Tag:Kevin Murphy
Posted on: October 27, 2011 5:15 am
Edited on: October 27, 2011 12:49 pm
 

Progress on system; 82 games still 'possible'

NEW YORK – After another marathon, 15-hour bargaining session that pushed past 3 a.m. ET Thursday, NBA and union negotiators emerged saying progress had been made -- and pointed to the possibility of not only avoiding the loss of more games, but recapturing those already canceled and having an 82-game season.

It’s beginning to look like time for push to come to shove and for the lockout, well into its fourth month, to have its best chance of coming to an end.

“This has been a very arduous and difficult day, and productive,” commissioner David Stern said after 4 a.m. in a conference room of a Manhattan luxury hotel. “(Thursday) is going to be just as arduous and difficult, if not more so. We hope that it can be as productive.”

The two sides are reconvening at 2 p.m., with National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter saying an 82-game season remains “possible” if a deal were reached by Sunday or Monday.

“We initially wanted to miss none,” Stern said. “It's sad that we've missed two weeks. We're trying to apply a tourniquet and go forward. That's always been our goal.”

But while the cataclysmic rhetoric that marked last Thursday’s breakdown in talks was gone and the focus was on saving games instead of losing more, officials on both sides cautioned not to draw substantial conclusions. While progress was made on several system issues – “small moves,” according to one source – the talks are back in the tenuous place where they’ve blown apart on several other occasions. Even if the complete menu of system issues can be resolved Thursday, the trouble in the past has come when the system has to be linked with the BRI split – or vice versa.

“I think depending on how much progress we make (Thursday), we’ll be in a better position to be more explanatory and definitive about the specifics of the deal,” Hunter said.

After the talks broke down last Thursday over the BRI split – with the owners offering a 50-50 split and the players seeking 52.5 percent – the two sides re-engaged almost immediately on Friday and continued talking through the weekend, Hunter said. The pressure was beginning to mount for both sides to avoid further cancellations and try to salvage the two weeks of games already canceled into a revamped, compressed schedule.

“If there was any hope of trying to recapture the lost games and be able to complete a full season of 82 games, then there had to be a way to get back and talk,” Hunter said.

The two sides discussed system issues exclusively Wednesday and into Thursday morning, not touching on the BRI split at all. One source warned, “They still haven’t gotten to the meat and potatoes.”

But the general feeling from both sides was that a level of determination to bridge the gap between the system proposals has reached a level of urgency not seen at any times during the two-plus years of negotiations. It is generally presumed that once the more difficult system issues – mainly the level and rates of a new, more punitive luxury tax system – are agreed upon, the economic negotiation would be easier to agree upon.

“A lot of the concessions or trades that you might be inclined to make have to have some connection to your understanding of what your ultimate number is,” Hunter said.

Fisher said there were “key principle items in our system that have to remain there in order for our players to agree to what is already a reduced percentage of BRI.”

The league and union negotiated in the small-group format that has yielded significant progress and less rhetoric in the past. Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, labor relations committee chairman Peter Holt of the Spurs, Board of Governors chairman Glen Taylor of the Timberwolves and Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan joined deputy general counsel Dan Rube and general counsel Richard Buchanan in representing the league. For the players, it was Hunter, Fisher, vice president Maurice Evans, general counsel Ron Klempner, attorney Yared Alula and economist Kevin Murphy.

League negotiators will convene via telephone with the rest of the owners on the labor relations committee prior to the 2 p.m. resumption in talks, but there will be no new parties in the room. Murphy, who has other obligations, will not be present for the union Thursday.

“There's no question that today was a better day than last Thursday,” Silver said. “I think it's too early, not just in the morning, but still in the negotiations to express confidence that we're at a deal. There's no question, though, that we did make progress on some significant issues.”

In a moment of pre-dawn levity after the second-longest bargaining session of the negotiations, Stern joked about the fact that he was not present last Thursday when the seemingly promising talks fell apart after an apparent “take-it-or-leave-it” ultimatum from Holt over proceeding with system negotiations only if the players accepted a 50-50 BRI split.

“It wasn't me,” Stern said. “I leave these guys alone for a little bit of time and all hell breaks loose.”

Could all hell break loose again? Sure; at this point, anything’s possible. But what was clear as the vacuums purred in the lobby and hotel staff began showing up for a new day’s work was this: The urgency to make a deal finally has arrived.
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 9, 2011 4:24 pm
 

Sources: No movement on major NBA issues

NEW YORK -- As the basketball world awaits a crucial phase of the NBA labor talks next week, the devil we don't know has been in the details of accelerated negotiations that concluded Thursday with a second 5 1-2 hour session in as many days. And while the tone and pace of talks has picked up, CBSSports.com has learned that there has been no formal movement in either side's position on the biggest sticking points in the deal: the split of revenues and the cap system.

According to five people briefed on the three days of high-level talks over the past two weeks, the two sides essentially are in the same place they've been since the owners' most recent formal proposal in late June: billions of dollars apart.

"I don't think they've made any progress there at all," one of the people briefed on the negotiations told CBSSports.com. "They're talking a lot, and the conversations are more cordial. But as far as the real numbers, I don't think there's anything there."

Before panic sets in, it is not necessarily a doomsday scenario that no new numbers have been agreed upon because, as two of the people with knowledge of the talks said, exchanging formal proposals was not the objective of this week's negotiations. This, in addition to the agreed upon strategy for neither side to discuss specific negotiating points, explains the vague answers given Thursday by union president Derek Fisher and deputy commissioner Adam Silver when pressed on whether new proposals have been exchanged.

"Ideas, proposals, concepts and numbers" have been discussed, Silver said, while Fisher said "tons of ideas" were exchanged. What this means is that Tuesday's full negotiating session including the complete bargaining committees for both sides could be extraordinarily significant. The larger meeting will serve as a litmus test for the concepts discussed in smaller groups consisting of Silver, commissioner David Stern, Spurs owner Peter Holt, deputy and general counsel Dan Rube for the owners and Fisher, executive director Billy Hunter, general counsel Ron Klempner, outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler and economist Kevin Murphy for the union.

"Next week's really important," one of the people briefed on the talks said.

But another person connected to the talks at the highest level stressed that the significance of Tuesday's meeting would be greatly enhanced only if one side or the other decided it was time to transform the ideas discussed at recent meetings into a formal proposal. Technically, it is the owners' turn to make one, as the players were the last side to do so June 30 before the lockout was imposed.

"The reality is, until one side or the other is ready to make significant movement, nothing is going to happen," the person said.

According to one of the people familiar with the talks, Fisher's statement Thursday about making sure "our general membership" agrees with ideas before he can "sign off on those type of deals" suggested that negotiators presented new concepts that must be vetted with a larger group of players before they can be negotiated further. The goal Tuesday will be to see if the conceptual, small-group discussions can provide any framework for the larger groups until the owners disperse for their Board of Governors meeting in Dallas. Both sides seem to be feeling a sense of urgency to present a significant status report to their constituents on Thursday, when the players also have scheduled a meeting in Las Vegas to update union members on the talks. 

It's when you consider the possibility that each side may prefer to report to its constituents that it is holding the line and not making any more concessions that the prospects for a breakthrough seem remote.

"They're bringing the full committees in to sit down with each other and see if they can make any progress by Thursday," one of the people with knowledge of the talks said. "They'll either say, 'Here, we've made progress and here's where we're at,' or, 'We're not making any progress and we're light years apart.'"

Sources say the two sides are trying to tackle the biggest obstacle first -- the split of revenues -- before fully addressing the system by which the money will be distributed. One of the people informed of the state of negotiations said the players have expressed a willingness to compromise on the split of revenues -- they received 57 percent under the previous deal and have proposed 54.3 percent as a starting point in a new collective bargaining agreement -- if they can keep many aspects of the current system in place, such as guaranteed contracts and contract lengths. But if asked to accept a dramatic decrease in their percentage of BRI and a curtailment of guarantees, rookie scale, cap exceptions and contract lengths, "I think the players would fight that to the end," one of the people said.

The owners' proposal to cut salaries and hold them steady at $2 billion a year "is a big point," one of the people said. "But the cap is an even bigger point. The players are willing to give back more if the structure and the NBA operating the way we've always known it stays the same or similar."

As Silver has said on more than one occasion, the owners are unified in their belief that they cannot continue operating under the current system.

The most recent concessions by the owners that were made public included a "flex-cap" with a $62 million midpoint and a sliding scale up and down -- similar to the cap system implemented in the NHL after a lockout that cost the entire 2004-05 season. On June 23, the players declined to counter that proposal after Hunter called the owners' demands "gargantuan" and said, "We just can't meet them." At the time, the owners also expressed a willingness to relax their insistence on eliminating fully guaranteed contracts -- which Hunter has called a "blood issue" for the players.

The players' most recent publicly known concessions included a $100 million-a-year salary reduction over a five-year CBA -- which Stern called "modest" and league negotiators view as more of a $100 million-a-year decrease in salary growth. Subsequently, the players offered a more owner-friendly split of future revenues and added a sixth year to their proposal, which Stern rejected June 30 because he said it would increase the average NBA player's salary from its current level of $5 million to $7 million by the end of the proposed deal.




Posted on: September 7, 2011 5:43 pm
 

Stern: 'Three weeks' to get a deal

NEW YORK -- With rhetoric toned down and secrecy at a premium, top officials from the NBA and its players' union met Wednesday for more than five hours and emerged saying they've agreed on nothing except the next meeting.

After the second high-level bargaining session in as many weeks, the two sides will meet on consecutives days for the first time since the lockout was imposed July 1. Sticking to a mutual agreement not to charaterize the talks or divulge details, lead negotiators from both sides acknowledged that time was running out to get a deal that would avert a shortened or canceled season.

When asked if there was still time to achieve such a negotiating breakthrough, commissioner David Stern said, "Yes. We have three weeks."

With that, Stern dropped the first publicly acknowledged deadline for a deal to be reached without canceling at least a portion of training camps or preseason. Three weeks from Wednesday is Sept. 28, and training camps league-wide are scheduled to begin the first week of October.

Asked if there is still time to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement without missing regular season games, union chief Billy Hunter said, "I think there is. I think there clearly is. There's more than enough time."

In addition to the rosters of negotiators present at the most recent session on Aug. 31 -- Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and Spurs owner Peter Holt for the owners, and Hunter, president Derek Fisher and general counsel Ron Klempner for the players -- other members of the negotiating teams were in the room Wednesday. The players brought outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler and economist Kevin Murphy, while  the league brought deputy general counsel Dan Rube. The presence of Rube, the leading expert on cap mechanics and player contracts at the league office, may have indicated a shift to more specific, system-related talks. But Stern tersely rejected the notion that Rube's presence was related to what topic areas were discussed.

The two sides will meet again Thursday, and possibly beyond, as the calendar continues its inexorable march toward the possible cancelation of preseason or even regular season games. 

"We agreed that we're going to sit here for as many days as we can to see if we're going to be able to make progress," Stern said. 
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com