Tag:Ron Klempner
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 10, 2011 12:25 am
Edited on: October 10, 2011 3:10 am
 

NBA labor talks extend to Monday

NEW YORK -- Facing a deadline for the cancellation of regular season games, negotiators for the NBA and its players' association met for nearly 5 1-2 hours Sunday night and will reconvene Monday afternoon for more bargaining.

Commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver emerged from the Upper East Side hotel where negotiations took place at 11:50 p.m. ET, and Stern issued a brief statement before walking away.

"We don't have any comment at all, other than we are breaking for the night and reconvening tomorrow afternoon," Stern said.

Stern has said he will cancel the first two weeks of the regular season if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't agreed to by Monday. He did not address the cancellation deadline in his statement, and a person with knowledge of the talks said both sides agreed it would not be addressed with reporters.

"We're not necessarily any closer than we were going into tonight," union president Derek Fisher said. "But we'll back at it tomorrow and we'll keep putting time in."

According to a person briefed on the talks, the primary focus Sunday night was system issues -- salary cap, luxury tax, etc. -- leaving Monday to reconcile those complicated items with the most important point of all: the split of revenues between owners and players. Fisher characterized the meeting as "intense."

"We're going to come back at it tomorrow afternoon and continue to try and put the time in and see if we can get closer to getting a deal done," Fisher said.

The last-minute meeting was called after league and union officials originally couldn't agree on the parameters of one final bargaining session to save regular season games. On Friday, officials from the National Basketball Players Association requested a meeting, but were met with a precondition from the league that they agree to a 50-50 split of revenues that was offered in Tuesday's bargaining session. The union declined, and scheduled regional meetings for Miami on Saturday and Los Angeles on Monday.

NBPA executive director Billy Hunter did not travel to Miami, and an impromptu players' meeting was held after the All-Star charity game at Florida International University featuring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Chris Paul and other stars. Fisher said the regional meeting for L.A. on Monday was postponed so union officials could concentrate on bargaining.

"Our guys would want our time to be used in meeting and trying to get closer to getting a deal done," Fisher said. "So instead of going forward with that (Los Angeles) meeting, we're going to put it off and then we'll reschedule it accordingly, depending on what happens tomorrow and into the week if we continue to meet."

Silver arrived at 5:10 p.m. ET, climbed out of a black sedan and greeted league security personnel with a smile and handshake. Union chief Hunter and general counsel Ron Klempner arrived at 5:30, followed closely by union VP Maurice Evans, who stepped out of a yellow taxi moments later. The three greeted Fisher, the union president, when he arrived in a black SUV at about 5:50, and the players' contingent stayed on the sidewalk and talked for about 25 minutes. NBPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler arrived, followed by Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, the chairman of the Board of Governors, and Spurs owner Peter Holt, chairman of the labor relations committee. The meeting started around 6:30 p.m.

Heading into the weekend, the players' were entrenched in their desire for 53 percent of basketball-related income (BRI), while the owners were stuck on offering the players 50 percent. The split under the six-year agreement that expired July 1 was 57 percent for the players and 43 percent for the owners.

From the standpoint of negotiating leverage, psychology and feeling the need to follow through on their threats, both sides seem willing to sacrifice the first two weeks of the regular season -- possibly more -- to get a deal. But from the standpoint of math and what's at stake economically by failing to reach an agreement by Monday, it is clear that a deal would be more advantageous to both sides than digging in.

The last movement of Tuesday's negotiations indicated that there was room on both sides to move beyond their respective positions on BRI. The league offered a 49-51 range for the players, who countered with a 51-53 range. Both offers occurred during informal side conferences involving Stern, Silver, Holt, Fisher, Kessler, and superstars Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.

If you look at it from the midpoint of each side's range in their most recent offers -- 50 percent and 52 percent, respectively -- they are only $80 million apart in the first year of a new CBA. Each side would lose about $200 million by canceling the first two weeks of games. A rational split of 51.5 percent for the players and 48.5 percent for the owners -- with most of the system issues remaining the same, as the players want --would address most of the owners' stated annual losses of $300 million and preserve the flexibility the players wanted to maintain from the existing system.

By holding out for 1.5 percent of BRI -- the owners at 50 percent and the players at 53 -- each side would be drawing a line in the sand over less than $400 million -- $393 million, to be exact -- over six years. And each side would lose half that amount by canceling the first two weeks of games. In the simpler, shorter-term horizon of the first year of a new CBA, each side failing to move 1.5 percent to the 51.5-48.5 split would cost it $200 million compared to the $60 million that would be negotiated away by making the concession.
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 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 20, 2011 10:26 am
Edited on: September 20, 2011 12:48 pm
 

More NBA talks with on-time start at stake

NEW YORK -- With time running short on efforts to preserve an on-time start to the NBA season, the league and players' association will have a staff-level meeting Wednesday with the hopes that it will set the stage for the next round of bargaining, multiple sources told CBSSports.com.

The meeting Wednesday in Manhattan will not feature the heavy hitters for either side -- no Billy Hunter or Derek Fisher for the union, and no David Stern for the league, sources said. Some key figures involved in the talks requested this format, which will consist mostly of lawyers and staff for both sides.

UPDATE: It is unclear what items will be on the agenda, but the staff meeting is expected to set the stage for a possible meeting of top negotiators on Thursday, one of the sources familiar with the plans said. The two sides have been discussing the possibility of another high-level bargaining session this week after talks featuring the full committees broke down last week. Although the Thursday meeting is not yet confirmed, it is expected to include the same rosters as three small sessions that preceded last week's talks -- Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, Spurs owner Peter Holt and deputy general counsel Dan Rube for the league with Hunter, Fisher, economist Kevin Murphy and lead attorneys representing the union.

After the full session last Tuesday left the two sides stalled on system issues and the owners' desire for (and players' resistance to) a hard cap, the players met Thursday in Las Vegas to reassure membership and urge players to stick together. The owners' full Board of Governors met the same day in Dallas, where the planning committee chaired by Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck was expected to update the board on enhanced revenue sharing plans.

The fact that the two sides are willing to reconvene so soon after large-group talks stalled is neither a positive nor a negative sign until we learn what each side is bringing to the table. Sources familiar with the negotiations said the players want details about the owners' revenue sharing plans and a firm commitment from owners on how and when they plan to implement them. The two sides also remain entrenched in their respective positions on a hard salary cap, although Stern said last week that everything was negotiable and sources familiar with the league's stance say the owners have always been open to negotiating the changes to the system they are seeking.

After the large group session last week -- in which each side spent more time in separate rooms than actually bargaining face-to-face -- the dynamics are shifting back to the smaller sessions that prevailed in three meetings over the two weeks prior. With hopes of starting the season on time expected to dim significantly after this week, now would be the time for movement from both sides.



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 6, 2011 3:38 pm
Edited on: September 6, 2011 3:44 pm
 

League, players meeting on two fronts Wednesday

NEW YORK -- It will be a busy day Wednesday in the NBA labor case, with another bargaining session featuring only the heaviest hitters and activity in the league's federal lawsuit against the players, as well.

In addition to the second meeting in as many weeks among the top negotiators for both sides, the judge in the NBA's federal lawsuit in the Southern District of New York has called a telephone conference for 5 p.m. Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe has ordered attorneys for both sides to join a conference call to discuss the scheduling of hearings, the basic positions on each side and the motion to dismiss the players' attorneys have informed the court they will be filing.

In short, it will be the busiest day of the lockout, now in its third month, since the NBA sued the National Basketball Players Association in federal court and also filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board on Aug. 2.

Progress? Maybe. The two sides at least have been able to agree on how to conduct the negotiations, even if they remain fairly entrenched in their positions. All precautions the league and players have agreed to -- limiting the number of people in the room for bargaining sessions, endeavoring to keep the timing and location of the talks secret and vowing not to publicly discuss what happens in the meetings -- have been steps that are conducive to constructive negotiations that actually could lead to a compromise.

The sessions that led to the July 1 lockout and the first two meetings thereafter were tinged with rhetoric and ill will -- distracting forces that have since been eliminated. As was the case the last time the two sides met, Wednesday's meeting will be limited to commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and Spurs owner Peter Holt representing the league side with union chief Billy Hunter, president Derek Fisher and lead counsel Ron Klempner appearing for the players.

As for the legal developments, the federal court conference is a mere formality, but a reminder to all involved on both sides that the case will move forward at an excruciatingly slow pace if they don't reach an agreement in time to avoid the cancellation of games. In the players' NLRB case, which remains the most expeditious path to legal leverage for either side, the investigation has concluded and both sides are awaiting a decision from the board. No one on either side is willing to hazard a guess as to when that will happen.

One thing both sides have agreed on from the beginning is that the only realistic resolution to this dispute will happen at the bargaining table, and so it should be taken with a reasonable amount of optimism that the only people with the power to make that happen will be staring across the table at each other again Wednesday for the second time in 14 days. It isn't insignificant at all.

Longtime NBA writer Chris Sheridan, who has left ESPN to launch his own site, has been more optimistic than most from the beginning. And Sheridan, national NBA writer for the Associated Press for a decade before spending the past six years at ESPN, launched the aforementioned site Tuesday with a carefully executed piece detailing why the two sides aren't as far apart as they've been letting on. In the newspaper-dominated days when Sheridan covered the 1998-99 lockout, there was no more challenging job in sports media than covering a competitive national news story for the AP, so he knows of what he speaks.

My take: Nothing has changed, per se, on either side. But what we're beginning to witness with the secretive meetings with only the big dogs invited is a demonstration that the league and players are meandering down the path they have been destined to travel for months. The loud, destructive voices have been banished from the negotiating room, the rhetoric has been toned down or eliminated and the time has come to "give peace a chance," as one source deeply involved in the talks put it.

The heating up of meaningful bargaining is in lock step with the timetable and various external forces I laid out for you here, when I predicted on July 1 that the league and players would agree on a new collective bargaining agreement in time to avoid missing any regular season games. It's worth reading back on that predicted timeline now, because Wednesday's bargaining session will occur one day before a very key date in my timeline: Sept. 8, opening night of the NFL season. The NFL owns the fall sports calendar no matter what, but there's great risk to the NBA and to the players if they give up whatever foothold both have worked so hard to achieve.

In the absence of any external legal pressure or leverage for either side, the calendar is beginning to do its job. That doesn't mean there will be a deal in the next six weeks and that a shortened or lost season will be averted. But it means that an environment conducive to actually negotiating finally has been achieved. And for those hoping to see the NBA on display in 2011-12, that is anything but a bad thing.


 


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