Resolution in talks may come down to Tuesday's meeting
By David Aldridge, TNT analyst
Posted Jun 17 2011 10:09PM
NEW YORK -- Hopes for a resolution to an oncoming lockout that would delay, if not cancel, the 2011-12 may come down to one last meeting in New York next Tuesday between NBA owners and the National Basketball Players Assocation.
The virtual line in the sand was drawn Friday afternoon by NBA Commissioner David Stern, after a five-hour meeting between the owners and players at a downtown Manhattan hotel where Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, not a member of the union's executive committee, made an appearance, along with Bucks swingman John Salmons and Timberwolves guard Sebastian Telfair. Hornets guard Chris Paul, a member of the executive committee, also was in attendance after missing the last couple of negotiating sessions during the Finals in Miami and Dallas.
And the meeting produced some movement on a key sticking point between the parties.
After a presentation by the union that detailed its staunch opposition to significant reductions in guaranteed contracts -- one of the owners' main contentions in previous negotiating sessions -- the league removed that plank from its current proposal to the players, in essence agreeing to return to the existing rules that allow teams to guarantee, either fully or partially, all contracts with their players.
But the league expects a signficant concession from the union next week to equal the one it believes it gave Friday.
Asked if that was the case, Stern said, "I would like one. I don't want to set expectations too high."
Stern did not specify what concession he wanted, but the notion of a hard cap that would limit total player salaries, along with an increased split for owners of Basketball Related Income (BRI) from the current 57-43 split in favor of the players are two points of emphasis for owners.
"I really think that the time to have an optimistic or pessimistic view is at the close of the day on Tuesday," Stern said. "Tuesday's a very important day in these negotiations. It's important because of the substance of our conversations today, and because time is running out. And because both parties still remain, at least to me, intent on doing the best they can to make a deal before June 30."
NBPA President Derek Fisher acknowledged that the owners had changed their position on guaranteed deals. However, a hard cap would dramatically reduce the total amount that players take home, making guaranteed deals less impactful.
"That's part of what we discussed today," Fisher said. "It was very open. A lot of owners were very opinionated, had things to state.
"We had several players that had opinions and made great comments ... guys that aren't on our committee took the time to come in and see what was going on. It was good to get in there today. There's a very clear sense of urgency. But we're not sure between now and July 1 if we can make up the gulf that exists between the two sides."
Owners still want a hard cap and a reduction in the length of player contracts. Players still want owners to do more of the heavy lifting by agreeing to enhanced revenue sharing amongst themselves to make up some of the financial shortfalls. The league claims that 22 of its 30 teams lost money last season and is asking for more than $700 million in salary givebacks from the players.
"No one's really making significant headway," said Wizards forward Mo Evans, a vice president of the union. "There are still major [proposed] changes to the system as we know it. According to them, there is no system, so we're starting from scratch. And that's hard to do in two weeks."
Deputy commissioner Adam Silver also officially announced what had long been suspected -- the NBA will cancel its popular Summer League in Las Vegas, which had participation from more than 20 teams the past few seasons and was the coming-out party for rookie stars like Blake Griffin and John Wall.
"We made it clear to the union that it was purely a function of the calendar, and drop dead dates with hotels and the arena," Silver said.
"No intent to send signals of any kind to the players. But it was an unfortunate consequence of the fact that at this late date, we still don't have a deal beginning July 1."
But at least they're still talking.
Anthony said he came to provide support as one of the league's star players -- "it was a must that I came to this meeting," he said -- and wanted to show the owners that he wanted to fight not just for current players, but to future players not yet in the NBA.
"It's a lot of dialogue going back and forth," Anthony said. "Are we on the same page right now? No. But there's a lot of good dialogue going back and forth. They talked about [guaranteed contracts]. That was a big discussion up there, a big topic up there. But we'll see what happens with that."
Stern said he would be willing to meet every day after Monday next week if there was a notion that real progress was being made. (The union has an already-scheduled meeting of its player representatives set for next week in New York.) And both sides also agreed that apparant progress in the NFL talks between owners and players doesn't impact the NBA's discussions.
"We're not as strong a business," Silver said.
"There is an important difference based upon the calendar between us and the NFL," Stern said. "If we were out as it appears that the NFL will be out, even on a best-case scenario, given the length of our season, that would take us to a place that would assure, a lot, I think, more damage. Because we have such a longer season. And I think that motivates us on both sides to see what we could do."
Almost all the members of the owners' labor relations committee -- Phoenix's Robert Sarver, San Antonio's Peter Holt, the committee chair, the Lakers' Jeanie Buss, Orlando CEO Bob Vander Weide, Oklahoma City's Clay Bennett, Portland president Larry Miller, Boston's Wyc Grousbeck, Dallas' Mark Cuban and Minnesota's Glen Taylor -- were in attendance. Cleveland's Dan Gilbert did not attend.
The union expects more of its members to attend next Tuesday's meeting.
Tuesday. That is the day that will tell the tale. A collective bargaining agreement is like a jigsaw puzzle, with a million different pieces. The NBA's owners and players have put together about eight.
They have 13 days to complete the rest.
"We haven't agreed fully on anything," Fisher said. "But ... one piece [the hard cap] controls several hundred thousand pieces. So essentially, we could put together a million-piece puzzle together in a short time if we can get two or three pieces in the right place. And that's what we're focused on doing."