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Players union strikes out at league's initial labor proposal

By Art Garcia,
Posted Feb 12 2010 11:22PM

DALLAS -- NBA players union executive director Billy Hunter, speaking to a group of reporters at All-Star weekend, said that a collective bargaining session with the league and its owners Friday dissolved into a "contentious" session that included tearing up the league's initial contract proposal.

The league, Hunter said, perhaps "underestimated" the players' response and the "blowback" the league's offer has caused within the National Basketball Players Association. In a show of support for their union, many of the biggest names in Dallas for All-Star weekend -- including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony -- attended the meeting to join Hunter, NBPA president Derek Fisher of the Lakers and the rest of the executive committee.

NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver, the head of the league's negotiating team, said commissioner David Stern would address the issue prior to Saturday night's All-Star events at American Airlines Center. Silver added in a statement released Friday that the league does "not agree with the Players Association's characterization of today's meeting or the status of the NBA's bargaining proposal."

The league maintains that major changes are needed in the current contract to fix what is seen as a broken economic model.

"More than half of our teams are probably losing money and the reality is that their revenue generation isn't the issue, it's their expenses," Stern told on Thursday. "We need to come up with a sustainable business model."

The current CBA, ratified in 2005, expires after the 2010-11 season and both sides have agreed to get a jump on negotiations in an attempt to maintain labor peace and avoid a lockout. The league has locked out the players once, causing a reduction of the 1998-99 season to 50 games.

Hunter's version of Friday's 90-minute session addressed many of the points that have surfaced after the league's proposal was delivered Jan. 29. Among the major points of contention is the reported rollback of the players' revenue share, the institution of a "hard" salary cap, elimination of guaranteed contracts, revision of current player contracts that spill into the new agreement and an elimination of cap exceptions, such as "Bird" rights.

Hunter said the union would present an inital contract proposal of its own, though he did not offer a timetable.

"Some time in the near future we will put together our idea of what a proposal might or should look like," Hunter said, "and we'll submit that to the NBA and then we'll get back together with commissioner Stern and the owners."

Hunter maintained the league wants to strike a new deal before dealing with the summer's celebrated free-agent class. The union, Hunter said, will not operate under the same time frame.

"The monkey is not on our back," Hunter said. "We've got 16 months to get there, so hopefully between now and June of next year, we're going to reach an agreement."

The show of force by many of the All-Stars in Dallas was meant to emphasize the seriousness the players' stance. Others such as Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Amar'e Stoudemire, Chauncey Billups and Al Horford also attended, missing some NBA charity events in doing so. The union declared that the players would make up their commitments.

"We were very clear about our understanding of what the proposal that the NBA submitted to us a couple weeks ago, what it held, what it contained, and that there was not any way that we were going to be able to use it as a starting point for future collective bargaining negotiations," Fisher said. "So as Billy stated before the meeting closed, we all agreed in the room that the NBA's proposal could not be a starting point."

Given the current economic climate and the financial picture painted by Stern, a lockout of the players that would stem from unsuccessful negotiations is a possibility, though Fisher said shutting the league down isn't in anyone's best interests.

"We don't want a lockout," he said. "We don't want our fans to not experience our game. We want to play basketball. That's what we love to do and that's what a lot of us have been blessed to do. There's no desire on our part to not play basketball in 2011-2012.

"At the same time, we understand that collective bargaining is a part of our sport and our business."

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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