Stern hopes regular refs ready to work
NEW YORK -- David Stern is pleased with the performance of his replacement referees, though ready for his regular staff to come back to work.
The NBA's referees union will vote Friday night on a contract proposal from the league. If they accept, as expected, the officials will be back in time for the opening of the regular season Tuesday night.
The league has used replacements, mostly from the NBA Development League and WNBA, during the lockout. Stern said the 62 backups have "responded very well" and predicted that many would referee NBA games again.
"We of course knew we have to provide them with extra support, coaching and training, but they've responded very well," Stern said during his preseason conference call. "We're very pleased with the effort, and we know you'll be seeing many of the people who you've seen on our court as future NBA referees.
"All of that said, we're looking forward to our regular referees ratifying the agreement that we reached and being on the court Tuesday," he said.
The contract between the league and the National Basketball Referees Association expired Sept. 1. The league decided to go with replacement officials after the referees rejected a deal the league said its negotiators had already agreed to.
That raised the possibility of the league starting the season with replacement officials for the first time since 1995. But progress was made in a meeting this week at league headquarters that included Stern, who had previously pulled out of the negotiations after referees lead negotiator Lamell McMorris criticized the commissioner's behavior.
Stern rejoined the talks this week at the request of the referees.
"It was always our intention to make a deal and our hope. I thought that perhaps the rhetoric had gotten a little bit too heated and it would be better for me to withdraw," Stern said. "But it was requested by the other side that I return and that they were coming in to make a deal and they asked me to be there, and I thought I owed them out of my respect to them to honor that request."
The referees' contracts have usually been for five years, but the NBA consented to a two-year deal at the request of the union, which hoped it could renegotiate sooner with the economy in better shape. The sides agreed on a salary structure that would give the refs a slight raise in the second year, but they remained apart on proposed changes to the referees' pension and severance packages, as well as a plan to develop younger officials.
The replacement officials were criticized for calling too many fouls, though the amount decreased later in the exhibition season, which ended Friday night.
"As the preseason went on, they were better," Houston coach Rick Adelman said. "I don't think they were arrogant, or anything like that. They gave the explanations and they were doing the best they could.
"The first couple [games] were just foul after foul and call after call and there was no rhythm to the games," Adelman added. "After that, I thought it settled down fairly well. They just called things differently than the normal officials. They're pretty much going by the book."
Some of the replacements likely will get another chance. The current staff includes 17 referees who started as replacements during previous work stoppages.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press