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Tag:Billy Hunter
Posted on: September 22, 2011 8:34 am
Edited on: September 22, 2011 8:48 am
 

'Blood issue' time for both sides

NEW YORK -- Is it time for a deal to go down in the NBA labor talks Thursday?

Maybe.

But probably not.

After Wednesday's meeting among lawyers and staff for both sides at the National Basketbal Players Association offices in Harlem, the top negotiators and power brokers for both sides will reconvene in Manhattan Thursday for a critical bargaining session amid the threat of imminent canceling of training camps and preseason games.

It will be the same group of negotiators that had made significant progress in a series of three high-level meetings that began Aug. 31, only to have the talks break down last Tuesday when the full bargaining committees could not move the dialogue past the players' resistance to a hard salary cap and the owners' insistence on one. Commissioner David Stern, deputy commisssioner Adam Silver, Spurs owner Peter Holt and deputy general counsel Dan Rube -- the league's top authority on contracts, the cap and system issues -- will represent the league while union executive director Billy Hunter, president Derek Fisher, general counsel Ron Klempner and economist Kevin Murphy will represent the players.

While the small groups seemed to have been on the verge of a compromise after the three meetings leading up to last week's setback, intransigence on both sides scuttled the progress. Hunter's refusal to move ahead with an economic concession unless the owners agreed to the pre-condition that the soft-cap system remain intact caused league negotiators to retrench and reject the ultimatum. From the owners' standpoint, the full bargaining committee that convened last Tuesday in New York did not signal the same willingness to compromise as the small group led by Stern, Silver and Holt had previously expressed, according to a person directly linked to the talks.

The key issues Thursday are two-fold, and most certainly are intertwined. For the players, did union leadership emerge from a meeting last week in Las Vegas with enough clout to resist the owners' push for a hard cap while at the same time being willing to negotiate enough system changes to move the dialogue forward? Did league negotiators return from a Board of Governors meeting in Dallas with the authority to divulge to the union details of their revenue sharing plans while achieving enough unanimity among owners to move forward with the framework of a compromise?

To borrow a phrase from Hunter, it is "blood issue" time for both sides.
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 15, 2011 12:16 pm
 

DeMaurice Smith to address NBA players

Facing the difficult challenge of keeping the union together in the face of stalled labor talks with the owners, the National Basketball Players Association has recruiited NFL players' union executive director DeMaurice Smith to address locked-out players in Las Vegas Thursday.

A person connected to the NBA talks confirmed that Smith will speak to a gathering of about 70 NBA players at a Las Vegas hotel as players and owners meet separately to brief their constituents on the negotiations. The owners' Board of Governors is meeting Thursday in dallas.

According to SI.com, which first reported Smith's involvement, the invitation came from NBPA president Derek Fisher, who hopes that Smith will be able to explain to the players the importance of remaining united during the lockout. Smith, who directed his first collective bargaining talks with the NFL and secured a new CBA that ended the lockout without losing games, also is expected to tell the players that the NFLPA's strategy of decertification does not necessarily apply in the same way to the NBA talks.

For one, the NFL players faced a collectively bargained deadline to decertify and disband their union in an effort to thwart the owners' lockout. The strategy was never addressed in a broad ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the NFL case, and labor law experts fear such a strategy by the NBA players would be so time consuming that it would jeopardize a significant portion of the season with no guarantees of a favorable ruling in federal court.

Either way, Smith's presence at the critical NBA players' meeting is sure to generate commentary from both sides of the decertification argument. For several high-profile agents pushing for a decertification vote that could topple NBPA chief Billy Hunter, the irony will not be lost that Smith will be preaching unity to the NBA players after following a strategy that temporarily dissolved his own union in the NFL talks.

Fisher and teammate Kobe Bryant are represented by agent Rob Pelinka, who is not among the agents pushing for the union to disband. So you can see where this is going. Fisher is embracing his role as the point man charged with keeping players with varying agendas and pay levels on the same page. Having offered to make an economic move that league negotiators believe would've been an important step in the negotiations, the NBPA is trying to preserve a flexible cap system and thwart the contingent of owners who seem to be willing to lose the entire season over their insistence on instituting a hard salary cap.

To that point, Smith is likely to come away from Thursday's meeting with as much enlightenment as the players listening to him. This NBA labor fight makes the one Smith resolved with the NFL look like a minor disagreement over who picks up the check at one of those cheap, all-you-can-eat Vegas buffets.

Posted on: September 13, 2011 4:53 pm
Edited on: September 13, 2011 4:57 pm
 

NBA talks at stalemate, start of season imperiled

NEW YORK -- Full committees of NBA owners and players met Tuesday with a hint of progress on the economic split but no signs of compromise on the hard salary cap owners are trying to impose.

After five hours -- most of it spent with each side symbolically huddled amongst themselves, apropos of their deeply entrenched bargaining stances -- National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher warned that it appears the season will not start on time. Hunter said he has advised players that they "may have to sit out half the season before we get a deal."

"We can't come out of here thinking that training camps and preseason are going to start on time," Fisher said.

Commissioner David Stern did not share that dour outlook, saying emphatically that owners would not cancel training camps or preseason games at the Board of Governors meeting in Dallas Thursday. Appropriate to their diametrically opposed positions on changes to the cap system the owners have proposed, each side blamed the other for the breakdown in talks.

After three seemingly productive meetings among only the highest-level negotiators in recent weeks, Hunter said the players insisted that the full bargaining teams be brought in Tuesday to see if compromise could be achieved before each side holds a significant meeting Thursday, when the players will convene in Las Vegas. The players were "prepared to compromise somewhat" on their share of revenues, which they'd previously proposed reducing from 57 percent to 54.3 percent.

"The owners are not inclined at this stage to move off the position where they've anchored themselves," Hunter said, adding that players remain steadfast against accepting a system that distributes the money to players via a hard cap.

Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver told a diferent story, saying the players signaled their willingness to compromise on dollars only if the owners agreed in advance that the system -- with a soft cap, luxury tax, and various spending exceptions -- would remain largely intact. The owners huddled -- for about three of the 5 1-2 hour, Hunter said -- and emerged to reject the players' request. Neither side actually made a formal proposal Tuesday.

Stern called the players' opposition to a hard cap "an emotional attachment," while Hunter argued that it would depress player salaries -- a point that Silver vehemently disputed.



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.


 


Posted on: August 25, 2011 12:46 pm
Edited on: August 25, 2011 1:04 pm
 

League, union to meet next week

NEW YORK -- While owners and players are not expected to hold the second full bargaining session of the lockout until next month, a high-level meeting of top negotiators for both sides will take place next week, a person with knowledge of the meeting confirmed to CBSSports.com on Thursday.

The session is expected to include only the highest-level people from both sides, likely limited to commisioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, union chief Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher, the person said. Also possibly in attendance could be Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the owners' labor relations committee.

The limited number of people in the room and the fact that both sides are trying to keep the meeting quiet -- not even divulging the date or location in an effort to avoid media coverage -- should be seen as positive signs. Though full bargaining sessions featuring multiple owners and players get more public attention, smaller sessions -- especially involving the lead negotiators -- typically are more conducive to serious negotiation.

The sides have convened only one full bargaining session since owners imposed the lockout on July 1, and the day after that session, the NBA filed an unfair labor practices charge and federal lawsuit against the National Basketball Players Association.

There is no indication that either side's position has changed. In fact, to the contrary, as NBPA officials travel the country informing players of the status of talks, the rhetoric from both sides has reached an unhealthy level. Players have beome incensed with Stern's public characterization of the owners' position in various media appearances, and their latest retort came Wednesday from union vice president Maurice Evans, who took Stern to task for his portrayal of the owners' latest offer.

 "In the proposals we've given them, the players have compromised over $650 million into the owners' pockets over six years," Evans said. "You say you're losing money, and we've offered over $100 million a year to take out of our pockets and they say, 'That's all? That's all? Just a modest $100 million a year?' That's just not bargaining in good faith. It's hard to get anything done that way."

No significant movement is expected until the players' unfair labor practices complaint is acted upon by the National Labor Relations Board or the two sides get close enough to a time when regular season games would be jeopardized. As in the 1998-99 lockout, mid-October represents the timeframe when the league would have to begin canceling games.

A complaint from the NLRB against the league on the players' charge of failing to bargain in good faith, which could come in the next 30 days, would provide leverage for the NBPA in the form of a possible federal injunction lifting the lockout. Conversely, a failure in the players' bid to get the NLRB to issue a complaint would bolster the owners' position. Either result would be likely to spur more serious bargaining and enhance the chances of compromise. 

Until then, a small meeting of the most important minds involved in the process couldn't hurt. 
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com