Hunter: No lockout imminent
DALLAS -- The executive director of the NBA players' association said Friday the league tore up its proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement after a "contentious" 90-minute session.
But Billy Hunter said that doesn't mean the league is closer to a lockout when the current deal expires on July 1, 2011.
"No, I think that everybody has a different sense of things and nobody wants to see this thing that David Stern has worked and built, the NBA, the successful entity that it is, the brand, we're not out to damage it or destroy it," Hunter said after a press conference.
"So we're going to make every effort to get an agreement done, we just want an agreement that's a lot more equitable and one that doesn't have a structure that's oppressive."
Hunter said the union will submit its own proposal, but offered no timetable for when that would happen. He's in no rush, since the players believe the current system is working for both sides, and it doesn't expire for another 16 months.
The sides met Friday, with negotiators for the players fortified by the presence of All-Stars such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett, who came to the meeting instead of attending the community service events they were scheduled for. A number of top players vowed earlier in the day to get more involved in the process.
"We should be involved," Anthony said before the meeting. "It's not only going to affect the players with the lesser contracts, it's going to affect us, too.
I think what we made clear today is that where they are is not relevant to where we are. We're not going to begin where they say begin. I think that was the purpose of going in today, to make sure they understood that their proposal was not the beginning of the conversation.” -- Players' union president Derek Fisher
"When you walk into one of those meetings, one of those CBA meetings, and you see myself, you see the LeBrons and the Kobes and the Kevin Garnetts, it's a stronger presence. So I think we should go in and make our presence felt."
Hunter said the union received the proposal on Jan. 29. It calls for dramatic financial changes, with Hunter saying the league seeks a "hard" salary cap which would eliminate the Bird and midlevel exceptions that teams over the cap can use to sign players if they are willing to pay a luxury tax.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Derek Fisher, the union president, said the players made clear there was "not any way that we were going to be able to use [the proposal] as a starting point for future collective bargaining negotiations."
"I think what we made clear today is that where they are is not relevant to where we are. We're not going to begin where they say begin," Fisher said. "I think that was the purpose of going in today, to make sure they understood that their proposal was not the beginning of the conversation."
Deputy commissioner Adam Silver, who heads the league's negotiating team, said in a statement that, "While we do not agree with the players association's characterization of today's meeting or the status of the NBA's bargaining proposal, David will address the subject of collective bargaining during his media availability prior to All-Star Saturday night."
A person who had seen the proposal told The Associated Press on Thursday that it called for first-round picks to have their salaries cut by about one-third, would reduce the minimum salary by as much as 20 percent, and would guarantee contracts for only half their value. Also, the total value of a maximum salary would drop sharply, as would the total years players could sign for.
The proposal rallied the players, especially after Hunter forwarded them comments from an executive who recently told CBSSports.com that, "if they don't like the new max contracts, LeBron can play football, where he will make less than the new max. Wade can be a fashion model or whatever. They won't make squat and no one will remember who they are in a few years."
"I think that maybe they underestimated the response, the blowback that they were going to get to the proposal," said Hunter, who added it would affect "every player at every level in the NBA" and included "everything that [management] could ever think of."
The players' share of basketball-related income would also be slashed from the current 57 percent to well below half. Hunter countered that instead of players giving up so much, the NBA needed to expand its revenue sharing so larger market teams could help the smaller market ones.
"Our position was it was a nonstarter," Hunter said of the proposal.
Hunter said the league wants a new CBA before this July, so it can be in place before the expected stellar free agent class headlined by James. He added the league seeks "retroactive modification," meaning contracts signed under the current deal would then have to conform to the rules of the new one.
The differences in their positions have created fears of the first work stoppage since a lockout that reduced the 1999 season to 50 games. They opened talks and exchanged financial information last summer to get an early start on bargaining, and Hunter said he was surprised by the strength of the league's proposal after those sessions went well.
New Orleans guard Chris Paul is currently the only All-Star on the bargaining committee, but whenever talks resume, it sounds as if the top players plan to stay involved.
"I think we've learned a lot from the past bargaining agreement," San Antonio's Tim Duncan said. "That was a big turning point in the last one, when a lot of the big guys stepped up and made their voices heard. That helped the situation. I think everyone will be involved a lot more this time. People will understand what it takes. Everyone understands changes are going to be made. We need to step up and make our voices heard so it's not an extreme change."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press