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Labor talks enter phase that could determine next season's fate

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David Stern (right) and Adam Silver, deputy commissioner, face questions after the latest talks. (Getty Images)  
David Stern (right) and Adam Silver, deputy commissioner, face questions after the latest talks. (Getty Images)  

NEW YORK -- The NBA labor talks concluded their most active period since the lockout began and entered a new, crucial phase Thursday: a week of meetings that are growing in size and importance that ultimately could determine the fate of the 2011-12 season.

After a second straight day of negotiations totaling 11 hours with only the heaviest hitters in the room, league and union officials emerged to announce they're calling their full bargaining committees to the city next week to weigh in. The full contingents from the owners' labor relations committee and the players' executive committee will meet Tuesday morning, to be followed by a previously scheduled owners' meeting in Dallas and a meeting of players the same day in Las Vegas -- both on Sept. 15. Prior to Tuesday's larger meeting, top negotiators from both sides will brief their constituents on where the talks stand after a comparative whirlwind of bargaining that began Aug. 31.

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The progress -- if it can be called that, at least in terms of the pace and frequency of talks -- comes at a time when sources say the spirit of the negotiations has evolved to a place where both sides are focused on trying to reach a compromise rather than obsessing over leverage and bargaining victories. So, too, will the size of the negotiations evolve, with constituents on both sides needing to join the process for it to have a chance to move forward from here.

"We think it's getting to be an important time and it's a good idea to have larger group meetings," commissioner David Stern said. "I don't really know that it's positive or negative. I just think it's time to bring the parties into the room who are ultimately going to be responsible for either making a deal or deciding that there shouldn't be a deal."

Stern said there was nothing formal to present to the rest of the owners' labor committee; only chairman Peter Holt of the Spurs has attended the past three sessions.

"Not yet," said Stern, who added that the escalation of talks is "more because of the calendar" than a narrowing of the gap between the two sides.

Both sides stuck to their agreed upon gag order as far as characterizing the discussions or divulging details. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver took issue with union president Derek Fisher's recent assertion that no new proposals have been made by either side, but that seemed to be a question of semantics rather than a rift. Silver said the two sides have exchanged "proposals, ideas, concepts, numbers" and "we continue to" in an effort to reach a deal.

"We're trying to put together a pretty large puzzle, with a lot of pieces," Fisher said. "So until we can get the pieces to fit right, it's just not fair to try and put labels on things."

While the two sides remain coy publicly, Fisher said there "won't be any secrets" when it comes time to brief the executive committee members prior to Tuesday's meeting and then meet with players scheduled to be in Las Vegas for a pro league that begins Monday at trainer Joe Abunassar's Impact Basketball facility. More than 40 players have committed to compete in the two-week "lockout league," and while Fisher said there are no plans for a full membership meeting there, all players are invited to attend.

Part of Fisher's mission will be to present to the players some of the "tons of ideas" exchanged over the past two weeks of negotiations and ask what they can support and what they can't. A similar process will play out on the ownership side, culminating with the Board of Governors meeting in Dallas Thursday -- the same day as the players' meeting.

"We still have to make sure, at least from my perspective, that our group is aware of all the details before we can make any decisions," Fisher said.

The same nine people convened for the second straight day Thursday: Stern, Silver, Holt and deputy general counsel Dan Rube for the owners, and Fisher, executive director Billy Hunter, outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler, general counsel Ron Klempner and economist Kevin Murphy for the union. Both sides cautioned against perpetuating what Fisher called "any false sentiments or hopes" for how the next week will play out.

"Ideas are exchanged in the room that we may or may not agree with," Fisher said. "... If our general membership doesn't agree with those positions, then we can't sign off on those type of deals."

Stern said the Board of Governors will meet with "no conditions of any kind" tied to progress in the labor talks. He said he did not expect a procedural vote that day authorizing the canceling of training camps or preseason games, but reiterated that such decisions have to be made by the end of the month. Training camps are scheduled to open Oct. 3.

"I do think there'll be an effort, at least from our part, to have some type of feeling about where this is going by the time we go in and talk to our players on Thursday in Las Vegas," Fisher said. "... Whatever happens between now and then, that's what we'll both be reporting to our larger bodies and we'll see whether it's the type of news that leads us towards trying to get something done over the next few weeks."

The next seven days, therefore, represent crunch time -- the last two minutes of the only NBA game that matters in September and beyond. And in addressing executive committee member Roger Mason's oops-tweet Wednesday, when the Knicks guard perhaps accidentally tweeted publicly, "Looking like a season. how u," Fisher provided all the reminder anyone needed that it isn't time to rejoice yet.

"I think that may be an alleged tweet, since there's still an investigation into whether or not his Twitter account was hacked," Fisher said. "But I'll let you guys be the judge and jury on that part. Roger is a very valuable part of our committee. I think he's well aware that we're not closer to having a season today than we were at any other point. I can't speak for what happened with his phone and why. But I think he's clear on where we are now."

And we'll all be much clearer in seven days.


Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com
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