Sides will meet All-Star weekend

Updated: February 15, 2011, 9:53 PM ET
Associated Press

It remains the closest thing to an agreement so far in the NBA's labor dispute.

Players' association executive director Billy Hunter last summer called the All-Star break an unofficial deadline to gauge the likelihood of a work stoppage. Commissioner David Stern concurred, saying the league would "have a pretty good idea how good or not good things are by the end of February."

Well, here we are -- basically the same place as a year ago.

Nothing has happened since the players rejected the owners' initial proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement during the 2010 All-Star weekend, and now both sides are hoping a meeting this week will be the first of many that get talks back on track before the deal expires on June 30.

"Unfortunately, we haven't made any progress since we met in Dallas [last year]," deputy commissioner Adam Silver said.

Tolliver I think generally the public probably thinks it's us, that we're the ones wanting more. When it's really, if we could keep everything the same, we would sign that right now. We're not asking for a penny more or a day longer on a contract. In this instance it's all the owners. They want a lot.

-- Minnesota Timberwolves player representative Anthony Tolliver

"Having said that, we've shared an enormous amount of financial information with our union, we've maintained I believe very good relations with both the union executives and the members of their negotiating committee, and I further believe both sides recognize we need to ramp up the intensity of the negotiations coming out of Los Angeles and reinforce our mutual commitment to getting a deal done before the expiration of this collective bargaining agreement," he said.

While glad the NBA wants to talk more, Hunter will need to hear something radically different in those conversations to change his feelings about the potential of lockout. He said in November he was "99 percent" sure of one, and since there's been no negotiating since, there's been nothing to alter that.

"I'm confident that absent some major change in their position that there will be a lockout," Hunter said. "I haven't seen anything yet that indicates to me that they're willing to make the kind of change in position that the union deems necessary in order for us to get a deal. So we're preparing for a lockout. We have no choice but to prepare for a lockout. We've been through this in '98 and the cards seem to be stacking up the same way they stacked up then."

Both sides agree that little will come from the sit-down Friday in Los Angeles, which Silver doesn't even consider a true bargaining session. With LeBron James expected to be among the All-Star players who will join the players' bargaining committee, and Silver saying any owners in town will be invited to join, there will be plenty of discussion but simply too many voices in the room to have any substantial dialogue.

So it's likely to be nothing like last year's meeting, which became heated as the players shot down the league's proposal that called for a hard salary cap, reductions in contract lengths and values, non-guaranteed deals, and other significant financial changes that Hunter insists are a "nonstarter."

"They want everything. It would be ridiculous to do some of the stuff they want us to do," said Minnesota Timberwolves player representative Anthony Tolliver. "I think generally the public probably thinks it's us, that we're the ones wanting more. When it's really, if we could keep everything the same, we would sign that right now. We're not asking for a penny more or a day longer on a contract. In this instance it's all the owners. They want a lot."

And they haven't changed what they're asking for. The league has offered no new proposal, with Stern saying in October that it was still seeking a $750 to $800 million annual drop in player salary costs, more than one-third of the $2.1 billion it spends annually.

The players made a counterproposal in July which included an offer to negotiate the players' guarantee of 57 percent of basketball-related income, which Stern has called the central issue in the negotiations. Though Hunter believed it would at least be the catalyst for negotiations, the league had no interest in that proposal, and Hunter has been frustrated with the inactivity since while warning the players of what it could mean.

"You're always hopeful, I guess the fact is Adam is suggesting that there should be more frequent meetings, maybe they're hopeful that something might materialize in that kind of discourse," Hunter said, before cautioning that "I have to prepare the players for a lockout, because the owners continue to assert that they have to have the kind of concessions that they've called for, then a lockout is all but inevitable."

The situation may not be as dire as the NFL's, where the CBA expires next month and the league wants to add two games to the regular-season schedule along with the financial changes it seeks. Yet the threat of the NBA's second work stoppage seems every bit as real, with Hunter saying the players are "willing to negotiate, earnestly negotiate, but we're not going to engage in concessionary bargaining."

"Some of the owners feel like the system needs to be tweaked, so I think we're on a collision course right now," said Milwaukee guard Keyon Dooling, a member of the players' executive committee.

Owners are not permitted to speak publicly about the bargaining process.

The NBA is projecting losses of about $350 million this season. The union points to increased TV ratings and season ticket sales, arguing the situation can't be that bad and calling for expanded revenue sharing among owners as the best way to address their problems.

The league agrees with the need for better revenue sharing, but said a plan for that can't be finalized until a new CBA is in place, because otherwise the owners would simply be sharing losses. Stern has said recent franchise sales were done with buyers expecting a more owner-friendly system under a new deal.

Both sides still believe one can be reached without losing any games next season.

"I'm hopeful that there might be some light between now and June," Hunter said. "Whether it'll be sufficient to get a deal has yet to be seen, but I think there may be some movement."


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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