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Somber mood prevails after second day of labor talks

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Jun 9 2011 5:56AM

DALLAS -- The 2011 NBA Finals will shift cities again this weekend, with the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks determined to resolve this basketball conflict of theirs in a matter of days.

The NBA owners, the players' union and that business conflict of theirs? Not so fast.

The ongoing labor talks will change venues, same as The Finals, with the owners and the players joining the clubs in Miami on Tuesday for their next negotiating session -- if there is a Game 7 -- or moving to New York that day. Another meeting will be held in New York on June 17.

But the Heat and the Mavericks figure to be long done as the wrangling for a new collective bargaining agreement further revs up, based on a more somber mood than existed even 24 hours earlier as principals emerged from a four-hour session Wednesday at a Dallas hotel. It was the second consecutive day of discussions, the third since The Finals began last week in south Florida.

"At this point in the negotiations, we still feel like we're very far apart," said Los Angeles Lakers guard Derek Fisher, the president of the National Basketball Players Association. "So far we haven't seen the type of progress we'd need."

"It's very clear that if we don't agree to what we've been offered so far, we're probably facing a lockout. That's the responsibility we have, to prepare our guys for that possibility. But that doesn't discourage us from the effort that we're going to put in to still try to find a fair deal."

NBA commissioner David Stern, exiting the building before the NBPA met with the media, also described the parties as "far apart." Asked for more detail, Stern said: "We're not where we started. Both sides have moved. But we're not any place close to a deal."

The current CBA expires on June 30. The expectation is that, barring a breakthrough agreement before that date, the owners will impose a lockout that will put all NBA business on hold. That means free agency, contract signings, trades, summer league play and any player-team workouts or contact, right up to and through -- in the absence of a deal -- training camp, the preseason and the 2011-12 regular season.

Stern said that, while the most significant impact of a lockout would come months from now, the urgency to resolve this matter in three weeks is real. "[June 30] is a time when, if we don't have a deal, things will begin to deteriorate at a faster pace," he said. "We very much feel the weight of the deadline. We have enough time to make a deal if the parties want to make a deal."

Neither side went public with details of any proposals, although the union told reporters Wednesday that the league currently is seeking a 10-year agreement (deals of five or six years are more common). Also, a source told NBA.com, the owners' proposal is seeking an eight percent reduction in players' salaries from their 2010-11 levels in Year 1 of a new agreement, a 13 percent reduction in Year 2 and a 40 percent cut in Year 3, which would be maintained for the remaining years.

Management declined to discuss specifics with the media.

The owners' case continues to be based on vast financial losses by an estimated 22 of the league's 30 teams, for a combined total of nearly $300 million. They have made it clear that reductions in player payroll of $700 million to $800 million is necessary to end the financial hemorrhaging, and they want system changes that essentially would guarantee that all franchises would be profitable from their basketball operations.

The methods for achieving that are the problem now. Fisher said the players still are opposed to the "three major components" that the owners are demanding: A hard salary cap, a reduction in guaranteed salary and shorter contracts. "Things have been fought for, collectively bargained over the last 30 years," the union president said. "We don't see the need to roll that back or dramatically change that."

Fisher said the union is "adamantly opposed" to a hard cap -- the current deal is based on a "soft" cap, which can be exceeded through various exceptions and results in teams with dramatically disparate payrolls -- and does not believe that the "competitive balance" of the game has suffered without one. The players' stance also is that contract length and guaranteed money should be open to individual negotiations.

Asked how any compromise is possible between rhetoric such as "adamantly opposed" and "owners' demands," Fisher said: "We feel that what they're asking for ... can be addressed without dramatically changing those three components. We continue to offer ideas and solutions we feel can address those areas, without having them mandated and saying 'that's the only way it can be.' "

Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBPA, also supported the current system of soft cap, backed by the luxury-tax provision, to dampen spending by ownership. Hunter said the plight of smaller market teams seems to be a major priority for the league, and he sounded doubtful that a resolution could be achieved swiftly or easily.

And he apparently wasn't alone.

"One of the owners indicated at the conclusion of today's meeting," Hunter said, "that he was very pessimistic whether we'd be able to reach an accord between now and the end of the month, and I'm forced to share that sentiment. It's going to be a difficult struggle."

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

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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