Posted on: November 6, 2011 2:55 am
Edited on: November 6, 2011 2:03 pm
NEW YORK – With another ultimatum, artificial deadline and accusations of fraud and bad-faith bargaining, the NBA labor talks blew up again early Sunday. This time, they appear to be careening toward a point of no return.
After eight more hours of talks under the direction of a federal mediator, league negotiators delivered a proposal around 1 a.m. ET and informed the players’ association it has until the close of business Wednesday to accept it or receive a far worse deal.
Union attorney Jeffrey Kessler, singled out by David Stern as the one who rejected virtually all the compromises the commissioner said were proposed by mediator George Cohen, described the league’s tactics as “threats” and characterized the NBA’s description of its economic proposal as “fraud.”
“Today is another very sad day for our fans, for our arena workers, our parking-lot attendants, our vendors,” union president Derek Fisher said. “A very frustrating, sad day.”
League negotiators essentially offered the players a 50-50 split of basketball-related income, their obvious target for weeks. The offer was tweaked into the form of a 49-51 percent band for the players’ share – the same band discussed informally Oct. 4 at a key meeting that fell apart over the split of revenues between owners and players.
In the league’s proposal, the players would receive 50 percent of revenues (net about $600 in expense deductions, as in the previous system) if revenues grew as projected – 4 percent a year. Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver portrayed the band as capable of delivering a 51 percent share to the players if there was, as Stern described, “significant growth.”
But Kessler -- speaking with Fisher in the union’s press conference in the absence of executive director Billy Hunter, who was “under the weather,” according to an NBPA official – said it would take the “wildest, most unimaginable, favorable projections” for the players to ever receive 51 percent of revenues.
“The proposal that this is a robust deal at 51 is a fraud,” Kessler said. “… You can't get to the top of the band.”
The players, who received 57 percent under the previous six-year deal, proposed a 51-49 split in their favor – with 1 percent going toward a fund for benefits for retired players, such as health care, life insurance and pensions. The league never responded to that proposal, union officials said. By going from their previous proposal in which they would've received 52.5 percent, the players moved about $60 million in the first year of the new deal and nearly $400 million over six years. The owners remained in essentially the same place they’ve been economically since Oct. 4.
“They've been consistent for weeks,” Kessler said.
“We made the moves that we needed to make to get this deal done on the economics,” Fisher said. “It just doesn’t seem to be good enough for this particular group of team owners.”
Stern said the proposal will be on the table until the close of business Wednesday, after which the owners will forward a new proposal to the players offering them 47 percent of BRI and an NHL-style “flex cap,” two items the players previously have rejected.
“Hope springs eternal,” Stern said. “And we would love to see the union accept the proposal that is now on the table.”
But while the economic gap between the sides – once 20 percentage points apart – has now shrunk to 1 percent, the implosion early Sunday was as much related to system issues as money. But looking at those issues makes it cruelly implausible that they’d lose a season and squander billions of dollars over their differences.
"With the system issues that we felt like were left open, that we felt like were significant, that we must have in order to get a deal done, they did not go very far at all in trying to close that gap," Fisher said. "And we just did not get the sense that they really had the intent on coming in here tonight to get this deal done. Because there was every opportunity to do it. We were prepared to stay here until the sun came up to get this deal done."
The two sides could not bridge the gap on key aspects of the luxury tax system, specifically the penalty for teams that stay over the tax for three years out of five. The league reduced its offer from $1.50 additional tax for such teams to $1, while the union is holding firm at 50 cents additional tax on the first $10 million over the tax level and $1 after that. The punitive impact would only be felt by a handful of teams that historically have spent at those levels.
They also differ over the length and amount of mid-level exceptions that can be used by tax-paying teams. The players want tax-payers to be able to sign players to four-year mid-level deals starting at $5 million every other year. The league proposed two-year mid-level deals starting at $2.5 million every other year.
Non-tax-paying teams would be able to sign players to mid-level deals starting at $5 million, with the length alternating between four and three years each season under the owners’ proposal. The players want straight four-year mid-level deals for non-tax-payers.
The luxury-tax “cliff” experienced by tax teams, by which they felt the full brunt of going slightly over the tax level by losing all the tax money they would’ve received had they stayed under, also was addressed in the owners’ proposal. The league offered that such teams would receive half the tax money squandered by going from being a tax receiver to a tax payer.
The league has not relented on its insistence that tax-paying teams be forbidden to execute sign-and-trade transactions, which the union argues -- when coupled with the other system restrictions -- would dry up the market for free agents in a way that imitates a hard team salary cap.
"They want it all," Kessler said. "They want the system where tax payers will never be in the marketplace and that for repeat tax payers, it's going to be like a hard salary cap. And those deals are not acceptable for players today, and it's not acceptable for future generations of players. ... The players will not be intimidated."
Nonetheless, the players now find themselves at a crossroads that could determine whether there is a 2011-12 season by Wednesday. Can Fisher and Hunter, notably absent from the post-meeting news conference as Kessler fanned the flames, determine whether they can sell essentially a 50-50 deal to more than half the union membership? A deal with no hard cap, with guaranteed contracts, with mid-level deals scaled back mostly for tax-paying teams, and with salaries rising to nearly $3 billion in 10 years despite an initial 12 percent reduction?
If not, the union appears almost certain to dissolve – either through a decertification petition or a more expeditious but legally riskier disclaimer of interest – either of which would throw the talks into chaos and imperil the entire season.
“We’re not going to talk about other options,” Kessler said.
Stern said the threat of decertification is “not an issue that we're focusing on at this point.”
“We are trying to make a deal with the National Basketball Players' Association,” he said. “They are the duly authorized representative of the NBA players. That's a good thing, and we hope to make a deal with them.”
Fisher said he would communicate with the players and "assess our situation. … But right now, we’ve been given the ultimatum. And our answer is, that’s not acceptable to us."
In the end, the truest words spoken early Sunday morning came from Kessler, who said the owners' tactics were "not happening on Derek Fisher's watch. It's not happening on Billy Hunter's watch. It's not happening on the watch of this executive committee."
If the players successfully decertified, none of the aforementioned would be in power.
A decertification petition requiring the signatures of 30 percent of union membersship would put the union on approximately a 60-day clock before an election is held to disband it -- and that's only if the National Labor Relations Board authorizes the election. Typically, the agency does not when a union has an unfair labor practices charge pending.
The mere signing of the petition by 30 percent of the union would not by itself cease negotiations since the union would remain in power until the election, which wouldn't happen before January -- if at all.
That leaves two months for cooler heads to prevail. But really, the stopwatch has been set for four days -- 96 hours to spare chaos. Of all the inflammatory words spoken after this latest fiasco, the words "best and final offer" were never among them.
That's legal mumbo-jumbo for this: There's still time to end the asshattery, if everyone's heads return to a place where oxygen is available.
The clock is ticking.
Posted on: November 3, 2011 7:01 pm
Edited on: November 3, 2011 9:56 pm
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
Posted on: November 1, 2011 2:43 pm
As explained expertly by SI.com and the New York Times in recent days, much progress has been made on system issues that are crucial to a new collective bargaining agreement. But there are several subsets of deal points still unresolved, and many so-called "B-list" items that haven't even been broached yet.
It's within those issues that compromise finally will have to be reached to push the two sides closer together on the biggest sticking point: the split of basketball-related income (BRI).
The owners are dug in with their offer of a 50-50 split, while the players aren't budging lower than 52 percent. But not all 50-50 deals are created equal, and the key to breaking the revenue logjam will be tradeoffs that have to be made on the remaining open system issues.
There are three key issues that could be tweaked to entice the union to compromise further on BRI and/or compel the owners to move from their 50-50 position. They are as follows:
1) The punitive entry point for small- or mid-market teams considering "wading into" the luxury tax temporarily, which the union refers to as "the cliff." The obvious solution would be for the distribution of luxury tax money to be changed to eliminate the double-whammy teams experience by going from being a tax receivers to tax payers. Such a whiplash effect, in some cases, triples the cost of going for it with a modest move into the tax. For example, a team that is just below the tax adding a $2.5 million player results in a net cost of $7.5 million -- the cost of the player, the loss of $2.5 million in tax revenue from tax-paying teams, and the cost of the $2.5 million in tax that team would have to pay. Rather than a straight transfer of tax money from tax payers to non-tax payers, distributing the money as a revenue-sharing transfer based on need -- or using it for another purpose -- would flatten out the cliff and move the two sides closer to compromise.
2) The ability of tax-paying teams to use exceptions such as the Bird and mid-level exceptions. The players don't want tax-paying teams, which typically are big-market and/or high-revenue teams, eliminated from the pursuit of free agents through restrictions on their willingness or ability to spend that act like a hard cap. Owners have reluctantly agreed to leave the Bird and mid-level exceptions intact, albeit with shorter contract lengths. But the owners are digging in with their insistence on forbidding tax-paying teams from using these exceptions, which to the players means a smaller market for free agents.
3) Severe penalties for repeat offenders who spend multiple years over the tax threshold. While the owners' proposal for recidivism tax rates would accomplish their goal of reining in the big spenders, the players have been unwilling to accept restrictions that would further shrink the options for free agents in a system that, even as previously constructed, typically only had a handful of teams with cap space or the ability to blow through the tax threshold in a given year.
There are any number of small-ticket items still undecided that could be used for what the negotiators call "horse-trading" to close the gap on BRI. As I've suggested previously, one of them is increasing the players' share of licensing money -- which would have a net-zero affect on BRI since those funds already come off the top before the balance is split with the players -- and changing how that money is distributed so stars who sell a lot of jerseys and merchandise get a bigger share of the pie. Another item would be deal length and opt-out clauses; the players will accept a 10-year CBA only if they can opt out after the sixth and eighth years, while the owners want an opt-out after the seventh year.
But the aforementioned items are the Big Three of what's left to negotiate. It's pretty simple, really, from a bargaining standpoint. More player-friendly agreements on those three items may allow union chief Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher to be able to sell less than 52 percent to the union membership. More owner-friendly agreements would require the owners to move off their 50-50 split. Something in the middle -- a little give, a little take -- could result in a range of percentages for the players' share of BRI. For example, if revenues come in as expected (4.5 percent growth), the players would get 50 percent. If revenues came in higher, they'd get 51 or 52, depending on how much growth there was. The scale could be tweaked based on the compromises made on the three A-list items.
"A very reasonable suggestion," one official involved in the negotiations told me.
There will be a time for reason, eventually. It's just that both sides need to understand how to get from here to there.
Posted on: October 27, 2011 2:33 pm
Edited on: October 27, 2011 8:14 pm
NEW YORK -- As bleary-eyed negotiators reconvened Thursday in Manhattan after a 15-hour session that yielded progress on the difficult system issues needed to strike a deal, the next step is a precarious one: marrying a new system with a reduced split of BRI for the players in a way they can accept and, ultimately, ratify.
The two sides have been here before, and it's at this intersection of system and split where the talks have spectacularly blown apart before -- most recently, last Thursday, when the owners insisted on the players accepting a 50-50 split as a precondition for continuing negotiations.
With both sides recognizing that they have one last chance over the next few days to not only avoid losing more games but also, perhaps, salvage those already lost in a compressed, revamped 82-game schedule, the time for ultimatums and preconditions has passed. It is time for compromise and real, 11th-hour movement in both sides' bargaining positions. Without it, there will be no deal and there will be widespread, unnecessary economic carnage.
One of the interesting phenomena of this messy work stoppage is that, despite the public's knee-jerk reaction to blame the players and cast athletes as greedy villains, NBA fans have become educated about the issues and facts involved and seem, by and large, to recognize that the players have been in an untenable negotiating position. The owners have asked for an awful lot, and seem awfully determined to get it. But in exchange for agreeing to a reduction in their share of BRI from the 57 percent under the previous deal as a fait accompli -- and for openly and forthrightly negotiating certain system changes that the owners believe will help create more competitive balance and payroll parity -- the players need something in return. NBPA executive director Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher need to bring a deal to the union membership by the end of the weekend that allows them to declare some measure of victory.
Here are a couple of ways that can happen, and unsurprisingly, they are interrelated, like many aspects of these negotiations:
It is clear that the owners' ideal BRI split is 50-50, but the time for seeking the ideal was July, August and September. It's late October, almost November, so there needs to be one final push from the owners on BRI to make the system changes more palatable to the players. It is the players, remember, who already have given up more than $1 billion over six years compared to what they would've gotten under a 57 percent system by offering to go as low as 52.5 percent. They players should be willing to meet the owners somewhere in the middle, but not all the way to 50 percent.
If this deal getting done hinges on the owners getting their 50-50 split come hell or high water, then I am scared for basketball humanity.
Here is how it can get done -- and, once again, silly me, I am being logical and sensible about this. The difference between the players' position of 52.5 percent and the owners' offer of 50 percent is approximately $100 million a year. As Hunter alluded to Thursday morning, there are tradeoffs to be made between system issues and movements in the BRI split -- in other words, an economic move by the owners would make some of the system restrictions they are seeking more palatable.
"We’ll continue to remain focused on some 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," Fisher said.
In other words: Work with me here, guys.
By reducing the players' share from 57 percent to 50 percent, the owners are seeking a 12 percent reduction in salaries -- from the $2.25 billion they would've received under the old system to $1.97 billion. There are thousands of ways to get there, but a key one that hasn't been discussed much would achieve a substantial amount of the further reduction needed for the two sides to meet in the middle without the affected players feeling it much -- if at all.
Both sides seem to have agreed to leave the structure of max contracts largely intact under the new agreement, meaning stars would still be able to get 25 or 30 percent of the cap, depending on the situation. But if players across the league are facing a 12 percent pay cut, why would max contracts be sacred?
Next season, there will be 22 players at or just below the max -- ranging in pay from $13.7 million (Kevin Durant) to $25.2 million (Kobe Bryant) for a total of $392 million. Since league negotiators are open to phasing in some of the system changes they are seeking to create more balanced payrolls, a 15-20 percent reduction in future max salaries -- say, 20-25 percent of the cap instead of 25-30 -- would result in approximately $70 million a year in future savings. That's nearly all of the annual difference between the two sides' economic positions.
While the vast majority of max players deserve what they get and more, they also earn tens of millions more through marketing and endorsement deals. If max players absorbed a bigger share of the reductions the owners are seeking, it would ease the bridging of the gap between 50 and 52.5 percent -- say, to somewhere in the middle, such as 51 or 51.5 percent -- and there's a way to do it without the star players feeling the reduction.
UPDATE: The NBPA annually receives licensing money from the NBA and typically has distrubuted it evenly among the league's approximately 420 players. Last season's share was $37 million, a person with knowledge of the arrangement told CBSSports.com. The NBPA has withheld the licensing money for several years and kept it in a fund to help players through the lockout. When the lockout is over, the money will be distributed.
Through giving players a share of licensing money commensurate with their own jersey and merchandising sales, the star players would receive some of the money given up through the reduction in max salaries. A negotiated increase in the amount of licensing money paid to the players would sweeten the pot, with minimal impact on the owners' share of BRI. Licensing money -- revenues from merchandise sold with team or league logos and/or player names -- is part of the approximately $650 million in deductions that come off the top of overall revenues before they are counted in BRI and split with the players.
So if you're among the next wave of max players to sign extensions -- Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Deron Williams -- the haircut you'd take on the max salary could be minimized by a bigger share of the licensing money.
Sometimes, the solutions make too much sense.
Posted on: October 27, 2011 5:15 am
Edited on: October 27, 2011 12:49 pm
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 18, 2011 9:31 am
Edited on: October 18, 2011 9:58 am
NEW YORK – A few thoughts on a very important day for the NBA:
• What does it mean that commissioner David Stern is giving mediator George Cohen one day to solve all the league’s problems before breaking away for two days of Board of Governors meetings? On one hand, it’s unrealistic that Cohen and his colleague, Scot Beckenbaugh, could do in one day what Stern and Billy Hunter haven’t been able to do in two years. On the other, it creates a sense of urgency – without which nothing ever gets done in negotiations. “That’s David’s style,” one league executive said. “He likes deadlines.”
• There are rumblings in the agent community and among team executives that the hawkish position of the players’ association – its line in the sand at 53 percent and inflexibility over competitive aspects of the system – is a recipe for doom. “Sad to say, but I think (the owners) just want to sit the season out,” one prominent personnel man said. The involvement of superstars Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the negotiations two weeks ago shook some team executives who believed the two sides were on their way to a deal. “It baffles me that a union of 400 guys is fighting for one or two guys, whereas hundreds of guys are the ones taking the loss,” another team executive told CBSSports.com.
• Several executives fear that Hunter and union president Derek Fisher have been swayed by star players and their agents into taking a hard-line position that could be devastating to hundreds of rank-and-file players if the season were lost. “The thing that they’re fighting for right now is not the middle-of-the-road guy, and that's who you would think the union would be fighting for,” one of the executives said. “They’re fighting for the max guys right now or the max-to-be guys.”
• Longtime agent Steve Kauffman, a player agent during the 1998-99 lockout who now represents coaches and management executives, agrees that not enough time has been spent examining how much money and system flexibility could be freed up by reducing max contracts. “The deal is there to be made,” Kauffman said. “It's ridiculous. The main thing is, tell me what the max salaries are going to be. Because if you want to really help your union, who does the union represent? Whose interests are they protecting? If it's supposed to be everybody, then you've got to strike a balance.”
• Among the negotiating points that the league has said it’s conceded is the initial goal of curtailing the size and length of max contracts. Kauffman believes that’s gotten in the way of getting a deal. “You can make the argument that the stars deserve to be paid 75 or 80 percent of the payroll,” Kauffman said. “But if the max got a 15 percent cut, there would be more room to do those contracts that (the agents) are complaining they can't do. … The superstars are always going to get theirs through endorsements and other avenues.”
• Does this point about max salaries bear out in the math? A 15 percent reduction in future max salaries would represent only 1 percent of BRI annually – about $54 million based on the 21 players who currently make $15 million or more. But over a six-year deal, that’s roughly $325 million – the difference between a players’ share of 52 percent, which sources indicate the union would accept, and 51 percent, a figure that owners likely also would agree to. If the league’s biggest stars took a pay cut, or at least agreed that future max contracts would be reduced by 15 percent, the difference could easily be made up by giving those players a bigger share of licensing money, which currently is divided equally among the players regardless of whether you’re Kobe with millions in jersey sales or Sasha Vujacic, whose only jersey sale likely was transacted by his finance, Maria Sharapova.
• Some small-market executives are fearful that the amnesty provision being negotiated will turn out to be only another advantage for big-market teams. The provision would allow teams to release an underperforming player and spread the money left on his contract over twice the years remaining, plus one, for cap purposes. One small-market GM envisions this provision being used by big-market teams to collect players cast off by small-market teams. "It's a great idea until Baron Davis goes to Miami," the GM said.
• Do not underestimate the owners' obsession with creating a competitive system that mimics the NFL, through whatever vehicle gets them there.
"In the NFL, every team has a chance," one team executive said. "That's what makes it great, and we don't have that. We're like Euro League. Until we have revenue sharing and a hard cap, we not going to be a fair league."
• One final note on the two weeks of games that have been canceled so far. Given reports that league scheduling guru Matt Winick is working on a host of contingency plans, including an 82-game schedule that would begin Dec. 1, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that those games are lost forever. Of importance Tuesday in the mediation session with Cohen is that those games could enter the equation as a valuable bargaining chip. If the two sides reach another impasse on the BRI split, they could be enticed to move closer by getting back the $200 million each side “lost” when those games were canceled.
Posted on: October 13, 2011 5:49 pm
Edited on: October 13, 2011 11:18 pm
NEW YORK -- Setting another arbitrary deadline for more lost games, NBA commissioner David Stern said that without an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement by Tuesday, he fears there will be no games on Christmas Day.
"It's time to make the deal," Stern said, speaking deliberately and threateningly Wednesday in an interview on New York's WFAN radio. "If we don't make it on Tuesday, my gut -- this is not in my official capacity of canceling games -- but my gut is that we won't be playing on Christmas Day."
Tuesday is the day the league and players' association will meet with federal mediator George Cohen in an attempt to resolve their differences before more games are canceled.
"Deal Tuesday, or we potentially spiral into situations where the worsening offers on both sides make it even harder for the parties to make a deal," Stern said.
Stern confirmed that negotiating committees for the league and National Basketball Players Association will meet separately with Cohen on Monday and then will convene for a bargaining session under Cohen's supervision Tuesday. Why the deadline? Stern's Board of Governors is scheduled to meet in New York Wednesday and Thursday -- first for the planning committee to present its revenue sharing plan and then for a full board meeting.
Asked when more games could be imperiled after he canceled the first two weeks on Monday, Stern said, "I don't have a date here sitting at my desk. But if we don't have a deal by the time the owners are in, then what's the purpose of us sitting around staring at each other on the same issues?"
Sources familiar with the mediation process told CBSSports.com that Cohen at first wanted to hold bargaining sessions at his Washington, D.C., office beginning Tuesday and continuing for the rest of the week. With owners headed to New York for the board meetings Wednesday and Thursday, that wasn't possible.
"We have owners meetings Wednesday and Thursday," Stern said later in another interview on NBA TV. "Each side’s going to meet with the mediator on Monday, and if there’s a breakthrough, it’s going to come on Tuesday. If not, I think that the season, you know, is really going to potentially escape from us because we aren’t making any progress."
Pressed by interviewer David Aldridge, Stern said, "How many times does it pay to keep meeting, and have the same things thrown back at you? We’re ready to sit down and make a deal, and I don’t think the union is. But hopefully on Tuesday, aided by the mediator, they’ll be ready to make a deal. And certainly, I’ll bring my owners ready to make a deal. Unlike Billy Hunter, you’ve never heard me say something is a 'blood issue.'"
Hunter, who appeared Wednesday on WFAN -- the nation's largest sports talk station -- was traveling Thursday to Los Angeles, where he will meet with players Friday to update them on the bargaining status.
In a work stoppage known more for catch phrases and YouTube moments than compromise, this will go down as Stern's "Grinch" moment. Placing that much importance on the first sit-down bargaining session with a mediator who has no binding authority felt like a negotiating tactic more than a realistic deadline or threat.
But in responding to assertions made a day earlier on WFAN by union chief Billy Hunter, Stern did by far his most effective, convincing job yet of laying out the owners' vision for a new system that would shrink payroll disparity and enhance competitive balance in a new CBA.
In meticulous, lawyerly fashion, Stern skewered the union's bargaining stance on the key system issues standing in the way of a deal -- the type of cap system and contract length. He also took Hunter to task for his characterization of a 50-50 split of revenues that had been discussed in informal side meetings during a key bargaining session on Oct. 4 -- calling it an idea first broached by the players and saying Hunter's characterization of it "caused my head almost to explode."
"The first time 50 percent was uttered was several weeks earlier, by the players' negotiator (Jeffrey Kessler), who said it's not an offer, it's a concept," Stern said. "He said it's a concept if everything else stays the same. And we said, 'No, no, no, no.'"
Stern said when each side was in its respective room during the Oct. 4 session, there was a knock on the door.
"It was Derek Fisher, the president of the union, and Jeff Kessler, the lead negotiator, who probably does 70 percent of the talking for the union," Stern said. "And they asked us to come out into the hall, where I went with Peter Holt, the head of the labor relations committee, and Adam Silver, who's really our lead negotiator.
"Without trying to pin it on anybody in particular, all the parties to that conversation agreed that we would go back to our respective rooms and each promised to try to sell a 50-50 split," Stern said. "We were in the process of selling it, and there was a knock on our door. Kessler and Derek Fisher asked us to come into a room where they were with three other players -- not Billy -- and they said, 'We can't do it. We can't sell it.' And we said, OK, we get it.' Now it strikes me as strange that the union and the chief negotiator are being left out there because Billy wasn't in the room? I'm sorry."
Union sources have given a different account of the side discussions, saying the league at one point offered to try to sell a band of 49-51 percent for the players, while the players countered with a band of 51-53 percent.
"It was actually a union-initiated proposal, and it didn't fly, OK?" Stern said. "But Billy's ... you may have to have both of us in tomorrow with lie detectors."
In any event, Stern now considers the two sides to be six percentage points apart on the split of BRI, with the players asking for 53 percent -- a $1 billion concession over six years from their previous guarantee of 57 percent -- and the owners offering 47 percent. Stern made it clear that he believes the economic deal to be made is 50-50.
"When one side is at 53 and the other side is at 47, you have an idea of where this is going, OK?" Stern said.
While Stern's motivation to put another threat of canceled games out there was clear -- negotiating leverage -- it's unclear why he waited this long to give a thorough, persuasive summary of the system changes owners are seeking.
"If you live in a market where you have a perception as a fan that it's only open to the rich teams to have the best players, then you're starting out in a bad place," Stern said.
On negotiations over the type of cap system, Stern said, "We proposed to the players that every team have the same amount available (to spend). That's what the NFL has. And the union said, 'No way. That's a blood issue.' So we said, 'All right, all right, you know, good ol' softees that the owners are, how about the flex cap like NHL has, where you agree upon a band between $52 million and $68 million -- because you can compress the difference? And they said, 'Blood issue. That's still a hard cap at the high end. Why don't you propose a punitive tax?' We said, 'OK, we'll propose a punitive tax.' And we did."
Stern described in detail how the owners' latest luxury tax proposal would work: It would tax teams $1.75 for every dollar of the first $5 million over the tax threshold, with 50 cents added for each additional $5 million. So a team spending $20 million over the tax would be charged $65 million, compared to the $20 million it cost under the dollar-for-dollar tax system in the previous CBA. The players on Monday rejected the owners' luxury tax plan because it was so punitive, it would effectively serve as a hard salary cap.
The league also wanted to impose even stiffer penalties for teams that failed to come out of the luxury tax after a period of time -- repeat offenders, so to speak.
"We really have been reaching for the union here," Stern said. "... If anyone thinks we wanted to miss a single game, they are wrong."
UPDATE: In the NBA TV interview, Stern asserted that near the end of Monday's bargaining session, the union's tax proposal worsened from a $12.5 million tax on $10 million to $11 million.
"It was clear that they weren't ready to make a deal," Stern said. "And we didn’t know what else to do."
Stern didn't mention the aspect of the league's proposal that would forbid tax-paying teams from using the Bird exception to retain their own free agents, but did reveal that the league proposed a so-called "Super Bird" exception whereby teams could re-sign one designated free agent for a maximum of five years. Other contract lengths would be capped at four and three years under the league's proposal. Previously contracts could be no longer than six years for free agents who stayed with their teams and five years for those who left. The union has offered to cap contract lengths at five and four years, respectively.
"I was a participant in developing the Bird exception in 1983, so it doesn't break my heart to see it continued," Stern said. "But frankly, our owners went into this thinking that it was better to eliminate it so that teams could only keep certain players and the rest would be available to other teams."
Stern's spin on the league dropping its insistence on eliminating guaranteed contracts and rolling back existing ones was that, "We were anxious to save the season and make a deal." While the provision forbidding tax-payers from retaining Bird free agents would result in many of those players leaving their teams -- which is exactly what the exception was created to prevent -- he said the Super Bird provision would be "better for the players."
"The very good players will keep getting raises and new contracts, and the others, the money that becomes available by the expiration of the four- and three-year contracts will be available to the performers," Stern said. "That's what we call pay-for-performance. The union is not in accord with our view. They want longer contracts."
The luxury tax penalties and contract lengths will be the two most divisive issues when the parties meet with the federal mediator next week, Stern said.
"We really want the union and us to explain ourselves to a federal mediator," Stern said. "It may be that in the act of explaining, we will get a better reality check -- maybe of our proposals and our willingness, I accept that -- and maybe of the union's. We'll just see how that works out. So that's why, in some measure, both sides embrace the arbitrator."
Posted on: October 10, 2011 12:25 am
Edited on: October 10, 2011 3:10 am
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.