- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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DENVER -- It was confirmed this week that the National Basketball Players Association and league owners are set to come together for what could become a pivotal collective bargaining agreement negotiation during NBA All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles.
With just less than a month remaining before that meeting, two Lakers representatives have brought up what promises to be one of the most contentious issues to be discussed: contraction.
In a story published in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Lakers executive vice president Jeanie Buss discussed the possibility of reducing the amount of teams in the league from 30 after the current CBA expires June 30.
"I would hate to see us lose teams, but I think contraction is something we have to consider," Buss said. "We may be in some markets we shouldn't be in."
The issue of contraction was brought up by NBA commissioner David Stern in October and later infamously supported by Miami's LeBron James before he backed off his initial claim.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson, Buss' longtime boyfriend, was asked about Buss' comments before Friday's game at Denver.
"I think that's what the commissioner said so I think she's probably parroting what the commissioner said," Jackson said.
When asked for his thoughts about contraction, Jackson said, "I will parrot what both of them said" before expanding on the thought.
"I think [the league has] some parameters that they want to meet in some of the markets," Jackson said. "I think they'll set up some goals that way and I think that will be a helpful thing for the league. Taking New Orleans for example, they had to meet a certain number of ticket holders for them to come in the league, so there are some parameters that are important."
The Hornets needed to achieve a season average of 14,735 fans per game at New Orleans Arena by Jan. 31 or the team could opt out of its lease with the state and pay a $10 million exit penalty and be free to change locations to a new host city.
Jackson was asked pointedly what he thought was the "right" number of teams in the NBA.
"You like to have six in the division and 24 is really a great number [of teams] at one time," Jackson said. "You could play five in your division and four in your conference and you could really set up division rivalries with such a thing like that. The expansion to 30 which we have sets up an odd number of games that we have [against certain conference opponents]."
The league has never operated with 24 teams for a season. The closest it came was in 1987-88 when it had 23 teams. The next season it was up to 25 with the addition of the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat as expansion franchises.
When asked if he was suggesting six teams should be contracted, Jackson said he was merely remembering a number of teams that worked well in his opinion.
Jackson pointed out that the current makeup of the league's 30 teams playing an 82-game schedule leads to having to schedule an uneven number of games against conference opponents.
"There's four teams we play three times and two of them we play just once on the road and two of them we play just once at home, so in your conference, that sets up kind of an irregularity," Jackson said. "So, what happens if you both tie at the end of the year?"
The Lakers play Houston, Denver, Oklahoma City and Dallas three times apiece in 2010-11 and the other 10 Western Conference teams four times.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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