Tag:Maurice Evans
Posted on: December 2, 2011 5:26 pm
Edited on: December 2, 2011 6:18 pm
 

Deal expected to pass, but not without drama

Players have been invited to New York for a meeting Wednesday to discuss the new collective bargaining agreement, and an electronic vote will be held Thursday on whether to approve the deal, two people familiar with the process told CBSSports.com.

The Wednesday meeting will be mandatory for the 30 player reps, but all 450-plus union members are invited. In the electronic vote, a majority of players who cast ballots must approve the deal for it to pass.

Members of the National Basketball Players Association's executive committee have spent the past few days sorting out confusion among players who felt they didn't have enough information about the deal or thought the vote to reauthorize the union was akin to a vote approving the deal. Some players who thought they were voting to approve the deal this week complained that they hadn't even seen it -- even though a summary of the major deal points was delivered via email to every union member.

The union was reformed Thursday with the approval of more than 300 players, and negotiators for the NBPA and the league reconvened Friday to finish hammering out the details -- including a list of secondary items that have yet to be agreed to, such as drug testing, the age limit and provisions that allow teams to shuttle players back and forth to the NBA Development League. None of those items is expected to be a deal breaker, and a key one -- the age limit -- may be left in its current form, to be revisited at a later date after the agreement is ratified.

Not unexpectedly given how painful this entire fiasco has been, it won't end without one more dose of drama.

While the deal is expected to pass overwhelmingly, a potential sideshow could emerge regarding the future of NBPA executive director Billy Hunter. As CBSSports.com reported Wednesday, there is an insurgency being led by a handful of agents who are attempting to have their clients' votes approving the new CBA contingent on Hunter agreeing to return as head of the union only on an interim basis. As far as player involvement, the movement is being led by Celtics stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, multiple sources told CBSSports.com. 

UPDATE: A small but vocal group of players is trying to have the executive community replaced, as well, two people with knowledge of the situation said.

Pierce is represented by Jeff Schwartz, who has been among the leaders of a group of seven agents from six of the most influential agencies who've long disagreed with the union's bargaining and legal tactics. Those agents, including Arn Tellem, Dan Fegan, Mark Bartelstein and Bill Duffy, believe the players should've voted to decertify back in July and sued for antitrust violations much earlier in the process. Garnett is represented by agent Andy Miller, who has had no association with the dissident agents and was not aware of his client's involvement, sources said. Rob Pelinka, who represents Kobe Bryant and union president Derek Fisher, also is said to be among the group of insurgents, sources said.

Maurice Evans, a vice president of the union and member of the players' executive committee, said he's spoken with about a half-dozen players who were dissatisfied with the deal and the process until the details were explained.

"Once I explained the CBA to them, they were disarmed and enlightened," Evans said Friday. "A lot of guys are really excited about the deal. ... It sounds like a bunch of disgruntled agents who felt their tactics weren't followed."

The flawed strategy of an earlier decertification could've jeopardized the season and resulted in a worse deal for the players if they'd failed in their legal efforts before pressure mounted on the league to make a deal or lose the season. Furthermore, once the union was reformed, the leadership was reformed with it. Two people with knowledge of Hunter's contractual situation told CBSSports.com that his contract was renewed at some point in the past year and has either four or five years left.

In any event, Hunter will not be in place when the next opportunity arises to negotiate a new agreement -- after the sixth year of this deal, at which point each side can opt out of it. Commissioner David Stern, Hunter's longtime bargaining adversary, is expected to be retired by then as well.

Evans said several of the players he's spoken with about the deal in recent days backed off once they realized they'd been given "misinformation" about it from "not credible sources."

"Anyone who wants to challenge Billy's position will have their opportunity come Wednesday," Evans said. "I think they'll find his credentials unmatched. ... I'm extremely confident. For them to get a deal like this that speaks to each class -- the minimum player, the mid-level player and the superstar alike -- there's no way they wouldn't take this deal."

Once the deal is approved by the players and owners, it will lead to the opening of free agency and training camps on Dec. 9, with a five-game Christmas schedule of openers on Dec. 25, which the league officially announced Friday: Celtics-Knicks, Heat-Mavericks, Bulls-Lakers, Magic-Thunder and Clippers-Warriors.






Posted on: November 3, 2011 7:01 pm
Edited on: November 3, 2011 9:56 pm
 

Denying rift, players set to resume talks

NEW YORK -- Declaring their unity and determination not to accept a bad deal just to save the season, officials from the National Basketball Players Association said Thursday they will meet again with league negotiators this weekend in hopes of reviving the stalled labor talks.

Bargaining will resume Saturday after NBPA executive director Billy Hunter called NBA commissioner David Stern and asked if he wanted to "take another stab at it."

“I don’t know that we’re going to accomplish much, but we’re going to meet,” Hunter said. “The only way we can get a deal is by meeting.”

The talks, which collapsed yet again last Friday over the contentious split of basketball-related income (BRI), were reignited after federal mediator George Cohen called Hunter this week. Cohen, who excused himself from the negotiations after they broke down Oct. 20, offered to “resurrect his services,” Hunter said.

Hunter said the union is fine with Cohen rejoining the talks, but was waiting for Stern to give the go-ahead. In any event, the two sides will reconvene Saturday in Manhattan with “no preconditions, none at all,” Hunter said. “I think it’s not wise or prudent for us to … let huge gaps of time go by and let the clock run and not meet. Because then we become more entrenched in our respective positions.”

UPDATE: Those positions became even more crucial, and the stakes were raised higher than ever, when Yahoo Sports reported that as many as 50 players were part of a conference call Thursday with an antitrust attorney to discuss decertification. It was one of two conference calls involving players held this week without the knowledge of NBPA officials, Yahoo reported.

Several All-Stars were included on Thursday’s call, in which participants reportedly drew a line in the sand at 52 percent of BRI for the players. If union negotiators dropped below that percentage, and/or the remaining system issues went the league’s way, it would be cause for a rogue decertification vote by players frustrated with the enormous concessions the union already has made, Yahoo reported.

Unwittingly within that prism of chaos, the NBPA's three-hour strategy meeting, attended by Hunter, union president Derek Fisher and members of the players’ executive committee, took on the distinct tone of a damage-control session once a small group of reporters was led into the room. Hunter said the union executives and players had spent only 15 minutes total this week -- including Thursday’s meeting -- addressing reports of a rift between he and Fisher, but spent more time than that addressing the reports to the media.

Fisher denied having unauthorized discussions with league negotiators in which he reportedly told them he could sell a 50-50 deal to the players, and Hunter denied having a confrontation with Fisher on the matter – as reported last weekend by FOXSports.com. Union vice presidents Keyon Dooling, Maurice Evans and Matt Bonner weighed in with impassioned support of Fisher, whom Dooling called “the best president that we’ve ever had as a union.”

“I think the questions need to start being directed toward Mr. Stern and the owners as to why this gap, if it's so insignificant, hasn’t been closed by them,” Evans said.

And therein lay the real issue – not sideshows or conspiracy theories or questions about whether the president of the union discussed under what circumstances the players would move from their formal position in which they are requesting 52.5 percent of BRI. What negotiations on the remaining system issues can be accomplished to compel either side to move from its economic position?

The owners were formally offering the players a 50-50 split after about $600 million in expense reductions previously calculated under the CBA that expired July 1. But Hunter, explaining for the first time why he walked out of last Friday’s bargaining session, said the league was attempting to use those system issues to “horse trade” from a 47 percent offer to the players up to 50 percent. And Hunter also said he’s heard “rumors” that when the two sides reconvene Saturday, the league may come back with an offer that is less than the previous proposal of 47 percent – which hadn’t officially been the owners’ position since at least Oct. 4.

“Where do I expect them to start?” Hunter said. “I won’t tell you where I expect them to start. … We have an idea of what we need in order to get a fair deal.”

According to multiple sources familiar with both sides’ negotiating strategy, the pivot point for Saturday’s resumption in talks hinges on the remaining system issues that are crucial to getting the players on board with a further compromise on BRI. Primarily, they are the owners’ proposal to forbid luxury tax-paying teams from using exceptions such as the Bird and mid-level and engaging in sign-and-trade deals; the luxury tax “cliff” that magnifies the expense for a team wading into the tax because of the swing that exists between receiving and paying tax money; and an increased tax penalty for repeat offenders, or teams that stay above the tax line for multiple years.

Neither side has said publicly or privately that its existing offer on BRI represents a “best and final” offer. And neither side can present such an offer by moving from 52.5 percent (players’ proposal) and 50 percent (owners’ offer) until the remaining system hurdles are negotiated.

“It’s difficult to peg the number without knowing what comes with it, in terms of the system,” Fisher said. “And it’s extremely difficult to fully negotiate a system without knowing what the split will be. I think that’s why it’s gotten so hard and so dug in here in the last couple weeks.

“I don’t think any of us can begin to speculate on what our group – in particular, this group sitting at the table and our larger body – will be willing to agree to,” Fisher said. “We have a feel for what we need to present a fair deal.”

UPDATE: If put to a vote, the consensus is that a majority of players would accept a 50-50 deal as a lesser of two evils when compared to the losses they would incur from losing the entire season. Amid all the other agendas and damage control flying around Thursday, that's what makes a potential rogue decertification effort by frustrated players so fascinating -- and potentially apocalyptic when it comes to the chances of salvaging a deal, and the season.

To dissolve the union through decertification -- as opposed to a disclaimer of interest, in which the union would voluntarily cease representing the players -- a vote of 30 percent of union membership would be required to start the ball rolling. If that hurdle were cleared, a vote of 50 percent plus one of the membership would be required to make it official.

If decertification were achieved, the players would then sue the NBA for antitrust violations in federal court, a process that would take months to lead to further negotiations -- and potentially years to reach a final conclusion, according to legal sources. The league already has threatened in a federal lawsuit filed in August to void all existing player contracts if the union dissolved.

If the players decertified, they would be legally barred from reforming the union for one year -- unless the owners decided to recognize the union again at some point prior to that in order to achieve a collective bargaining agreement.

In a word, this would be chaos. This is where we are in a lockout that has gotten so messy, so fast that it is impossible to predict what cataclysmic events might unfold next. 

It is possible that the mere threat of decertificaiton, which would all but ensure a lost season of revenues for the owners, could provide a much-needed trigger point to move the negotiations forward Saturday. But it also has the potential to further fracture the union, pitting star players and their high-profile agents against the rank-and-file who are more willing to accept the best deal they can get now to salvage close to a full season of earnings. 

Two sources involved in the process agreed that the most logical solution to break the impasse would be for Stern and Hunter – the highest ranking officials charged with getting a deal – to meet privately and discuss parameters for the obvious tradeoffs that must occur to bridge the BRI gap. But one of the people said this was not a possibility that Hunter and Stern discussed in their telephone call Wednesday, and there is speculation that Stern’s hands are tied by hard-line owners who are preventing him from offering the final tradeoffs necessary to satisfy each side. 

“I don't think the battle is within our union,” Dooling said. “That's not where the rift is.”

But with various players tweeting this week about a desire to accept the best offer the union can get now in order to save the season, Fisher and Hunter are in an extraordinary position: defusing that angst and presenting a unified front while also holding the line on making significant further concessions when every negotiated aspect of the deal to this point has gone heavily in the owners’ favor.

“We want to get to back and play,” Fisher said. “But we realize the ramifications of agreeing to a bad deal at this moment. And we know our fans want us to get back out there. But from our perspective as players, this particular collective bargaining agreement will forever impact the circumstances for NBA basketball players. And we can’t rush into a deal that we feel is a bad deal, just to save this season.”

The meeting Thursday at the union’s Harlem offices offered a window into the tension, frustration and responsibility that rests with Fisher and Hunter to close this deal in a way that satisfies current players who want to return to the court and others who will be affected by it for a decade or longer.

With Hunter being pressured by agents and star players who want him to hold firm at his current proposal of 52.5 percent – down from 57 in the previous deal – and with Stern also feeling Heat from hard-line owners, it is unclear whether the two men who ended the 1998-99 lockout with a private, all-night negotiating session have another season-saving deal in them. Or more important, whether they have the same authority each enjoyed in January of ’99, when they emerged with a handshake agreement on the very morning when Stern had threatened to cancel the rest of the season.

The presence of Cohen or another mediator, which Hunter and the union’s executive committee favors, couldn’t hurt. A league spokesman could not confirm one way or the other Thursday whether Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver would agree to more mediated talks. Some involved in the talks believe Cohen never would’ve let Hunter walk out of the negotiations last Friday, a move that Hunter said Thursday he did not regret.

“I thought it was appropriate,” Hunter said. “I thought that we had given enough. … The signals that I thought I was getting, or that we were getting, were that they would be receptive to moving off their number. And when they went back to 47, then all of a sudden it became clear to me that that wasn’t the case.”

The unspoken truth here is that the notion of a 50-50 compromise on BRI has no sinister connotations for the players if Stern is authorized to make the final system tradeoffs necessary to satisfy what union negotiators feel they need to present what they call a “fair deal” to the membership for a vote. Conversely, if Stern holds firm on the system issues, does he have the authority to increase the players’ share to 51 or 51.5 percent and close the deal?

“Our platform has been reasonableness,” NBPA general counsel Ron Klempner said. “We're looking to come to them and to meet them. And just as people are asking us, ‘Well, the difference is so small, shouldn’t you just cut it and meet them halfway?’ The same thing is on them, and it's just not worth it for them. They really do have to come and meet us halfway.”

For this reason and others, it would be irresponsible to characterize a conversation by Fisher or any other union official about a compromised split of BRI since the number cannot be separated from the system issues that go with it – conversations that Fisher vehemently denied having, even though they would’ve been well within his rights as the union president. Indeed, Hunter acknowledged Thursday that NBPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler broached the topic of a 50-50 split on Sept. 8 as a way to feel out whether league negotiators were inclined to discuss a split in that “zone.” But to date, the players have not made a formal offer beneath their requested share of 52.5 percent.

“I think the biggest misperception is that it’s only about two percentage points,” committee member Roger Mason said. “Because it’s about much more than 50 or 52 or whatever. There’s still a system that hasn’t been addressed.”

And a whole lot of other stuff, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on: October 27, 2011 10:52 pm
Edited on: October 28, 2011 12:58 am
 

Stern on labor deal: Friday's the day

NEW YORK – Setting up the next and most pivotal day in the NBA labor talks, negotiators will convene Friday with what commissioner David Stern described as “resolve” to finally close the gap and agree to the two key elements of a new collective bargaining agreement: the system and the split of revenues.

“I can’t tell you we’ve resolved anything in such a big way, but there’s an element of continuity, familiarity and I would hope trust that would enable us to look forward to (Friday), where we anticipate there will be some important and additional progress or not,” Stern said in a news conference Thursday night after a 7 1-2 hour bargaining session at a luxury Manhattan hotel.

“We’re looking forward to seeing whether something good can be made to happen,” Stern said.

After spending 22 1-2 hours over two days hammering out many of the details of a new system that the league believes will foster more competitive balance, the moment of truth has arrived – for the third time this month. Two times prior, the negotiators expressed confidence they were within striking distance of one or the other key issue – the system or the split – only to have the talks fall apart in spectacular fashion.

But according to several people involved in the negotiations or briefed on them, there has been a noticeable uptick in urgency to finally end the nearly four-month lockout, with the last realistic possibility to salvage games already canceled – and avoid canceling more – set to evaporate without a deal in the next several days.

In a moment of levity that also pointed to the importance of Friday’s bargaining session, Stern chimed in from the back of the room during union executive director Billy Hunter’s news conference when Hunter was asked when the important, difficult moves would be made to finally close the deal.

“Well, David Stern is sitting back there,” Hunter said. “I think he can probably tell you. Hopefully, sometime tomorrow.”

And right on cue, Stern shouted jovially from the back of the room, “Tomorrow!”

In another important moment from Thursday night’s separate news conferences – held only 18 hours after the 4 a.m. ET affairs earlier in the day – Stern was asked if the league was prepared to make another economic move Friday if necessary to get the deal done. The two sides are trying to agree on the framework of a new system of player contracts and team payrolls before proceeding with the final, most important, and interrelated piece of the negotiation: the split of BRI.

“We’re prepared to negotiate over everything,” Stern said. “We’re looking forward to it.”

The most recent formal proposals have the owners offering the players a 50-50 split of revenues, while the players have proposed a 52.5 percent share. The players received 57 percent under the previous six-year CBA. The split of revenues was not discussed Wednesday or Thursday, the parties said.

Deputy commissioner Adam Silver, who has maintained that the BRI split and system issues are “not necessarily related,” said Thursday night that “trades are often made when you have the final pieces of a deal that you need to put together.”

“We remain apart on both, so from that standpoint, we’re disappointed,” Silver said.

Hunter does not share Silver’s view that the split and system structure are unrelated, and those two viewpoints must collide one last time Friday with urgency to reach an agreement and preserve a full 82-game schedule at its highest point since the lockout began July 1.

“You definitely have to have some agreement on the system,” Hunter said. “Because if the system’s not right, then as we’ve indicated before, the number’s not going to work.  And so the two are interrelated.”

But while there remain significant details to be resolved over a more punitive luxury tax system and other rules governing trades and contracts, Stern’s demeanor was decidedly upbeat after a second consecutive day of trying to bridge the bargaining gap in a small-group format that clearly has gained traction and momentum.

The rosters of negotiators were essentially the same as the 15-hour session held Wednesday into the early morning hours of Thursday. Stern, Silver, deputy general counsel Dan Rube, general counsel Richard Buchanan, labor relations committee chairman Peter Holt of the Spurs, Board of Governors chairman Glen Taylor of the Timberwolves, and James Dolan of the Knicks were joined by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who was flying through New York on his way home from Paris. Other than the absence of union economist Kevin Murphy (who will be present Friday) and the addition of vice president Roger Mason, the players’ contingent was intact with Hunter, president Derek Fisher, vice president Mo Evans, general counsel Ron Klempner and attorney Yared Alula. 

With negative rhetoric at a minimum only a week after the negotiations collapsed last Thursday over the BRI split, team executives around the league were beginning to prepare for a deal to be consummated. Several team executives have postponed international scouting trips they'd normally take at this time of year so they can be in place if and when a deal is agreed to. If a deal is reached, it will take about 30 days before the regular season can begin: at least two weeks to write up the agreement and have it ratified by both sides, and at least a week each of free agency and training camps/preseason games.

But while Hunter said the two sides are "within striking distance of getting a deal" on the system issues and moving on to BRI, Silver cautioned that the two sides are "apart on both" the system and the split. Asked about the gap on the system issues, Stern said, "We are not close enough right now. But I expect with a good night’s sleep, we’ll both come in with resolve to get closer."

But team executives who've heard this twice before, only to see the talks blow up -- on Oct. 4 over the BRI split and Oct. 10 over the system -- remained cautiously optimistic Thursday. One executive confided that his gut tells him "this will blow up one more time." "

"There’s no guarantees we’ll get it done," Stern said. "But we’re going to give it one heck of a shot (Friday)."


 


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: 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: August 25, 2011 12:46 pm
Edited on: August 25, 2011 1:04 pm
 

League, union to meet next week

NEW YORK -- While owners and players are not expected to hold the second full bargaining session of the lockout until next month, a high-level meeting of top negotiators for both sides will take place next week, a person with knowledge of the meeting confirmed to CBSSports.com on Thursday.

The session is expected to include only the highest-level people from both sides, likely limited to commisioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, union chief Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher, the person said. Also possibly in attendance could be Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the owners' labor relations committee.

The limited number of people in the room and the fact that both sides are trying to keep the meeting quiet -- not even divulging the date or location in an effort to avoid media coverage -- should be seen as positive signs. Though full bargaining sessions featuring multiple owners and players get more public attention, smaller sessions -- especially involving the lead negotiators -- typically are more conducive to serious negotiation.

The sides have convened only one full bargaining session since owners imposed the lockout on July 1, and the day after that session, the NBA filed an unfair labor practices charge and federal lawsuit against the National Basketball Players Association.

There is no indication that either side's position has changed. In fact, to the contrary, as NBPA officials travel the country informing players of the status of talks, the rhetoric from both sides has reached an unhealthy level. Players have beome incensed with Stern's public characterization of the owners' position in various media appearances, and their latest retort came Wednesday from union vice president Maurice Evans, who took Stern to task for his portrayal of the owners' latest offer.

 "In the proposals we've given them, the players have compromised over $650 million into the owners' pockets over six years," Evans said. "You say you're losing money, and we've offered over $100 million a year to take out of our pockets and they say, 'That's all? That's all? Just a modest $100 million a year?' That's just not bargaining in good faith. It's hard to get anything done that way."

No significant movement is expected until the players' unfair labor practices complaint is acted upon by the National Labor Relations Board or the two sides get close enough to a time when regular season games would be jeopardized. As in the 1998-99 lockout, mid-October represents the timeframe when the league would have to begin canceling games.

A complaint from the NLRB against the league on the players' charge of failing to bargain in good faith, which could come in the next 30 days, would provide leverage for the NBPA in the form of a possible federal injunction lifting the lockout. Conversely, a failure in the players' bid to get the NLRB to issue a complaint would bolster the owners' position. Either result would be likely to spur more serious bargaining and enhance the chances of compromise. 

Until then, a small meeting of the most important minds involved in the process couldn't hurt. 
Posted on: August 24, 2011 10:53 pm
Edited on: August 25, 2011 12:56 pm
 

NBPA's Evans says players 'ready to negotiate'

While the National Basketball Players Association continued a whirlwind tour of regional meetings in New York on Wednesday, there was little indication any of those meetings could bring them face-to-face with their employers anytime soon.

After union officials briefed about 10 players on the dismal state of collective bargaining talks at the NBPA headquarters in Harlem, union vice president Mo Evans said there were no immediate plans for a full bargaining session until perhaps after Labor Day.

UPDATE: There will, however, be a secretive meeting of only the highest-level negotiators for both sides next week, a person familiar with the meeting told CBSSports.com on Thursday. The session is expected to include only commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, union chief Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher. Also present could be Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the owners' labor relations committee. But no other players or owners are expected to be included, which could create an environment conducive to productive negotiation.

"We're looking forward to the owners re-engaging us after a couple of weeks of vacation," Evans told CBSSports.com by phone after landing in Chicago, where the NBPA will hold another regional meeting Thursday. "We're ready to negotiate. We're ready and we're available."

Each side, however, is endeavoring to prove otherwise before the National Labor Relations Board. Earlier this month, the NBA filed its own charge accusing the players of failing to bargain in good faith after the union accused the owners of the same back in May. There has been only one bargaining session involving all the key players from both sides since the owners imposed the lockout July 1.

"Even in that meeting we had, they didn't engage," Evans said. "In the proposals we've given them, the players have compromised over $650 million into the owners' pockets over six years. You say you're losing money, and we've offered over $100 million a year to take out of our pockets and they say, 'That's all? That's all? Just a modest $100 million a year?' That's just not bargaining in good faith. It's hard to get anything done that way."

The players have been flustered by Stern's public characterization of the owners' position in recent media appearances, and Evans said the purpose of the regional meetings is to "inform the players" of how Stern has been untruthful and "very inaccurate" in his portrayal of what the owners have proposed.

The NBA contends that the players' $100 million-a-year concession would result in the average player salary rising from its current level of about $5 million to $7 million by the end of the NBPA's six-year proposal and says the players actually are proposing slowing the growth of salaries by $100 million a year. With every dollar sign and zero, the fans' eyes glaze over.

"We're not so much frustrated," Evans said. "We're just not being impatient. Nothing's lost, nothing's jeopardized as of now. But we are eager to get this back on track. We're coming off a lot of record highs in terms of ratings and BRI, and the game is in such a good place. The NFL gets a 10-year deal, and I've been to some NFL (preseason) games and the fans are so excited. We owe that to our fans as well."

In meeting with players throughout the country -- more than 70 in Los Angeles and about 35 in Las Vegas last week -- Evans has heard a gathering insistence among NBPA members that they are willing to lose the entire season if that's what it takes to get a "fair deal," he said.

"The guys are willing to suck it up as long as we have to in order to stand up for what's right and protect what all the great players who've come before us have fought for," Evans said. "The Bill Russells, Michael Jordans, Larry Birds and Magic Johnsons have done great things to allow us to make the salaries we have and wear these great uniforms. It'd be a shame to give up everything those guys have fought for."

Reality dictates that neither side will give up anything until forced to do so. The only forces bearing down on these labor talks that could result in a change of heart are the players' unfair labor practices charge against the owners, which could result in a federal injunction lifting the lockout if successful, and the calendar itself. Sources on both sides understand that once the calendar flips to October, the currently distant threat of games being canceled becomes harsh reality.

"In the more than two years I've been associated with this, we've been in entire sessions on ways to increase revenues and improve the game," Evans said. "We've suggested all kinds of awesome ways that will create even more competitive balance and increase profitability. But that's not what they're interested in. The only thing they're interested in is the players taking a cut and increasing the owners' profits."


Posted on: June 22, 2011 7:57 pm
Edited on: June 23, 2011 6:05 pm
 

Hunter: Owners' demands can't be met

NEW YORK – NBA players association chief Billy Hunter on Wednesday assailed the owners’ latest collective bargaining proposal and said he is prepared for owners to vote on a lockout at next Tuesday’s Board of Governors meeting in Dallas.

“Their demand is gargantuan and we just can’t meet it,” Hunter told reporters at the Manhattan hotel where players are staying for crucial meetings and draft-related activities this week.

A day after commissioner David Stern seized control of the message by disclosing details of the owners’ latest proposal, Hunter gathered reporters in an effort to respond and “set the record straight,” he said. At the meeting, also attended by union president Derek Fisher of the Lakers, executive committee member Maurice Evans of the Wizards and union staff, Hunter said the owners’ latest proposal would cost the players $8.2 billion over 10 years compared to the current system and $7 billion compared to the players’ standing offer.

“Under their proposal, over five or six years, they would reap a profit of over $1.8 billion after expenses – after their alleged expenses,” Hunter said.

Hunter and Fisher also clarified a point that was lost after Tuesday’s bargaining session: As part of their proposal to guarantee the players $2 billion in salary and benefits per year during their 10-year proposal, owners are seeking to keep the $160 million in escrow money withheld from players’ paychecks for the 2010-11 season. Eight percent of player salaries is withheld under the current agreement and returned each August to ensure that players ultimately wind up with 57 percent of basketball-related income (BRI).

“That’s money that players have already earned, worked for this past season,” Fisher said. “That’s off the table, as far as we’re concerned. To me, it speaks to the arrogance that they feel in approaching us with their proposal, to be able to go back and reach for those dollars.”

Fisher also assailed Stern’s characterization of a new cap system verbally proposed by owners as a “flex cap,” with a $62 million target per team and an undetermined maximum and minimum.

“We view that as just a total distortion of reality,” Fisher said. “It’s not a flexible cap, it’s a hard cap. … It’s flexible as long as you’re below what the hard level is.”

The so-called flex-cap concept disclosed by Stern Tuesday “has not been in a written proposal, with any teeth or any details,” Fisher said.

In response to the union's complaints, Stern said Wednesday night: "Players have benefited from the current system more than the teams. For them it has been a much better partnership. We are sorry that the players' union feels that way since it doesn't seem designed to get us to the agreement that is so important to the teams, and we had hoped, the players."

In briefing players around the league on the state of negotiations, including teammate Kobe Bryant, Fisher said players “are in total disbelief. They have asked us point-blank why we are even talking.”

Despite the grim turn these talks have taken in the past 48 hours, there's no need to panic. There is a blueprint for getting sports labor deals done when the sides are far apart, and the NBA talks are following it to a tee. I'll let the sports labor veteran I spoke with Wednesday take it from there.

"You curse each other out, go to marriage counseling, then blow the house up and stay away from each other for a while," the person said. "And you bring everybody back together when the bills come due. There's a deal to be made in there, but not now. No way."

With eight days before the current labor agreement expires, union officials will meet Thursday with player representatives of all 30 teams and as many as 20 other players who have elected to attend. Hunter said union officials will then determine what, if any, counterproposal to make in Friday’s scheduled bargaining session – likely the last one before the owners’ full Board of Governors convenes Tuesday in Dallas, where Hunter said he expects a lockout vote to occur.

“I’m sure that there’s going to be a vote,” Hunter said. “Whether or not they lock out, that’s going to be up to them. We’ve been threatened with that for the last two years … so I’m assuming that, from their perspective, (June 30) is the drop-dead date.”

Hunter and Fisher explained how they arrived at their offer of a more than $100 million-a-year salary reduction in their five-year proposal, saying it amounts to 57 percent of what Fisher described as the owners’ “true losses” – the same share of BRI they currently receive. By the players’ estimation, the owners’ $300 million annual loss figure is actually less than $200 million when interest expenses are deducted. Hunter stopped short of calling it an ambush, but he and the players clearly were blindsided when Stern characterized this offer as “modest.”

“I guess at this stage, the question is to what extent are they willing to kill this thing,” Hunter said of the owners.

Hunter also said owners have proposed adding $900 million to the $600 million that currently is deducted from gross revenues before the money is shared with the players, bringing the total to $1.5 billion under the owners’ proposal.

And a key sticking point remains the fact that owners have refused to collectively bargain a revamped revenue-sharing plan, an area the owners believe should be kept separate from the negotiations. Hunter referred to a group of small-market owners who wrote a memo to Stern in 2007 asking for enhanced revenue sharing, saying the fight is between small- and big-market owners as much as it is between owners and players.

“They have not disclosed to us one iota of what their proposed revenue-sharing plan would look like,” Hunter said. “… We want the assurance that it’s not all coming off the backs of the players.”

Hunter again derided the owners’ offer of a flat $2 billion pay scale for 10 years, saying the players would not regain the $2.17 billion level of salary and benefits they received for the 2010-11 season until the 10th year of the owners’ proposal. The union is projecting 4-5 percent annual revenue growth for the league over the next decade, a figure that is expected to rise after the current broadcast and digital rights agreements with ABC/ESPN and TNT expire in 2016.

Hunter was careful to stop short of saying the negotiations are at an “impasse,” a legal term that would signal that talks have irretrievably broken down – paving the way for a lockout, possible decertification of the union, and an antitrust lawsuit similar to the case filed by the NFL Players Association.

“We’re not at an impasse because there’s so many issues that we haven’t discussed,” Hunter said. “We’ve gotten stuck on economics.”

Asked if he trusts Stern to negotiate a fair deal, Hunter said, “We’re engaged in hard-knuckle negotiations. It ain’t about trust.”

“We have an idea what we’re willing to do and what he’s willing to do,” Hunter said. “And what we’ve indicated to them is that the perception is that it’s really becoming a game of power vs. power. And right now, I think that they feel as though they have the leverage or the upper hand.”
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com