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.
Posted on: October 9, 2011 1:56 pm
Edited on: October 9, 2011 10:29 pm
NEW YORK -- Top negotiators for the NBA and its players' association are trying to arrange a last-ditch bargaining session Sunday night before a deadline hits Monday to cancel the first two weeks of the regular season, a person briefed on the developments confirmed to CBSSports.com.
The New York Times first reported efforts to hold the meeting were under way.
Update: The two sides approached the four-hour mark Sunday night on Manhattan's Upper East Side with no word of when the session might end. Representing the league were commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, Spurs owner Peter Holt, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor and deputy general counsel Dan Rube. For the union, it was executive director Billy Hunter, president Derek Fisher, vice president Maurice Evans, general counsel Ron Klempner and outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler.
Hunter did not travel to Miami Saturday night for the All-Star exhibition at Florida International University. His plans for a regional players' meeting in Los Angeles remain in place for Monday, two people with knowledge of his plans said -- but Hunter is not scheduled to fly to L.A. until Monday morning.
On Friday, the players proposed a meeting for Monday before games were canceled. The league agreed to meet, but advised the union that it was not moving off the 50-50 split of revenues it offered in Tuesday's bargaining session. Viewing this as a precondition it could not agree to, the union declined the meeting.
UPDATE: The 50-50 prerequisite was dropped in the scheduling of the Sunday evening meeting, one of the people familiar with the discussions told CBSSports.com.
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.
As far as bargaining rhetoric is concerned, the players are holding firm at 53 percent of basketball-related income (BRI), while the owners are holding the line at 50 percent. But in the last movement of Tuesday's negotiation, 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, Spurs owner Peter Holt, Fisher, union lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, and superstars Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.
The split under the previous collective bargaining agreement that expired July 1 was 57-43 percent in favor of the players.
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: October 4, 2011 8:42 pm
Edited on: October 4, 2011 11:19 pm
NEW YORK -- There were no fireworks, no tantrums and no tirades. There was all the resignation and disappointment of doomsday, but none of the reality.
The reality is that the NBA owners and players, after showing most of their cards Tuesday in a bargaining session that failed to save an on-time start to the regular season, are approximately $80 million-a-year apart on the economics of a new collective bargaining agreement, multiple sources with knowledge of the negotiations told CBSSports.com.
Though no additional negotiations are scheduled and the process now enters the dangerous and unpredictable phase where any slipups could jeopardize a large chunk of the regular season, the two sides are closer than they publicliy divulged in a pair of dueling news conferences in adjacent meetings rooms of a Times Square hotel.
Here is where they are, according to multiple people involved in the negotiations: After the owners offered the players a 50-50 split of revenues that effectively was a 47 percent share with about $350 million in expenses deducted first, the two sides met in small groups in the hallway while each side's larger group caucused in separate rooms. As the hour grew late, the tension was rising and becoming palpable. Both sides recognized it was time to try everything possible to make a deal.
In the group for the league side were commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the labor relations committee. For the players, it was union president Derek Fisher, outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler and two of the brightest stars who attended Tuesday's crucial bargaining session -- Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, according to one of the people with knowledge of the side meeting.
In that group, the league -- sensing that the opportunity for a deal was there -- proposed essentially a 50-50 split with no additional expense reductions over a seven-year proposal, with each side having the chance to opt out after the sixth year, one of the people said. This was the offer Stern described in his news conference Tuesday evening, one that he and Silver thought would be enough to finally close the enormous gap between the two sides.
The league's offer, according to three people familiar with it, came in a range of 49-51 -- with 49 percent guaranteed and a cap of 51 percent, the sources said.
Stern told the players and Kessler that he was bringing this proposal to his owners in an attempt to sell it, making no bones about the fact that he would. In fact, Stern said in the news conference, he did sell it. The owners were prepared to sign off on this 49-51 percent band, and with many of the most polarizing system issues resolved, the framework of a deal was in sight.
While the owners were caucusing, a member of the players' group returned with a counterproposal -- approximately 52 percent of BRI for the players with no additional expenses deducted. The players' counterproposal followed the format presented by the owners -- a 51-53 percent band with 51 percent guaranteed and a cap of 53. League officials rejected the offer, the sources said.
So while Hunter and Stern remained publicly entrenched in the ecoomic positions of their most recent formal proposals -- with the players asking for 53 percent and the league offering effectively 47, the reality is this: the gap has closed to 2 percentage points of BRI, the difference between the midpoint of the two offers.
With each percentage point of BRI worth about $40 million, the two sides -- who were at one time $8 billion apart over 10 years -- are now a mere $80 million apart on an annual basis. So you can see what the two sides saw Tuesday -- the road to a deal that both sides eventually can find a way to live with that is better than the alternative of missing a substantial portion of the regular season.
UPDATE: Though there were no immediate plans for the two sides to meet Wednesday, two people close to the discussions said a Thursday meeting was possible. Several key parties to the process will be unavailable from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday for Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar.
Complications remain, of course, not the least of which is the fact that this sidebar, informal discussion of the two BRI bands would have to be worked through the formal process of getting each side's committee to sign off -- and then, it would have to be negotiated further. Also, by walking out without a deal Tuesday, the players' association is subject to the influence of agents who have made it clear they are unhappy with the course of negotiations and have openly threatened encouraging their clients to decertify the union.
Two people with direct knowledge of the strategy being invoked by a group of seven super agents who wrote a letter to their clients over the weekend said the group -- including Arn Tellem, Bill Duffy, Mark Bartelstein, Dan Fegan, Jeff Schwartz, Leon Rose and Henry Thomas -- is willing to accept no less than 52 percent. There is disageement within the ranks on that figure, with a hard-line faction pushing for the players not to retreat at all from the 57 percent of BRI they received under the previous CBA.
The more time that goes by without closing the now comparatively narrow gap between the two sides, the more opportunity there will be for players and their agents to apply pressure to the union -- and perhaps even encourage clients who are unhappy with the course of negotiations to hold a decertification vote, which would stall the talks.
One of the people with direct knowledge of the super agents' strategy said at least two strong voices in that camp have quelled their pursuit of decertification, which would remove the process from the negotiating room and throw it into federal court under anti-trust law. Such a move at this stage, the person with knowledge of the agents' approach said, would inject too much chaos with a deal within reach.
With most system issues preserved from the previous deal, one of the high-powered agents has told associates that he would accept 52 percent and "call it a wrap," a source said Tuesday.
Recognizing the uncertainty and risk that lies ahead -- the rest of the preseason was canceled after the bargaining session Tuesday and regular season games are potentially days away from being lost -- Fisher took direct aim Tuesday at the agents who have most vocally objected to the union's legal and bargaining strategies.
"The only people that really decide whether we accept and ratify a deal are the guys that are standing right here and the other 400-plus guys that aren't here right now," Fisher said, flanked by several committee members and superstars Bryant, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. "And not out of disrespect, I'm just not inclined to engage in a discussion about what a group that doesn’t control any part of this process has to say."
Posted on: September 27, 2011 10:11 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 11:10 pm
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 9, 2011 4:24 pm
NEW YORK -- As the basketball world awaits a crucial phase of the NBA labor talks next week, the devil we don't know has been in the details of accelerated negotiations that concluded Thursday with a second 5 1-2 hour session in as many days. And while the tone and pace of talks has picked up, CBSSports.com has learned that there has been no formal movement in either side's position on the biggest sticking points in the deal: the split of revenues and the cap system.
According to five people briefed on the three days of high-level talks over the past two weeks, the two sides essentially are in the same place they've been since the owners' most recent formal proposal in late June: billions of dollars apart.
"I don't think they've made any progress there at all," one of the people briefed on the negotiations told CBSSports.com. "They're talking a lot, and the conversations are more cordial. But as far as the real numbers, I don't think there's anything there."
Before panic sets in, it is not necessarily a doomsday scenario that no new numbers have been agreed upon because, as two of the people with knowledge of the talks said, exchanging formal proposals was not the objective of this week's negotiations. This, in addition to the agreed upon strategy for neither side to discuss specific negotiating points, explains the vague answers given Thursday by union president Derek Fisher and deputy commissioner Adam Silver when pressed on whether new proposals have been exchanged.
"Ideas, proposals, concepts and numbers" have been discussed, Silver said, while Fisher said "tons of ideas" were exchanged. What this means is that Tuesday's full negotiating session including the complete bargaining committees for both sides could be extraordinarily significant. The larger meeting will serve as a litmus test for the concepts discussed in smaller groups consisting of Silver, commissioner David Stern, Spurs owner Peter Holt, deputy and general counsel Dan Rube for the owners and Fisher, executive director Billy Hunter, general counsel Ron Klempner, outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler and economist Kevin Murphy for the union.
"Next week's really important," one of the people briefed on the talks said.
But another person connected to the talks at the highest level stressed that the significance of Tuesday's meeting would be greatly enhanced only if one side or the other decided it was time to transform the ideas discussed at recent meetings into a formal proposal. Technically, it is the owners' turn to make one, as the players were the last side to do so June 30 before the lockout was imposed.
"The reality is, until one side or the other is ready to make significant movement, nothing is going to happen," the person said.
According to one of the people familiar with the talks, Fisher's statement Thursday about making sure "our general membership" agrees with ideas before he can "sign off on those type of deals" suggested that negotiators presented new concepts that must be vetted with a larger group of players before they can be negotiated further. The goal Tuesday will be to see if the conceptual, small-group discussions can provide any framework for the larger groups until the owners disperse for their Board of Governors meeting in Dallas. Both sides seem to be feeling a sense of urgency to present a significant status report to their constituents on Thursday, when the players also have scheduled a meeting in Las Vegas to update union members on the talks.
It's when you consider the possibility that each side may prefer to report to its constituents that it is holding the line and not making any more concessions that the prospects for a breakthrough seem remote.
"They're bringing the full committees in to sit down with each other and see if they can make any progress by Thursday," one of the people with knowledge of the talks said. "They'll either say, 'Here, we've made progress and here's where we're at,' or, 'We're not making any progress and we're light years apart.'"
Sources say the two sides are trying to tackle the biggest obstacle first -- the split of revenues -- before fully addressing the system by which the money will be distributed. One of the people informed of the state of negotiations said the players have expressed a willingness to compromise on the split of revenues -- they received 57 percent under the previous deal and have proposed 54.3 percent as a starting point in a new collective bargaining agreement -- if they can keep many aspects of the current system in place, such as guaranteed contracts and contract lengths. But if asked to accept a dramatic decrease in their percentage of BRI and a curtailment of guarantees, rookie scale, cap exceptions and contract lengths, "I think the players would fight that to the end," one of the people said.
The owners' proposal to cut salaries and hold them steady at $2 billion a year "is a big point," one of the people said. "But the cap is an even bigger point. The players are willing to give back more if the structure and the NBA operating the way we've always known it stays the same or similar."
As Silver has said on more than one occasion, the owners are unified in their belief that they cannot continue operating under the current system.
The most recent concessions by the owners that were made public included a "flex-cap" with a $62 million midpoint and a sliding scale up and down -- similar to the cap system implemented in the NHL after a lockout that cost the entire 2004-05 season. On June 23, the players declined to counter that proposal after Hunter called the owners' demands "gargantuan" and said, "We just can't meet them." At the time, the owners also expressed a willingness to relax their insistence on eliminating fully guaranteed contracts -- which Hunter has called a "blood issue" for the players.
The players' most recent publicly known concessions included a $100 million-a-year salary reduction over a five-year CBA -- which Stern called "modest" and league negotiators view as more of a $100 million-a-year decrease in salary growth. Subsequently, the players offered a more owner-friendly split of future revenues and added a sixth year to their proposal, which Stern rejected June 30 because he said it would increase the average NBA player's salary from its current level of $5 million to $7 million by the end of the proposed deal.
Posted on: September 7, 2011 5:43 pm
NEW YORK -- With rhetoric toned down and secrecy at a premium, top officials from the NBA and its players' union met Wednesday for more than five hours and emerged saying they've agreed on nothing except the next meeting.
After the second high-level bargaining session in as many weeks, the two sides will meet on consecutives days for the first time since the lockout was imposed July 1. Sticking to a mutual agreement not to charaterize the talks or divulge details, lead negotiators from both sides acknowledged that time was running out to get a deal that would avert a shortened or canceled season.
When asked if there was still time to achieve such a negotiating breakthrough, commissioner David Stern said, "Yes. We have three weeks."
With that, Stern dropped the first publicly acknowledged deadline for a deal to be reached without canceling at least a portion of training camps or preseason. Three weeks from Wednesday is Sept. 28, and training camps league-wide are scheduled to begin the first week of October.
Asked if there is still time to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement without missing regular season games, union chief Billy Hunter said, "I think there is. I think there clearly is. There's more than enough time."
In addition to the rosters of negotiators present at the most recent session on Aug. 31 -- Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and Spurs owner Peter Holt for the owners, and Hunter, president Derek Fisher and general counsel Ron Klempner for the players -- other members of the negotiating teams were in the room Wednesday. The players brought outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler and economist Kevin Murphy, while the league brought deputy general counsel Dan Rube. The presence of Rube, the leading expert on cap mechanics and player contracts at the league office, may have indicated a shift to more specific, system-related talks. But Stern tersely rejected the notion that Rube's presence was related to what topic areas were discussed.
The two sides will meet again Thursday, and possibly beyond, as the calendar continues its inexorable march toward the possible cancelation of preseason or even regular season games.
"We agreed that we're going to sit here for as many days as we can to see if we're going to be able to make progress," Stern said.
Posted on: August 4, 2011 6:48 pm
Edited on: August 4, 2011 10:44 pm
NEW YORK -- Officials from the National Basketball Players Association huddled Thursday and decided to file a motion to dismiss the NBA's federal lawsuit, a move that likely will come in the next 7-10 days, sources told CBSSports.com.
The decision is hardly stunning, considering attorney Jeffrey Kessler's strident rejection of the basis for the league's suit, which seeks declaratory judgment from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that the lockout is legal. Also, the NBA is seeking protection on antitrust grounds from a possible decertification by the players (or disclaimer of interest to represent them by the union) and has proclaimed its intention to void all existing contracts if the NBPA dissolves.
Kessler told CBSSports.com Tuesday the lawsuit has "no merit," and that he intends to use it as evidence of the league's bad-faith bargaining in a separate charge pending before the National Labor Relations Board.
Under intense pressure from prominent agents to decertify and file an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA, union chief Billy Hunter has resisted and instead pursued the case under federal labor law with the NLRB, which some legal experts believe could provide the clearest path to an injunction lifting the lockout. The agents shouldn't hold their breath, as decertifying or disclaiming interest now now could impede the progress of the NLRB case, for which a ruling is expected in 30-60 days.
In addition to the federal lawsuit Monday, the NBA also filed its own unfair labor practices charge against the NBPA.
After a motion to dismiss in federal court, the next step would be hearings on the matter before U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe. If the union had chosen to simply answer the complaint, the case would've proceeded to discovery and then, trial -- though few legal observers or attorneys on either side believe it will ever get to that point.
However, if the two sides wind up in a protracted legal fight, the NBA could benefit from its decision to file pre-emptively in the Second Circuit, thus setting the venue where it has previously defeated the NBPA in an antitrust case. In 1995, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the NBPA when it was seeking to have the salary cap and college draft abolished.