MIAMI – Billy Hunter emerged from a four-hour bargaining session among NBA players and owners Wednesday and proclaimed that he was “hopeful” that a deal could be reached to avert a lockout before the collective bargaining agreement expires on June 30.
This from the same executive director of the National Basketball Players Association who only weeks ago stated that, if given the choice between the owners’ revised proposal and a lockout, “We’d welcome a lockout.”
So why the reason for hope? Two subtle, but potentially important things. First, the bargaining session added to the schedule Wednesday during the Finals was in addition to two meetings previously scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday in Dallas. After a smaller session in New York last week in which the players proposed some new “concepts” for bridging the enormous gap between the two sides, the dialogue was deemed positive enough to accelerate the talks. Hunter even hinted Wednesday that another session could be added next week if the progress continues.
“If necessary, we’ll stay a third day (in Dallas),” Hunter said. “And we’re going to put in as much time as we have just to see if we can make any progress.”
Second, the substance of what the players proposed – though closely guarded by the two sides – may have opened the door for a breakthrough in the talks. Only vague details of the players’ new proposed ideas have been revealed, but sources say their approach was designed as a two-pronged solution: 1) an alternative to a hard-cap system that would give the owners another path to reach their goals while maintaining some elements of the current soft-cap system; and 2) a revised split of basketball-related income that would do the same.
The players currently receive 57 percent of BRI after certain expenses are deducted. The owners want more expenses deducted, while the players have signaled they are willing to negotiate a reduced guarantee of their portion of revenues.
Is this progress? Both sides agree the time is now – before the CBA expires in less than 30 days – to find out. Next week’s bargaining sessions in Dallas could very well provide the tipping point in negotiations that will either result in the NBA continuing its rapid and upward ascent of doing what commissioner David Stern described as “falling into the abyss.”
“The question is, what kind of compromise is each side prepared to make,” Stern said. “It may not be enough on either side, but we’re going to give it a shot.”
Said Hunter: “We know that the pressure’s building and if anything’s going to happen, it’s going to happen between now and (June) 30. We’re going to make every effort to see if we can reach a deal. If we don’t, we don’t. But it’s not going to be for a lack of trying.”
Stern said the players’ revised concept “gave us some ideas,” but did not result in any discussion about whether owners were willing to move off their insistence on a $45 million hard cap. There remains a “very substantial gap” between the two negotiation positions, Stern said.
“It’s still our hope that there may be a deal here to be done,” Stern said. “We’re going to test it to the limits. If we’re wrong, we’re wrong. But I think Billy feels the same way.”
Knicks guard Roger Mason, one of three vice president of the players’ executive committee in attendance, said revenue sharing among owners was a significant part of the discussion Wednesday.
“It’s encouraging to see the Dolans and the bigger-market teams receptive to that idea,” Mason said. “So without going into detail, that’s obviously the case and it’s a good sign. … Obviously we’re still apart on key issues, but we want to get a deal done as players. We don’t want to get locked out and I think the owners don’t want to lock us out as well. Those are two positives and we have a lot of work to do over the next month.”
Bucks guard Keyon Dooling called the bargaining session “constructive.” Union president Derek Fisher of the Lakers was on a previously scheduled family vacation and did not attend the bargaining session, which included most members of the owners' labor relations committee.
“Both sides will have to work together,” Dooling said. “It’s not going to be a situation where one side triumphs (over) the other one and just destroys everything. A lot of people worked hard on both sides – Mr. Stern to grow the game and the players being a product of the game. We need each other. They’re the platform, we’re the product. We’ve got to find that balance.”
And they have less than 30 days to do it.