Players and owners meet as issues are discussed, but no negotiations undertaken. Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher represent the players' position in a post-meeting press conference after the NBA labor talks in regards to the CBA. A lockout still looks certain.
The talks were described as "progress." The tone was described by sources as "pleasant" and "constructive." NBA Player's Association Executive Director Billy Hunter said that everyone felt better when they left the meeting than when they entered it. But the talks between the NBPA and owners group, if the NBPA presser afterward was any indication, were full of dark signs that a lockout is as inevitable as it ever has been.
Hunter began by revealing that the owners had still yet to respond to the players' last proposal. Essentially, the owners are refusing to even respond to the offer, even after months. That's a significant sign of where these negotiations are. Perhaps the situation was put into context most clearly by Hunter when he said, "If it takes losing a whole season to get what we (want), we're willing to do that." Both sides are still very much apart and are very much working under that threat. As Hunter said, "They showed up with their forces, we showed up with our forces." NBPA President Derek Fisher was clear in pointing out where the onus is in regards to the lockout. "If there is a lockout, it is because the owners have imposed one... (the players) want to play basketball." Hunter did admit a lockout would be "devastating" and that the higher percentage of ownership in attendance, by putting a humanizing factor into play, may create some movement on both sides. But in general, both sides are holding the line.
The NBPA's post-meeting press conference did provide context to where these talks are at on several issues:
- Revenue sharing continues to be a central issue in the talks. Hunter said "many of the problems (the owners) articulate can in fact be rectified through revenue sharing." Hunter stated that the NBPA's contention is that a stronger revenue plan which was submitted to the league by eight owners several years prior, had it been implemented, would have prevented many of the issues the owners are bringing to the table now.
- Fisher stated that the issue of a possible franchise tag has not been raised. "It is not something that has been presented." He did say that this discussion did not involve the particulars of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but made it clear that had not been brought to the owners. That's good news as its inclusion represents the equivalent of an option for nuclear winter by the owners.
- There was apparently a major gaffe on the part of an owners' representative. Hunters stated that Kevin Murphy, an economic expert from the University of Chicago, asked the representative if the owners would be making the same demands of the players if they had not suffered losses, the representative answered in the affirmitive. That goes against the core argument the owners have been trumpeting since the start of the economic downturn, which is that the current environment necessitates these dramatic shifts in revenue structuring.
- Perhaps the most interesting element revealed in the presser was that in response to questions of parity by smaller market owners struggling to compete with the Lakers' payroll (as an example), that the NBPA has brought a recommendation for an alternative solution. The union has suggested a restructuring of the draft process, which would provide two first-round picks to the teams "at the bottom" according to Hunter. It represents a bold and innovative solution to the problems faced by the NBA in regards to parity, but Hunter noted that the owners haven't even opened up to such discussions because of their "intractable" position.
- The players will not get sucked into a war of words about contraction. That's not the hill they're choosing to die on. Hunter said "We are not at all concerned about contraction. We're not at all afraid, intimidated, not suffering any chagrin when someone raises the issue of contraction." However, Hunter did hint that the union is not rising to fight for that above other issues. "It is what it is. And if they choose to play that hand, we'll have to live with it."
- One of the popular debates in these negotiations is where the onus lies for the massive overpayment contracts. The owners state that they need help in limiting those contracts, and the players believe the owners should simply take responsibility for their decisions. Fisher stated that they've heard some owners say verbatim "We need to be protected from ourselves." Fisher acknowledged that the owners were simply trying to be competitive, but that the players' position is that that weight does not all fall on them.
- Fisher also spoke about the nature of guaranteed contracts, and that the current agreement does not prevent unguaranteed contracts, is simply allows for the possibility to negotiate for a guaranteed contract. "There's a sense that we feel entitled to guaranteed money, to guaranteed income. That's not who we are. The principle basic level, we should have the right to earn guaranteed income because of our special skills... but when I sit down to negotiate my contract with the Los Angeles Lakers on my contract, we have every opportunity to go back and forth over what's guaranteed and what's not."
Hunter said that further negotiations would be scheduled when Hunter and commissioner David Stern meet next week in New York. From there, further discussions are expected to continue. But there was no rapid movement taken in this session, and it does not appear that either side is itching to be the one to move things forward.
Small steps were made. The tone of the discussions have shifted to a more "human" approach as Fisher described them. But the key issues remain, and haven't been really touched. Negotiations, in fact, have not begun, simply discussions, and those mostly consist of both sides continuing their refutations of the other's position. And a lockout looks as inevitable as it did on Friday morning.