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Tag:Spurs
Posted on: October 4, 2011 8:42 pm
Edited on: October 4, 2011 11:19 pm
 

League, players about $80 million apart

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: October 1, 2011 7:17 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 9:17 pm
 

Stern: 'We're closer than we were before'

NEW YORK -- After nearly eight hours of bargaining Saturday, negotiators for the NBA and its players association broke for the weekend -- still with no agreement and no regular season games lost, but "closer" to a compromise on system issues, commissioner David Stern said.

At the suggestion of National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter, the two sides "decoupled" the issues of the split of revenues and the system that would go with it, attempting to "break down the mountain into separate pieces," NBPA Derek Fisher said. The two sides exchanged proposals "back and forth," players' committee member Maurice Evans said, and agreed to meet again Monday in a small group with only the top negotiators and attorneys and Tuesday with the full bargaining committees.

"We're not near anything," Stern said. "But wherever that is, we're closer than we were before."

Hunter characterized the two sides as being "miles apart" even on the system issues that separate them as the owners and league negotiators try to incorporate system changes they feel "entitled to," Hunter said, by virtue of dropping their insistence on a hard team salary cap. Stern said no announcement regarding further preseason games being canceled would be made Monday, but warned that it's "day by day" after that.

Stern did not answer a direct question about when regular season games would have to be canceled, saying, "Stay tuned."

"I don't know whether the 11th hour is Tuesday or not," Hunter said. "... Time is moving in that direction."

The "modest movement" on system issues that one person in the negotiating room described to CBSSports.com came only after the two sides, at Hunter's suggestion, agreed to separate the division of basketball-related income (BRI) from the system issues such as the cap, contract length, nature of exceptions and luxury tax. The decision to tackle the two major sticking points in the negotiations separately came after players threatened to walk out of the bargaining session Friday upon learning that the owners have not moved off of their standing economic proposal that would give the players a 46 percent share of BRI -- down from the 57 percent they received under the agreement that expired July 1.

"We're very far apart in BRI and made no progress in that," NBPA lawyer Jeffrey Kessler said. "So we tried to see if we could make any progress in something else."

Of course, the system changes each side would be willing to tolerate in a finished agreement would be inextricably linked to the split of revenues. According to a person briefed on the negotiations, the players would be willing to accept more system restrictions if they achieved a BRI share of 53 percent, but there is no chance they would accept what the owners are proposing at their current offer of 46 percent or modestly more than that.

For example, at 53 percent there would be a willingness on the players' part to discuss modifications to the mid-level exception, eliminating base-year compensation and other restrictions such as the owners' proposed luxury-tax system, which in its current form would charge a tax of $1-$4 depending on how far over the tax a team spent. The owners have proposed reducing the starting mid-level salary at $3 million, while the players have signaled a willingness to negotiate down to $5 million from last season's level of $5.8 million.

In addition to BRI and system issues, the other key piece of the puzzle is the owners' revised revenue sharing system, which Stern has said would triple and then quadruple the existing pool of $60 million. On Saturday, Hunter called the owners' revenue-sharing plan "insignificant." Sources say it isn't just the amount of revenue sharing, but the timing of its implementation, that is holding up that part of the deal.

Under the owners' revenue-sharing proposal, the Lakers would contribute about $50 million and the Knicks $30 million toward an initial pool of $150 million, sources said. There is reluctance, according to one of the people familiar with the talks, on the part of small-market teams to increase the players' share of BRI to beyond 50 percent without a stronger commitment from the big-market teams to share more -- and to share more quickly in the first year of the deal. Some big-market owners are pushing for a more gradual phase-in of their increased sharing responsibilities and are reluctant to take the hit this coming season, one of the people with knowledge of the talks said.

Given the sheer numbers of issues and the distance between the sides, Hunter said, "It's a pretty wide gulf that we're dealing with."

But make no mistake: While the two sides remain entrenched on economics and don't see eye-to-eye on system, either, the work of building an agreement from the ground up -- piece-by-piece through a system both can agree on -- and then backing into the economic split is the only way this is going to get done in time to preserve regular season basketball.

"We weren't going to be able to make major, sweeping progress on the entire economics and the system at the same time," Fisher said. "We felt that maybe if we split them up and try to go at them one at a time ... we can at least get some momentum and some progress going."

The passion and emotion that were exhibited Friday were replaced by a "mellow" astmosphere on Saturday, according to Hunter. This was partly due to the negotiating process being focused on specific system issues as opposed to being more "rambling," as deputy commissioner Adam Silver said, and hinged on avoiding -- for the time being -- the most difficult problem facing the negotiators: how much of the league's $4 billion each side gets.

In addressing the passion that erupted early in Friday's session attended by superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and others, Stern acknowledged a "heated exchange" with Wade. Without addressing the specifics of how Wade took exception to Stern's pointing and lecturing, Stern said, "I feel passionately about the system that we have and what it has delivered and what it should continue to deliver for the players and the owners. And he feels passionately, too. And I think that if anyone should step up on that, it’s my job, on behalf of the owners, to make the points that need to be made."

The stars were mostly absent Saturday, with LeBron, Wade and Melo heading to North Carolina to play in committee member Chris Paul's charity game. Among the players joining Fisher and committee members Evans, Roger Mason, Theo Ratliff and Matt Bonner on Saturday were Paul Pierce, Baron Davis, Arron Afflalo and Ben Gordon. The owners' committee was the same as it was Friday -- i.e. no Mark Cuban or Wyc Grousbeck -- with James Dolan leaving early to join the NHL's Rangers on an overseas trip.

Silver singled out Pierce in particular for being vocal in the bargaining sessions, and joked, "You have have heard Dwyane Wade had a few things to say in the meeting. ... The owners certainly heard the passion from the players and right back at them from the owners."

So what happens next? In a perfect world, the small groups of top negotiators are able to tailor the issues discussed the past two days into the framework of a system each side can agree to. Then, as Hunter said, it has to be "linked up again" with the split of revenues. To get all owners on the same page, the sharing of that revenue has to be addressed, too. In the absence of significant progress by Tuesday, the league will have to cancel another week or the remainder of the preseason schedule. Regular season games wouldn't be far behind.

But if a deal is going to get done to avoid all that, this is the only way to do it: divide the mountain of problems up and tackle each one separately. The stakes only get bigger, and the positions more entrenched after the next five days. The mountain gets bigger.

"The window is now to get a deal," one front office executive said. 

And if not now? Brace yourselves.


Posted on: September 27, 2011 10:11 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 11:10 pm
 

Sources: Owners drop insistence on hard cap

NEW YORK -- Owners have indicated a willingness to drop their insistence on a hard team salary cap in exchange for adjustments to the luxury tax system and key spending exceptions, two people with knowledge of the negotiations told CBSSports.com Tuesday night.

The offer by league negotiators came Tuesday in a brief, two-hour bargaining session that set the stage for what one source described as "an important day" on Wednesday.

"It's put up or shut up time," said the person, who is connected to the talks but spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the negotiations.

The flexibility in the owners' longstanding insistence on a hard team-by-team cap, first reported by Yahoo Sports, comes with significant strings attached. Among the many concepts league negotiators proposed Tuesday were a more punitive luxury tax and adjustments to two key spending exceptions that teams had under previous agreements: the Larry Bird exception and the mid-level exception. Both would have been eliminated under the owners' original proposal from two years ago, with many of those dramatic systemic changes living on in subsequent proposals until Tuesday.

There is a feeling among two people who have been briefed on the talks that the owners will come forward Wednesday with an enhanced version of the concepts proposed Tuesday. According to the sources, among the additions could be a proposed 50-50 revenue split, which to this point the league has not reached in terms of the players' average share over the life of a new CBA in its previous proposals.

As for the system changes the owners proposed Tuesday in exchange for relaxing their stance on the hard team salary cap, one of the people briefed on the talks said union officials regarded them as "alarming."

Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, has often referred to a hard team salary cap as a "blood issue." Union president Derek Fisher scoffed at the owners' June proposal of a "flex cap" with a spending midpoint and a range as being, for all intents and purposes, a hard cap. Paramount in the players' opposition to a hard team cap is that the NBA already has a spending cap in the aggregate; under the previous CBA, the players were limited to 57 percent of basketball-related income (BRI), with an escrow system in place to guarantee they'd get no more and no less.

Even if the owners improved their economic proposal to 50-50 on Wednesday -- up from the 46 percent average share sources said they offered last week -- it seems unlikely that union officials would accept that without significant pushback on the system adjustments that are tied to it. And it is even less likely that Hunter and Fisher, under pressure from powerful agents pushing to dissolve the union through decertification or a disclaimer of interest, would be able to garner support for such a deal in the face of such opposition.

"We already have a hard salary cap," one person connected to the talks told CBSSports.com Tuesday night. "That train left the station in the last collective bargaining. If you accept that as an important victory point, then we've been bamboozled."

Whether viewed as a meaningful concession or not, the revelation from the owners Tuesday set the stage for an absolutely critical day of negotiating on Wednesday. With more preseason games on the chopping block next week and with an on-time start to the regular season unlikely if there's no deal, this is the moment of truth these negotiations began inching toward last week when league negotiators made a specific proposal on the BRI split for the first time since they offered a flat $2 billion-a-year over the first eight years of a 10-year deal back in June.

Though a person with knowledge of the talks said the union deemed the owners' 46 percent offer "unacceptable," Hunter and Fisher believed it was the starting point in the real negotiations to save the season. 

In another wrinkle that could be key to the talks, the NBPA's unfair labor practices charge against the league has been transferred from the National Labor Relations Board's regional office in New York to the general counsel in Washington, D.C., a person with knowledge of the situation told CBSSports.com. The case file includes the regional director's recommendation about whether a complaint should be issued against the NBA, but the file is sealed, the person said.

After what is expected to be an exhaustive review of the case by the NLRB's Washington-based legal staff, a decision will be rendered on whether a complaint should be filed. Though Hunter is feeling pressure from agents who are pushing for the union to decertify -- a tactic that the NFLPA used, to little effect, in its bargaining talks with the NFL -- a person with knowledge of his thinking said Hunter is determined to keep the union together until the NLRB rules. A favorable ruling for the NBPA could result in a federal injunction lifting the lockout, thus shifting significant leverage to the players.

The NBA subsequently filed its own unfair labor practices charge against the NBPA, and it is possible that the NLRB may not rule on either case in time for the two sides to negotiate a settlement that would save the season.

Amid the divided opinions on decertification, Fisher sent a second letter to union members this week in which he again urged unity and tried to reassure players that he and Hunter would not sell them out just to get a deal. Fisher reiterated the union's resistance to a hard team salary cap and promised to fight for players to share fairly in the league's revenue growth -- which is expected to continue rising at a 4 percent-a-year clip, plus the possibility of massive gains in the NBA's broadcast rights deals when they expire after the 2015-16 season.

"We’ve been clear from Day 1 of this process that we cannot sign off on a deal that attempts in any way to include a hard salary cap for our teams. That has not changed,” Fisher said in the letter. “Unless you, the group we represent, tell us otherwise, we are prepared to hold the line for as long as it takes to preserve the system we’ve worked so hard to build.”

After Tuesday's meeting, Fisher emerged in a far more upbeat mood than he and commissioner David Stern had exhibited following last week's meeting. The two sides broke off talks about three hours shy of a typical session and said they needed to retreat to their own offices for private meetings before reconvening on Wednesday.

"We’ve talked extensively about ideas and concepts," Fisher said. "These are things that, if we could get into the range or get into the zone, maybe we can put a deal together."

Time, and new ideas, are running short.
Posted on: September 26, 2011 1:32 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 1:59 pm
 

NBA, union to meet Tuesday

NEW YORK -- Officials from the NBA and its players' union are finalizing details of a bargaining session that will take place Tuesday in New York and possibly extend to Wednesday, a person familiar with the details told CBSSports.com.

With the prospect of two days of negotiations as the calendar marches toward the eventual canceling of regular season games in less than three weeks,  National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter has postponed a regional meeting that had been scheduled for Tuesday in Miami and will stay in New York for talks with the league, the person with knowledge of the meeting said.

On Friday, the league indefinitely postponed the start of training camps and canceled preseason games scheduled for Oct. 9-15. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver said the schedule will be further evaluated on Oct. 1. It is likely that the league would have to begin canceling regular season games by Oct. 14 if it is unable to reach an agreement with the union on a new collective bargaining ageement.

The precise composition and format for the negotiations is still being determined due to a scheduling conflict of at least one key member of the parties that have made progress in small-group settings since Aug. 31. Once that is resolved, the goal is to continue with the small-group sessions with commissioner David Stern, Silver, deputy general counsel Dan Rube and Spurs owner Peter Holt representing the league and Hunter, NBPA president Derek Fisher, general counsel Ron Klempner and economist Kevin Murphy representing the players.

Tuesday and Wednesday represent the last opportunities to bargain this week with several key members of both sides' negotiating teams observing Rosh Hashanah on Thursday and Friday.

Negotiations resume after the league made a slight but significant revision last week to its most recent proposal on how to divide the sport's approximately $4 billion in basketball-related income (BRI). Sources say the owners' latest economic proposal amounted to an average 46 percent of BRI for the players over the life of the deal, which the union deemed "unacceptable." But the revised proposal represented a 2 percent increase from the owners' June proposal of a flat $2.01 billion annual guarantee for the players in the first eight years of a 10-year deal. That proposal started at about a 50-50 split of BRI in the 2011-12 season, but with revenues projected to increase about 4 percent a year, the players' share would shrink over time -- to about 39 percent in the eighth year of the deal.

The latest proposal from the owners called for the players' share to decline at a slower rate, sources said. According to one of the people familiar with the negotiations, the players most recently proposed a six-year CBA that would begin with a salary freeze in the first year ($2.17 billion, same as they made last season) and then go to 54 percent -- a 3 percent decline from the players' guarantee of 57 percent in the six-year deal that expired July 1.

Hunter also has signaled a willingness to negotiate below the 54 percent offer, with the caveat that it not include the implementation of a hard salary cap. Sources say both sides have expressed a willingness to negotiate on system and cap issues once they agree on the economic aspects of the deal.




Posted on: September 20, 2011 10:26 am
Edited on: September 20, 2011 12:48 pm
 

More NBA talks with on-time start at stake

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

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

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

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

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

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



Posted on: September 9, 2011 4:24 pm
 

Sources: No movement on major NBA issues

NEW YORK -- As the basketball world awaits a crucial phase of the NBA labor talks next week, the devil we don't know has been in the details of accelerated negotiations that concluded Thursday with a second 5 1-2 hour session in as many days. And while the tone and pace of talks has picked up, CBSSports.com has learned that there has been no formal movement in either side's position on the biggest sticking points in the deal: the split of revenues and the cap system.

According to five people briefed on the three days of high-level talks over the past two weeks, the two sides essentially are in the same place they've been since the owners' most recent formal proposal in late June: billions of dollars apart.

"I don't think they've made any progress there at all," one of the people briefed on the negotiations told CBSSports.com. "They're talking a lot, and the conversations are more cordial. But as far as the real numbers, I don't think there's anything there."

Before panic sets in, it is not necessarily a doomsday scenario that no new numbers have been agreed upon because, as two of the people with knowledge of the talks said, exchanging formal proposals was not the objective of this week's negotiations. This, in addition to the agreed upon strategy for neither side to discuss specific negotiating points, explains the vague answers given Thursday by union president Derek Fisher and deputy commissioner Adam Silver when pressed on whether new proposals have been exchanged.

"Ideas, proposals, concepts and numbers" have been discussed, Silver said, while Fisher said "tons of ideas" were exchanged. What this means is that Tuesday's full negotiating session including the complete bargaining committees for both sides could be extraordinarily significant. The larger meeting will serve as a litmus test for the concepts discussed in smaller groups consisting of Silver, commissioner David Stern, Spurs owner Peter Holt, deputy and general counsel Dan Rube for the owners and Fisher, executive director Billy Hunter, general counsel Ron Klempner, outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler and economist Kevin Murphy for the union.

"Next week's really important," one of the people briefed on the talks said.

But another person connected to the talks at the highest level stressed that the significance of Tuesday's meeting would be greatly enhanced only if one side or the other decided it was time to transform the ideas discussed at recent meetings into a formal proposal. Technically, it is the owners' turn to make one, as the players were the last side to do so June 30 before the lockout was imposed.

"The reality is, until one side or the other is ready to make significant movement, nothing is going to happen," the person said.

According to one of the people familiar with the talks, Fisher's statement Thursday about making sure "our general membership" agrees with ideas before he can "sign off on those type of deals" suggested that negotiators presented new concepts that must be vetted with a larger group of players before they can be negotiated further. The goal Tuesday will be to see if the conceptual, small-group discussions can provide any framework for the larger groups until the owners disperse for their Board of Governors meeting in Dallas. Both sides seem to be feeling a sense of urgency to present a significant status report to their constituents on Thursday, when the players also have scheduled a meeting in Las Vegas to update union members on the talks. 

It's when you consider the possibility that each side may prefer to report to its constituents that it is holding the line and not making any more concessions that the prospects for a breakthrough seem remote.

"They're bringing the full committees in to sit down with each other and see if they can make any progress by Thursday," one of the people with knowledge of the talks said. "They'll either say, 'Here, we've made progress and here's where we're at,' or, 'We're not making any progress and we're light years apart.'"

Sources say the two sides are trying to tackle the biggest obstacle first -- the split of revenues -- before fully addressing the system by which the money will be distributed. One of the people informed of the state of negotiations said the players have expressed a willingness to compromise on the split of revenues -- they received 57 percent under the previous deal and have proposed 54.3 percent as a starting point in a new collective bargaining agreement -- if they can keep many aspects of the current system in place, such as guaranteed contracts and contract lengths. But if asked to accept a dramatic decrease in their percentage of BRI and a curtailment of guarantees, rookie scale, cap exceptions and contract lengths, "I think the players would fight that to the end," one of the people said.

The owners' proposal to cut salaries and hold them steady at $2 billion a year "is a big point," one of the people said. "But the cap is an even bigger point. The players are willing to give back more if the structure and the NBA operating the way we've always known it stays the same or similar."

As Silver has said on more than one occasion, the owners are unified in their belief that they cannot continue operating under the current system.

The most recent concessions by the owners that were made public included a "flex-cap" with a $62 million midpoint and a sliding scale up and down -- similar to the cap system implemented in the NHL after a lockout that cost the entire 2004-05 season. On June 23, the players declined to counter that proposal after Hunter called the owners' demands "gargantuan" and said, "We just can't meet them." At the time, the owners also expressed a willingness to relax their insistence on eliminating fully guaranteed contracts -- which Hunter has called a "blood issue" for the players.

The players' most recent publicly known concessions included a $100 million-a-year salary reduction over a five-year CBA -- which Stern called "modest" and league negotiators view as more of a $100 million-a-year decrease in salary growth. Subsequently, the players offered a more owner-friendly split of future revenues and added a sixth year to their proposal, which Stern rejected June 30 because he said it would increase the average NBA player's salary from its current level of $5 million to $7 million by the end of the proposed deal.




Posted on: September 7, 2011 5:43 pm
 

Stern: 'Three weeks' to get a deal

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

League, players meeting on two fronts Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 


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