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Kings, CBA hot topics at Board of Governors meeting

By Steve Aschburner,
Posted Apr 15 2011 5:35PM

NEW YORK -- For NBA fans in Sacramento and Anaheim, time is passing almost agonizingly slow: The league Friday extended until May 2 the deadline for Kings owners Gavin and Joe Maloof to file paperwork for the relocation of their franchise to Orange County, the second such extension granted in the emotional California hoops issue.

For fans of 29 other teams, though, and more generally those across the nation and around the globe, time is hurtling forward toward the June expiration of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement with the National Basketball Players Association. The Board of Governors authorized the owners' negotiating committee to make a new proposal to the union in the next couple of weeks. It will be the NBA's first counter-proposal, after the first two official versions (one from each side) were offered up in the first half of 2010.

Hurry up and wait. Wait and hurry up. Time is funny that way, as plodding or as break-neck as the situation requires or the deadline demands. Think about how different April 15 felt this year compared to most, thanks to the quirk in the IRS rulebook that pushed things back by three days this spring.

"It doesn't take that long [to get an agreement]," NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said to a small group of reporters after a media briefing on the Board's two-day session. "Certainly, there is plenty of time -- roughly 75 days before the conclusion of this deal -- to strike a [new] deal. The question is, will there be movement by the parties between now and then?"

The players, Silver said, continue to seek 57 percent of the league's basketball-related income as their guaranteed share of compensation. The NBA maintains that percentage is too high, given increased operating costs aside from labor, and has led to a failing system in which only eight of 30 teams will be profitable in 2010-11. Combined losses are projected to be about $300 million.

"Once we pay the players 57 cents on every dollar, we are left with 43 cents. The system assumes it costs us less than 43 cents to generate every dollar. And it doesn't."

The two sides have approximately 2 more months after having only a few small-group sessions in the two months that have passed since All-Star Weekend.

Giving more time to the Kings and their proposed move out of Sacramento situation was a decision, NBA commissioner David Stern said, driven by the relocation committee's desire to fully understand details of the arena lease and other issues in Anaheim. Also, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson made a Thursday presentation to the Board touting additional money that could be generated to keep the franchise in the community. But the biggest obstacle remains the Kings' arena.

"In light of the history in Sacramento, that's usually an eye-roller," Stern said. "But it was a good presentation. ... So it was just felt that ... we should delve a little bit more to understand what its ramifications are."

The commissioner did not share with the media the opinions or concerns of board members from California or elsewhere who might question a third NBA team, with the Lakers and the Clippers, in the region. "But my own sense is that [the relocation committee's] conclusion would likely be that it can support it," he said.

Stern said that the emergence of Ronald Burkle, a supermarket tycoon, as a potential buyer who would keep the Kings where they are -- or bring a replacement team to town -- was not a "high priority" for the league. The Maloofs have said the team is not for sale, despite the mayor's introduction of the Berkle option in some 11th-hour drama.

"I know Mr. Burkle," Stern said. "He's an owner in the NHL [Pittsburgh Penguins]. His name has been involved in discussions for other franchises, and we know his good reputation in our industry. [But] the sale of the team, or, indeed, the relocation of another team to Sacramento, those are not high agenda items."

While the waiting in Sacramento might be excruciating and some folks in Anaheim might even prefer to know rather than wait two more weeks, the pressure to hit one deadline of NBA business might be lessened by the inability to hit another.

That is, if the league and the union cannot reach a new labor agreement in time to avoid a lockout -- followed by the loss of summer league, the postponement of training camps and eventually the cancellation of some games -- there isn't exactly a rush to get the Anaheim Royals up and running as a newly located franchise.

Meanwhile, the sale of the Detroit Pistons by owner Karen Davidson to investment banker Tom Gores will be closed sooner than the scheduled June 30. In fact, it will be done by the end of May, Stern said, because "June is ... a lot of decisions have to be made."

In other words, the possibility of a lockout makes NBA business as usual anything but, well, usual at the moment.

"The labor uncertainty is beginning to have an impact on our business," Silver said. "As we are in discussions with sponsors and other partners about relationships about next year, we can't assure them that we're going to have games. As you might imagine, they begin to pull back some of their spending on the NBA. So from a financial standpoint, it's having a real impact already.

"Also uncertainty in any business creates anxiety. Not just among the players but among all of our employees. We have thousands of people who work with the teams. We recognize there's thousands of people who will be impacted at NBA arenas and other ancillary businesses in our cities. So it's bad for business."

How bad? Said Stern, noting that the NBA's fiscal year runs till Sept. 30: "If we don't have a new deal in place by the expiration of this one, that will have a negative impact on our numbers and the $300 million or thereabouts loss will be larger, in my estimation."

In a sense, then, they're all Kings fans, suffering for all the waiting.

Other topics from the Board of Governors and general league business included:

• The extra time needed to complete the Pistons sale was due to Gores' diligence and negotiating, Stern said, rather than any snags. "Beyond that, he's really gung-ho to make this thing into a winner and a community asset," the commissioner said. "And he's got huge Detroit connections and he's really very enthusiastic, So he's all in, and the owners appreciated that."

• Silver said the NFL labor lockout is of interest to the NBA, but doesn't have any immediate implications. "Some of the legal issues are similar, some are different," he said. "We also talk about it with our union on a regular basis. They're watching it closely as well. We both realize, one way or another, it will have an impact on us."

Stern noted one possible difference: "You will be unlikely to hear unauthorized statements from NBA owners or team personnel about collective bargaining, because that does tend to enflame rather than smooth."

• The New Orleans Hornets, currerntly being operated by the league, will complete the season on budget, Stern said. Talks continue with local authorities and businesses to bolster that team's position in the city. "We are pleased with the preliminary results," Stern said.

• The board also heard reports on officiating and the ongoing efforts to "tighten up" games by making them shorter, Stern said. One discussion focused on a reduction in the number of timeouts.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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