the players have offered no more than six. A person with knowledge of the talks told CBSSports.com that Hunter also is hesitant to agree to a deal that extends beyond the expiration of the NBA's TV contract, which runs through the 2015-16 season, without assurances that the players will get a fair share of what is expected to be a sizeable increase in rights fees. Without such assurances, Hunter would push for an opt-out after the 2015-16 season, which would be the fifth year of a new CBA.

Fisher said no formal proposals were exchanged Tuesday, in keeping with the linguistic gymnastics the two sides have used with regard to what constitutes a concept vs. a proposal. At some point, concepts will become a proposal, and sometime soon, those proposals had better become the foundation of an agreement -- or more preseason games are likely to be canceled by next week and an on-time start to the regular season will be in serious jeopardy.

Asked if the two sides would continue to meet if the negotiations weren't moving forward, Stern said, "We won’t really be able to answer that question fully until after (Wednesday's) session."

Looking like a big day. How u.
Posted on: September 26, 2011 1:32 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 1:59 pm
 

NBA, union to meet Tuesday

NEW YORK -- Officials from the NBA and its players' union are finalizing details of a bargaining session that will take place Tuesday in New York and possibly extend to Wednesday, a person familiar with the details told CBSSports.com.

With the prospect of two days of negotiations as the calendar marches toward the eventual canceling of regular season games in less than three weeks,  National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter has postponed a regional meeting that had been scheduled for Tuesday in Miami and will stay in New York for talks with the league, the person with knowledge of the meeting said.

On Friday, the league indefinitely postponed the start of training camps and canceled preseason games scheduled for Oct. 9-15. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver said the schedule will be further evaluated on Oct. 1. It is likely that the league would have to begin canceling regular season games by Oct. 14 if it is unable to reach an agreement with the union on a new collective bargaining ageement.

The precise composition and format for the negotiations is still being determined due to a scheduling conflict of at least one key member of the parties that have made progress in small-group settings since Aug. 31. Once that is resolved, the goal is to continue with the small-group sessions with commissioner David Stern, Silver, deputy general counsel Dan Rube and Spurs owner Peter Holt representing the league and Hunter, NBPA president Derek Fisher, general counsel Ron Klempner and economist Kevin Murphy representing the players.

Tuesday and Wednesday represent the last opportunities to bargain this week with several key members of both sides' negotiating teams observing Rosh Hashanah on Thursday and Friday.

Negotiations resume after the league made a slight but significant revision last week to its most recent proposal on how to divide the sport's approximately $4 billion in basketball-related income (BRI). Sources say the owners' latest economic proposal amounted to an average 46 percent of BRI for the players over the life of the deal, which the union deemed "unacceptable." But the revised proposal represented a 2 percent increase from the owners' June proposal of a flat $2.01 billion annual guarantee for the players in the first eight years of a 10-year deal. That proposal started at about a 50-50 split of BRI in the 2011-12 season, but with revenues projected to increase about 4 percent a year, the players' share would shrink over time -- to about 39 percent in the eighth year of the deal.

The latest proposal from the owners called for the players' share to decline at a slower rate, sources said. According to one of the people familiar with the negotiations, the players most recently proposed a six-year CBA that would begin with a salary freeze in the first year ($2.17 billion, same as they made last season) and then go to 54 percent -- a 3 percent decline from the players' guarantee of 57 percent in the six-year deal that expired July 1.

Hunter also has signaled a willingness to negotiate below the 54 percent offer, with the caveat that it not include the implementation of a hard salary cap. Sources say both sides have expressed a willingness to negotiate on system and cap issues once they agree on the economic aspects of the deal.




Posted on: September 23, 2011 11:45 am
Edited on: September 23, 2011 12:28 pm
 

Sources: Owners' offer still below 50 percent

NEW YORK -- More details emerged Friday of a revised proposal from the owners on the split of revenues with the players, with two sources telling CBSSports.com that the aggregate share offered by the league remains below 49 percent.

The number offered Thursday by commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver was deemed "unacceptable" by representatives of the National Basketball Players Association, according to one of the sources familiar with the proposal. The two sides emerged from a five-hour negotiation with no deal and with full recognition that training camps would be postponed and preseason games would be canceled.

That inevitable and widely expected announcement came Friday, when the league postponed indefinitely the start of camps -- which were supposed to open Oct. 3 -- and scrapped 43 preseason games scheduled from Oct. 9-15.

The two sides are communicating Friday to schedule another bargaining session for next week, when the owners' gesture -- however small -- to move off the $2 billion-a-year players' share for the first eight years of a 10-year proposal is expected to accelerate negotiations on the economic portion of the agreement.

This is the first time the league has formally offered a number in terms of the BRI split since they proposed an annual guarantee of $2.01 billion as part of a 10-year proposal in late June.

It is both curious and an inevitable function of the calendar -- the league is still three weeks away from having to cancel regular season games -- that the owners emerged from a series of productive bargaining sessions and a full Board of Governors meeting to present a BRI split that still has the players receiving less than half of the league's approximately $4 billion in revenues. After NBPA executive director Billy Hunter stated his intention to go below the union's previous offer of a 54.3 percent share for the players, Stern and Silver acknowledged that an agreement on the economics was within reach.

Stern told reporters last Tuesday that the players' gesture -- which was preconditioned on the owners dropping their insistence on a hard salary cap -- was "on the road" to a compromise on the overall dollars.

"The question is, how long is that road?" one person connected to the talks said Friday. "Is it the Road to Hana?"

Under the six-year CBA that expired July 1, the players were guaranteed 57 percent of basketball-related income.

Examining the owners' June proposal of $2.01 billion for eight years, the numbers work out to an average of 44 percent of BRI for the players. (Estimating 4 percent annual revenue growth, total revenues in the first eight years of the deal would be approximately $36.4 billion, reaching $5 billion for the first time in league history in the seventh year.)

So even though the players would get an estimated 51 percent of BRI in the first year of the deal ($2.01 billion out of $3.95 billion), with revenues increasing and salaries remaining flat, their share would decline to 39 percent in the eighth year.

The numbers offered by league negotiators Thursday amounted to an average share for the players that was still less than 49 percent and provided what one person familiar with the numbers described as a lesser decline in their percentage over the years.

So in estimating how far apart the owners and players are economically, my presumption that the league must have offered more than 50 percent on Thursday -- since that's what they'd offered in the first year of the June proposal -- did not take into account the declining percentage over time. Since the previous offer was 44 percent in the aggregate over eight years, what the owners came forward with Thursday had to have been in the the 45-48 percent range on average over the life of a new CBA.

So how far apart are they? It's hard to say for sure since so many of the proposals have been hypothetical and they haven't gotten around to negotiating what system they'd be tied to. But if you look at a six-year horizon -- the longest proposal the players have offered -- the difference between 53 percent for the players and a possible owners' proposal of, say, 46 percent, would be about $2 billion.

What's a couple of billion among friends? It's a lot of ground to cover in three weeks, but vastly less than the $8 billion over 10 years that separated the two sides three months ago.







 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com