Stern says lack of an agreement 'not a good thing'

Updated: April 19, 2005, 8:59 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- When commissioner David Stern meets with NBA owners later this week to discuss collective bargaining negotiations, the best he'll be able to provide them with is an update.

A new labor agreement remains elusive despite at least 12 meetings between league and union negotiators, and it became clear Tuesday that the regular season will end without a new deal in place.

"It certainly has been our goal to get it done as soon as possible. Without putting a date on it, every day we don't have it, in our view, is not a good thing," Stern said in his annual pre-playoff conference call with reporters.

Union negotiators traveled uptown to the league offices Tuesday morning and met for about two hours with NBA officials. No details of the meeting were disclosed.

The league's Board of Governors will meet at a Manhattan hotel later this week, and Stern will deliver a briefing on the state of negotiations.

Both sides have been publicly silent about the give-and-take being conducted behind closed doors, although people involved in the negotiations have indicated that significant differences remain to be bridged on issues including a possible increase in the minimum age, salary cap and luxury tax thresholds, maximum length of contracts and the size of year-to-year increases that will be permitted in future long-term player contracts.

An increase in the age limit has been one of the most publicly debated issues. Under current rules, a U.S. player's high school class must have graduated in order for him to become eligible for the draft, while international players must turn 18 before the draft in order to be eligible.

"If the age limit were to be raised, the people who were below ... would have an opportunity to play internationally, or in college, or in the minor leagues. We don't see that as a controversy," Stern said. "It means that an 18-year-old would be treated the same way as a 17-year-old.

"If they (the union) and we agree to it, then it can be implemented (for) the draft in 2006," Stern said.

Union director Billy Hunter and union president Michael Curry did not return calls seeking comment.

The current collective bargaining agreement expires June 30 at 11:59 p.m., and the sides hope to avoid a repeat of the seven-month lockout that transpired the last time they had to work out a new labor agreement seven years ago.

During the All-Star break in Denver in mid-February, union president Michael Curry said he believed a new agreement could be reached before the end of the regular season, and Stern and Hunter echoed that optimism -- which turned out to be misplaced -- at a joint news conference a day later.

Teams are completing their 82-game schedules Wednesday night and beginning the playoffs Saturday, and Stern and Hunter will not discuss when they might hold future negotiating sessions until after Stern meets with the owners Thursday and Friday.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press