Tag:Knicks
Posted on: October 27, 2011 10:52 pm
Edited on: October 28, 2011 12:58 am
 

Stern on labor deal: Friday's the day

NEW YORK – Setting up the next and most pivotal day in the NBA labor talks, negotiators will convene Friday with what commissioner David Stern described as “resolve” to finally close the gap and agree to the two key elements of a new collective bargaining agreement: the system and the split of revenues.

“I can’t tell you we’ve resolved anything in such a big way, but there’s an element of continuity, familiarity and I would hope trust that would enable us to look forward to (Friday), where we anticipate there will be some important and additional progress or not,” Stern said in a news conference Thursday night after a 7 1-2 hour bargaining session at a luxury Manhattan hotel.

“We’re looking forward to seeing whether something good can be made to happen,” Stern said.

After spending 22 1-2 hours over two days hammering out many of the details of a new system that the league believes will foster more competitive balance, the moment of truth has arrived – for the third time this month. Two times prior, the negotiators expressed confidence they were within striking distance of one or the other key issue – the system or the split – only to have the talks fall apart in spectacular fashion.

But according to several people involved in the negotiations or briefed on them, there has been a noticeable uptick in urgency to finally end the nearly four-month lockout, with the last realistic possibility to salvage games already canceled – and avoid canceling more – set to evaporate without a deal in the next several days.

In a moment of levity that also pointed to the importance of Friday’s bargaining session, Stern chimed in from the back of the room during union executive director Billy Hunter’s news conference when Hunter was asked when the important, difficult moves would be made to finally close the deal.

“Well, David Stern is sitting back there,” Hunter said. “I think he can probably tell you. Hopefully, sometime tomorrow.”

And right on cue, Stern shouted jovially from the back of the room, “Tomorrow!”

In another important moment from Thursday night’s separate news conferences – held only 18 hours after the 4 a.m. ET affairs earlier in the day – Stern was asked if the league was prepared to make another economic move Friday if necessary to get the deal done. The two sides are trying to agree on the framework of a new system of player contracts and team payrolls before proceeding with the final, most important, and interrelated piece of the negotiation: the split of BRI.

“We’re prepared to negotiate over everything,” Stern said. “We’re looking forward to it.”

The most recent formal proposals have the owners offering the players a 50-50 split of revenues, while the players have proposed a 52.5 percent share. The players received 57 percent under the previous six-year CBA. The split of revenues was not discussed Wednesday or Thursday, the parties said.

Deputy commissioner Adam Silver, who has maintained that the BRI split and system issues are “not necessarily related,” said Thursday night that “trades are often made when you have the final pieces of a deal that you need to put together.”

“We remain apart on both, so from that standpoint, we’re disappointed,” Silver said.

Hunter does not share Silver’s view that the split and system structure are unrelated, and those two viewpoints must collide one last time Friday with urgency to reach an agreement and preserve a full 82-game schedule at its highest point since the lockout began July 1.

“You definitely have to have some agreement on the system,” Hunter said. “Because if the system’s not right, then as we’ve indicated before, the number’s not going to work.  And so the two are interrelated.”

But while there remain significant details to be resolved over a more punitive luxury tax system and other rules governing trades and contracts, Stern’s demeanor was decidedly upbeat after a second consecutive day of trying to bridge the bargaining gap in a small-group format that clearly has gained traction and momentum.

The rosters of negotiators were essentially the same as the 15-hour session held Wednesday into the early morning hours of Thursday. Stern, Silver, deputy general counsel Dan Rube, general counsel Richard Buchanan, labor relations committee chairman Peter Holt of the Spurs, Board of Governors chairman Glen Taylor of the Timberwolves, and James Dolan of the Knicks were joined by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who was flying through New York on his way home from Paris. Other than the absence of union economist Kevin Murphy (who will be present Friday) and the addition of vice president Roger Mason, the players’ contingent was intact with Hunter, president Derek Fisher, vice president Mo Evans, general counsel Ron Klempner and attorney Yared Alula. 

With negative rhetoric at a minimum only a week after the negotiations collapsed last Thursday over the BRI split, team executives around the league were beginning to prepare for a deal to be consummated. Several team executives have postponed international scouting trips they'd normally take at this time of year so they can be in place if and when a deal is agreed to. If a deal is reached, it will take about 30 days before the regular season can begin: at least two weeks to write up the agreement and have it ratified by both sides, and at least a week each of free agency and training camps/preseason games.

But while Hunter said the two sides are "within striking distance of getting a deal" on the system issues and moving on to BRI, Silver cautioned that the two sides are "apart on both" the system and the split. Asked about the gap on the system issues, Stern said, "We are not close enough right now. But I expect with a good night’s sleep, we’ll both come in with resolve to get closer."

But team executives who've heard this twice before, only to see the talks blow up -- on Oct. 4 over the BRI split and Oct. 10 over the system -- remained cautiously optimistic Thursday. One executive confided that his gut tells him "this will blow up one more time." "

"There’s no guarantees we’ll get it done," Stern said. "But we’re going to give it one heck of a shot (Friday)."


 


Posted on: October 27, 2011 5:15 am
Edited on: October 27, 2011 12:49 pm
 

Progress on system; 82 games still 'possible'

NEW YORK – After another marathon, 15-hour bargaining session that pushed past 3 a.m. ET Thursday, NBA and union negotiators emerged saying progress had been made -- and pointed to the possibility of not only avoiding the loss of more games, but recapturing those already canceled and having an 82-game season.

It’s beginning to look like time for push to come to shove and for the lockout, well into its fourth month, to have its best chance of coming to an end.

“This has been a very arduous and difficult day, and productive,” commissioner David Stern said after 4 a.m. in a conference room of a Manhattan luxury hotel. “(Thursday) is going to be just as arduous and difficult, if not more so. We hope that it can be as productive.”

The two sides are reconvening at 2 p.m., with National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter saying an 82-game season remains “possible” if a deal were reached by Sunday or Monday.

“We initially wanted to miss none,” Stern said. “It's sad that we've missed two weeks. We're trying to apply a tourniquet and go forward. That's always been our goal.”

But while the cataclysmic rhetoric that marked last Thursday’s breakdown in talks was gone and the focus was on saving games instead of losing more, officials on both sides cautioned not to draw substantial conclusions. While progress was made on several system issues – “small moves,” according to one source – the talks are back in the tenuous place where they’ve blown apart on several other occasions. Even if the complete menu of system issues can be resolved Thursday, the trouble in the past has come when the system has to be linked with the BRI split – or vice versa.

“I think depending on how much progress we make (Thursday), we’ll be in a better position to be more explanatory and definitive about the specifics of the deal,” Hunter said.

After the talks broke down last Thursday over the BRI split – with the owners offering a 50-50 split and the players seeking 52.5 percent – the two sides re-engaged almost immediately on Friday and continued talking through the weekend, Hunter said. The pressure was beginning to mount for both sides to avoid further cancellations and try to salvage the two weeks of games already canceled into a revamped, compressed schedule.

“If there was any hope of trying to recapture the lost games and be able to complete a full season of 82 games, then there had to be a way to get back and talk,” Hunter said.

The two sides discussed system issues exclusively Wednesday and into Thursday morning, not touching on the BRI split at all. One source warned, “They still haven’t gotten to the meat and potatoes.”

But the general feeling from both sides was that a level of determination to bridge the gap between the system proposals has reached a level of urgency not seen at any times during the two-plus years of negotiations. It is generally presumed that once the more difficult system issues – mainly the level and rates of a new, more punitive luxury tax system – are agreed upon, the economic negotiation would be easier to agree upon.

“A lot of the concessions or trades that you might be inclined to make have to have some connection to your understanding of what your ultimate number is,” Hunter said.

Fisher said there were “key principle items in our system that have to remain there in order for our players to agree to what is already a reduced percentage of BRI.”

The league and union negotiated in the small-group format that has yielded significant progress and less rhetoric in the past. Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, labor relations committee chairman Peter Holt of the Spurs, Board of Governors chairman Glen Taylor of the Timberwolves and Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan joined deputy general counsel Dan Rube and general counsel Richard Buchanan in representing the league. For the players, it was Hunter, Fisher, vice president Maurice Evans, general counsel Ron Klempner, attorney Yared Alula and economist Kevin Murphy.

League negotiators will convene via telephone with the rest of the owners on the labor relations committee prior to the 2 p.m. resumption in talks, but there will be no new parties in the room. Murphy, who has other obligations, will not be present for the union Thursday.

“There's no question that today was a better day than last Thursday,” Silver said. “I think it's too early, not just in the morning, but still in the negotiations to express confidence that we're at a deal. There's no question, though, that we did make progress on some significant issues.”

In a moment of pre-dawn levity after the second-longest bargaining session of the negotiations, Stern joked about the fact that he was not present last Thursday when the seemingly promising talks fell apart after an apparent “take-it-or-leave-it” ultimatum from Holt over proceeding with system negotiations only if the players accepted a 50-50 BRI split.

“It wasn't me,” Stern said. “I leave these guys alone for a little bit of time and all hell breaks loose.”

Could all hell break loose again? Sure; at this point, anything’s possible. But what was clear as the vacuums purred in the lobby and hotel staff began showing up for a new day’s work was this: The urgency to make a deal finally has arrived.
Posted on: October 10, 2011 12:25 am
Edited on: October 10, 2011 3:10 am
 

NBA labor talks extend to Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By holding out for 1.5 percent of BRI -- the owners at 50 percent and the players at 53 -- each side would be drawing a line in the sand over less than $400 million -- $393 million, to be exact -- over six years. And each side would lose half that amount by canceling the first two weeks of games. In the simpler, shorter-term horizon of the first year of a new CBA, each side failing to move 1.5 percent to the 51.5-48.5 split would cost it $200 million compared to the $60 million that would be negotiated away by making the concession.
Posted on: October 3, 2011 6:03 pm
Edited on: October 4, 2011 1:43 am
 

A moment of truth arrives in NBA talks

NEW YORK -- After more than two years of often rancorous negotiations, rifts within each side, finger-pointing and name-calling, the NBA and its players have reached a moment of truth in their quest to reach a collective bargaining agreement that would preserve an on-time start to the 2011-12 season.

After setting the table in a five-hour meeting Monday involving a small group of negotiators, the league and union will convene separately and then sit down for a crucial full bargaining session Tuesday. Though the meeting is expected to include at least 10 owners and multiple players accompanying the union's bargaining committee, neither side could say with any certainty whether the moment has arrived to make their last, best offers.

What is clear is that some significant movement will be necessary to at least begin closing the enormous gap between the two sides' positions on the two main issues -- the split of revenues and the cap system -- or the rest of the preseason schedule and some regular season games will be at risk.

"We both understand that if we don’t make our best offers in the next few days, we’re going to be at the point where we’re going to be causing damage to the game, to ourselves, and they're going to be out paychecks," deputy commissioner Adam Silver said.

But even as both sides recognized the gravity of Tuesday's meeting with the scheduled regular season opener less than a month away, the potential for trouble already was brewing.

As opposed to going into the meeting with the more productive small-group format, Tuesday's session is expected to include a potentially strong showing from players who are not on the executive committee. Though it was not clear Monday whether a similar contingent of stars who attended Friday's meeting -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and others -- would be present Tuesday, it was that very format that nearly resulted in the talks blowing up when players became so irate with the owners' intransigence that they threatened to walk out of negotiations. According to sources, Kobe Bryant -- fresh off a promotional tour of Italy, where he is contemplating a potentially lucrative deal with Virtus Bologna -- and Amar'e Stoudemire are among the players interested in attending the bargaining session.

In addition, the Celtics' Paul Pierce -- who was among the stars present Friday and who stuck around for Saturday's and Monday's sessions -- will take on a prominent role in the negotiations again on Tuesday. Though Pierce has previously expressed interest in being involved in the union -- perhaps even as a committee member and vice president -- his presence is notable for more than his star power. Pierce's agent, Jeff Schwartz, is one of seven powerful reps who wrote a pointed letter to their clients urging them not to agree to any further reductions in their share of basketball-related income (BRI) or any further restrictions to the system beyond what the union has negotiated.

In the letter, agents Schwartz, Arn Tellem, Bill Duffy, Dan Fegan, Leon Rose, Henry Thomas and Mark Bartelstein warned their clients not to rush into a deal and encouraged them to demand to see the league's full financial statements from the previous six-year CBA -- including related-party transactions, which can make it difficult to identify profits and losses on a team-by-team basis.

This same group of agents has been pushing for the players to decertify the union in the face of the owners' demands of massive and fundamental changes to the league business model. Though the letter did not mention decertification, it potentially undercut the negotiating power of National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher, who have offered to drop the players' share of BRI to 53 percent and signaled a willingness to go to 52 with certain conditions, sources said.

The agents' letter explains the impact to the players of accepting 52 percent -- a $200 million giveback that atones for most of the owners' $300 million in losses last season -- and warns that there are "monumental repercussions" associated with giving back any more, a high-profile agent told CBSSports.com.

"All that’s going on right there is, (the owners) have a captive audience and they just keep going for more," the agent said. "If the players just walk away from the thing right now -- 'We decertify, we're done' -- they get their deal at 53 and it’s over with. Why keep talking to them? You think the owners are going to walk away from this deal right now at 53 percent? No way." 

UPDATE: But there was disagreement among two agents familiar with the letter as to what was meant by "no further reductions" in BRI. One said the intent was to urge clients not to accept any further reductions in what the union already has offered -- believed to be 53 percent, with the possibility of going down to 52 percent under certain conditions. However, another agent with direct knowledge of the conversations that led to the drafting of the letter said it was agreed that players would be advised not to vote for any deal that includes a reduction in BRI from the 57 percent the players received under the previous agreement.

"We shouldn't give back anything," the agent said. "With record TV ratings, record revenues, and global growth, why should we?"

An agent who has long been frustrated with the path of negotiations -- and fearful of the outcome -- told CBSSports.com, "If this is the best we can do, then why the hell haven't we decertified?" 

Late Monday, Fisher responded with a letter of his own to the union membership -- his second strong rebuke of the dissatisfied agents in less than a month -- saying the agents' letter to clients "includes misinformation and unsupported theories."

According to two people familiar with the NBPA's strategy, Hunter has never closed the door on decertification. But he has no intention of calling for a decertification vote or disclaiming interest in representing the players -- either of which would send the case to the federal courts under anti-trust law -- until the National Labor Relations Board rules on the union's unfair labor practices charge against the league. If the NLRB issued a complaint, it could lead to a federal injunction lifting the lockout. The NLRB has been investigating the union's charges since May, and there is no timetable for a decision by the agency's general counsel in Washington, D.C.

In the letter, which says that negotiations have reached "a critical stage," the agents told their clients that the owners' proposal will "cripple your earning potential and the earning potential of every future NBA player." Among other things, the agents urge their players to:

* Reject any further reduction in the percentage of BRI the union has negotiated.
* Maintain the existing structure of the Bird and mid-level exceptions.
* Resist any reduction in the current maximum player salaries.
* Maintain current contract length at existing levels.
* Keep unrestricted free agency the same and improve restricted free agency.

In addition, the letter urges players to demand a full vote of the union membership on any proposal agreed to by the NBA and NBPA negotiators. The vote that ended the 1998-99 lockout was a show-of-hands vote after players had only 24 hours to review the proposal. Only 184 of the more than 400 players actually voted.

"If and when there is a proposal that we feel is in the best interests of us as players, each of you WILL have the opportunity  to vote in person," Fisher said. "It's in the union bylaws, it's not up for negotiation."

One of the agents concerned about the outcome said he would not allow what he called a "sham" vote on a proposal agreed to by the NBPA. "I'm telling you right now, I won't stand for it," the agent said. "Not on my watch."

It was this and other unpredictable elements -- such as how unified the small- and big-market owners are on missing regular season games and revenue sharing -- that made it almost impossible to predict how Tuesday's meeting would play out. 

"If it’s a very short meeting, that’s bad," commissioner David Stern said. "And if it’s a very long meeting, that’s not as bad."

Stern had said Saturday that no decisions would be made before Tuesday on canceling the remainder of the preseason schedule if no deal were reached. Once Monday ended, however, the league entered what Stern had referred to as a "day-by-day" period where decisions would have to be made. According to several team executives, agents and others with a stake in the process, there is a widely held belief that the first chunk of regular season games would be canceled in the absence of significant movement by the end of the week.

Beyond the stated goals, talking points and hidden agendas that have infiltrated each side, the moment of truth is cloaked in one obvious reality: For a deal to be consummated this week, one side or the other is going to have to reveal its true position -- in bargaining terms, the "last, best offer." 

"Neither side has been speaking in those terms," Silver said.

Beginning Tuesday, they will have to.

"Each side has preserved its right to be where it is, knowing that there’s a heart to heart that will ultimately take place," Stern said.

In other words, it's time for the B.S. to stop and for the cards to be laid on the table. When that happens, how that happens, and who throws the first card will be a product of the tone that is set Tuesday.

"There’s always a Magic card in somebody’s back pocket that they say, ‘I know this will get the deal done,'" a team executive said Monday. "And you don’t want to show that card until you absolutely have to. At some point, does somebody whip out that card?"

Though the two sides continue to hold diametrically opposed positions on what kind of system they want -- hard cap, soft cap, flex cap, guarantees and spending exceptions -- they both agree that system issues will not cause them to miss games or cancel the season. This is primarily, if not ultimately all about the bottom line: money.

"We’re apart on the split," Stern said. "But we know that the answer lies between where they were and where we are. And without defining ours, or defining theirs, I think if there’s a will, we’ll be able to deal with both the split and with the system issues."

The most recent formal proposal from the owners would've given the players a flat $2.01 billion in salary over the first eight years of a 10-year deal, though sources say league negotiators have since modified that position slightly to a model that would give the players roughly 46 percent of BRI on average over the life of the deal. The players have been holding firm to an offer in which they would accept a pay freeze in the first year of a new deal -- the same $2.17 billion they received in salary and benefits last season -- with the BRI split in the 52-54 range thereafter. 

Based on the league's current bargaining position, even if the players offered to receive 49 percent of BRI -- thus accounting for all of the owners' $300 million in stated losses -- it still would not be acceptable to the owners, who are seeking the opportunity for every team to make a profit in addition to increased parity they believe can be achieved through a combination of systemic changes and more robust revenue sharing. One prominent agent told CBSSports.com Monday that the owners' position is "out of touch with reality."

"These guys think they're entitled to have a business that’s fool proof," the agent said. 

Said another: "Why do the most powerful and successful businessmen in the world need protection from agents and players in negotiations? If they don't want to pay the money, don't pay the money."

And if the owners maintain this bargaining position on Tuesday? If their bargaining position is real, with no magic cards hiding in their back pockets?

"Then I tell them," one of the agents said, "see you in court."
 


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: 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 30, 2011 8:56 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 12:31 pm
 

Star power stirs up NBA talks

NEW YORK -- Flanked by some of the biggest stars in the game, players' association president Derek Fisher stood in a ballroom at a Park Avenue hotel Friday and declared that the willingness to reach a new collective bargaining agreement is there on both sides.

Next will have to come the movement, the tipping point that pushes the negotiations to the point of compromise. And that point did not come Friday, when stars like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen got to see for themselves what the owners are asking of them as they seek a system that gives all 30 teams an opportunity to compete and be profitable.

After some initial ugliness -- a person familiar with what happened in the negotiating room told CBSSports.com that some players were initially infuriated by how little the owners' stance has changed -- the bargaining session took on a tone of cooperation that signaled to some players that a deal was within reach.

UPDATE: But not before it appeared that Friday's bargaining session would be short-lived, and that there wouldn't be any more talking this weekend.

According to a person familiar with the negotiations, the owners and players met initially at about 2 p.m. ET and broke up to discuss the situation privately among themselves. The players, furious at seeing first hand the owners' offer of 46 percent of basketball-related income (BRI) -- down from their previous level of 57 percent -- were unanimous about what to do.

"Let's go," one of the players said, according to a source. "There's no reason to go back in there."

The players decided to return to the bargaining room with a much smaller group. Among those joining Fisher for the second session were James, Wade, Anthony, Kevin Durant, Baron Davis and committee member Chris Paul. None of the players joining Fisher sat down during this portion of the talks, a person with knowledge of the meetings said.

It was at this point that Wade took exception to commissioner David Stern's tone and gesturing -- the commissioner evidently was pointing his finger while speaking to the players -- and "stood up for himself," a person with knowledge of the meeting said. According to two people familiar with the incident, Wade warned Stern not to point his finger and made reference to not being a child.

Several versions of the quote were reported. According to a witness, Wade's tone was not threatening. But the upshot was clear: This was a potentially galvanizing moment for the players, who finally got the kind of star participation -- and leadership -- that they've lacked at key moments in these talks. In Wade, the players have found their Michael Jordan circa 1999, when the Bulls star famously told the late Wizards owner Abe Pollin to sell his team if he couldn't afford to run it.

After the confrontation, union chief Billy Hunter and Stern met privately, seeking a way to calm nerves and preserve the rest of the negotiations. Hunter, according to the person with knowledge of the talks, convinced the players to go back in -- selling them on the idea that the negotiating process had to be respected and telling them that the two sides would switch from the split of basketball-related income (BRI) to system issues.

It was after session that began at 6 p.m. and ran for about an hour that the two sides agreed to return to the bargaining table Saturday. The takeaway for the players, sources said, was the definite impression that the owners want to have a season.

"I don’t think it was a sense of now or never, but I think there was definitely a sense of, 'It’s time to stop throwing ideas around and let’s actually work towards making these ideas happen,'" said the Heat's Udonis Haslem, attending his first bargaining session. "I heard enough to really believe in my heart that both sides will work tirelessly to find a middle ground. I don’t know if that will happen."

Indeed, both sides tamped down expectations that a deal had to be achieved by the end of the weekend to prevent cancellation of some -- and perhaps all -- regular season games. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver said, "There are a lot of issues on the table," and questioned whether a deal could be consummated by Sunday strictly from the standpoint of "the number of hours in the day."

The rhetoric about the entire season being in jeopardy if a deal wasn't reached this weekend was "ludicrous," Stern said Friday -- just two days after pointing out that there would be "enormous consequences" from a lack of progress and that they "won't be a question of just starting the season on time."

The two sides will meet again Saturday morning with nearly the full committee of owners and multiple players on hand in addition to the NBPA's executive committee.

Joining the big stars with Fisher, Hunter, and several committee members in the union's post-meeting news conference were Davis, Elton Brand, Ben Gordon, Andre Iguodala, and others as Fisher challenged those who've questioned the involvement of the game's biggest names in the bargaining process.

"Some of our guys have been questioned in terms of their commitment to this process, to the players' association and to the game," Fisher said. "Their presence here today, we all know for picture’s sake says a lot. These guys have always been with us."

James, Wade and Anthony abruptly left the news conference without speaking with reporters, climbing together into an idling SUV waiting for them outside the hotel.

But their presence, without question, was felt in the bargaining room. According to two people involved in the talks, several owners who typically are the most boistrous in the meetings -- including Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and Suns owner Robert Sarver -- were noticably subdued. "Much tamer," said one of the sources. "They know it's time."

The owners were represented by nine of their 11 committee members, with Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban absent. Heat owner Micky Arison, facing the potential destruction of his Big Three (two of them being in the room), was the only owner not on the committee who attended.

The only progress described by anyone Friday (other than the fact that they'll meet again Saturday) was the state of the owners' revenue sharing plans. Stern revealed for the first time that the league is prepared to triple the current revenue sharing pool in the first two years and quadruple it starting in the third year.

But even that issue is clouded in big-market, small-market politics and the issue of when the high-revenue teams will begin to substantially increase their sharing. According to two people familiar with the owners' revenue sharing plans, the Lakers and Knicks would be called upon to pay the lion's share -- with the Lakers paying roughly $50 million and the Knicks $30 million -- into the new pool. But some big-market teams are increasingly reluctant to share their growing local TV revenues; the Lakers, for example, recently signed a 20-year, $3 billion deal with Time Warner that dwarfs some teams' total revenue.

Stern said Friday the players "know precisely" what the owners' revenue sharing plan will look like.

"They know as much as we know," Stern said. "We’ve told them about generally how it’s going to work. We haven't given them a piece of paper, but that will not be the issue that separates us."

So what happens now? After the cleansing process of stars voicing their opinions, threatening to walk out and calling out Stern in front of his owners, the time comes now for smaller groups, cooler heads and compromise. It is the only thing we know at this point about these talks: Both sides want a deal. Both sides want to play.

Both sides have room to move on the economics, too. The owners will quickly lose their appetite for certain non-negotiable system changes once they realize that addressing their losses is within reach. And the players will prove to be willing to negotiate on certain key system points -- such as a modest reduction in the mid-level exception and a more punitive tax system -- once they get the anticipated economic move from the owners.

The owners having witnessed the star players' resolve, and the players having witnessed the owners' willingness to make a deal, won't hurt. Because there will have to be a deal eventually, so why not soon? Why not now? Because, as one source offered, it would be "crazy not to."

And he might as well have been speaking for both sides.



Posted on: August 5, 2011 4:22 pm
 

Sadly, it's players behaving badly

This was all working out so well for the players. Deron Williams said hasta la vista to the lockout and took his talents to Turkey. Kevin Durant lit up Rucker Park with 66 points. Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony went to China and supposedly came back with lucrative offers for themselves and all their pals.

Or not.

To this point, no superstar has followed D-Will to Turkey or anywhere else. There are complications with these supposedly lucrative offers in China. And oh, we now bring you the widely anticipated and sadly inevitable news of Michael Beasley shoving a fan in the face and Matt Barnes punching an opponent during pro-am games on either coast.

We don't even want to get into the escapades of three former NBA players in the news this week -- Darius Miles, who was arrested for trying to bring a loaded gun through airport security, Rafer Alston, who was sued over his alleged role in a strip club fight, and Samaki Walker, who allegedly tried to dine on eight grams of marijuana during a traffic stop in Arizona, during which police also confiscated prescription drugs and liquid steroids.

Guns, strip clubs and weed -- the trifecta of ammunition for those quick to stereotype NBA players as outlaws, lawbreakers and menaces to society. Great job, guys.

It’s a lockout, so NBA players must be behaving badly. And they are.

I’ve written previously on my disappointment that the stars with all the clout aren’t speaking up for the union in the ongoing labor dispute, preferring instead to stay quiet and tend to their own affairs. The latest flare-up from the NBPA’s knucklehead contingent is proof why union officials disagreed with my premise all along. Simply put, they were happy that the players, by and large, had been conducting themselves professionally during the lockout and not stepping out of line – a la Kenny Anderson, who turned the public on the players when he lamented having to sell some of his luxury cars during the 1998-99 lockout.

The union, it appears, will give up a few sound-byte points to David Stern so long as it can avoid the Kenny Anderson moment. Except now, they have the Michael Beasley moment and the Matt Barnes moment.

The NBA has gone to great lengths in recent years to curtail on-court behavior, clamping down on gesturing, complaining to officials, and the like. But no such rules were in effect at New York City’s Dyckman Park, where Beasley “mushed” the face of a heckler Thursday night. Nor were they in effect at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco, where Barnes punched an opponent in a pro-am game on the very same night.

Such offenses in an NBA game would’ve earned an ejection, a hefty fine and a pointed rebuke from Stern. But the commissioner has no authority over the players now except in how he nonchalantly eviscerated all their bargaining positions with a smile on ESPN Tuesday night.

“They’re not serious about making a deal with the NBA,” Stern said, with no on-air response from any union representative. “They’re so busy talking about their decertification strategy, following the lead of their attorney, Jeffrey Kessler who did it for the NFL players, and engaging in conversations with agents about it and talking about it constantly, that we think that is distracting them from getting serious and making a deal.”

And now, some players are busy slugging playground wannabes and “mushing” the faces of hecklers from coast to coast, failing to realize that everyone in attendance has a phone capable of recording video and uploading it YouTube for all the world to see. Big difference from the last lockout, when we only got to read about a fraction of the follies the next day in the newspaper.

Making matters worse, just when it seemed that the players had a Kenny Anderson moment to pin on Stern – his bloated salary, which was reported to be between $15 million and $23 million – well, never mind. The Associated Press weighed in, citing multiple league sources who said Stern makes less than baseball commissioner Bud Selig ($18 million) and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ($11 million). A person with knowledge of the activities of the NBA’s advisory/finance committee – a group of 11 owners who set Stern’s salary – confirmed to CBSSports.com that $10 million or less was “in the ballpark.”

So to sum up, the best strategy the players have against the owners is to walk a straight line (except, now some of them are not) and the threat of stars going overseas (except only one star has done so). And even if more follow – even if 20 more follow – where does that leave the other 400 players? To stay home and receive weekly updates from NBPA president Derek Fisher about how the owners still haven’t moved off their “my-way-or-the-highway” proposal – or to go out and play for free in some exhibition game, where one union member or another might just have to slug somebody?

It’s a tough act to follow, but several star players will try. Even if a dozen or more of them get lucrative deals in China or somewhere else for $1 million a month, that’s still a small fraction of their NBA salaries. Don’t you think Jerry Buss would jump at the chance to pay Kobe Bryant $1 million a month? That’s a hefty discount off his NBA haul of $25 million a year.

How is all of this intertwined? Everything is intertwined during a lockout, and must be viewed through the prism of whether it helps or hurts the players’ bargaining position. Going off on a heckler or opponent at some exhibition game does not qualify as helpful. Except to the traffic on YouTube.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com