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Players huddle again, but no bargaining sessions scheduled

By Steve Aschburner,
Posted Aug 24 2011 9:09PM - Updated Aug 25 2011 8:59AM

CHICAGO -- No new talks between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have been scheduled in the league's eight-week-old lockout, but the players' union continues to hold regional meetings for its constituents, with a session Wednesday in New York and another set for Thursday in Chicago.

About 10 players attended an informational session in Manhattan, a source told Another 10-15 players are expected at the meeting in Chicago, with NBPA executive director Billy Hunter and union vice president Maurice Evans among the union leadership on site.

The last negotiating session between NBA owners and the players -- the lone meeting since the lockout was imposed on July 1 -- was held on Aug. 1. The two sides broke that day talking about additional sessions over the next two weeks, including an effort to meet in New York on consecutive days. But no talks have been held and none is known to have been formally scheduled. Evans told The Associated Press that the players hope to have a bargaining session with the league's negotiators next week, but that a specific day hadn't been locked down.

Stern said during a podcast with earlier this month that progress needed to be made by the end of Labor Day weekend or "we may be headed to a bad place.''

Players have balked at the owners' demands seeking significant changes to the salary structure. Evans said Wednesday they are unified in their stance.

"When we're able to explain exactly what David Stern is asking for, it becomes so clear and evident that we cannot take this deal, and guys would be willing to not participate, to not play, if that's the offer to us,'' Evans told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Chicago.

About 60 players attended a regional meeting Aug. 16 in Los Angeles and another sizable group met later in the week in Las Vegas. Similar sessions are planned for Houston and Boston. The union has tried to keep the regional meetings low-key, but some details have leaked out.

The sessions are intended to inform players on the state of the lockout, answer questions and build solidarity. At the meeting in L.A., held on the UCLA campus, players reportedly grew heated when details of the owners' position were relayed to them by Hunter and union president Derek Fisher.

Evans said another of the reasons for the regional meetings is to refute some of the things the commissioner said during the lengthy ESPN interview, which he called "very misleading.''

Players also were updated on the complaints that both the union and the league have filed with the National Labor Relations Board, each charging the other with failing to negotiate in good faith. The NBA also has filed a lawsuit against the NBPA, seeking to prevent the union from decertifying as a step toward pursuing an antitrust claim against the league.

The NBA is mired in its first lockout since 1998 as the owners seek what Stern has called a "reset" of their compensation system with the players. In the recently expired collective bargaining agreement, players received 57 percent of basketball-related income, or approximately $2.17 billion of the league's $3.8 billion take (after the deduction of certain agreed-upon expenses).

The NBA maintains that 22 of its 30 teams lost money in 2010-11and that the league lost some $300 million last season, and in excess of $1.5 billion over the six-year term of the old CBA.

In the interview earlier this month, Stern said the owners are seeking an 8 percent pay cut from the players and a 50/50 revenue split after additional expenses are deducted. The players have objected to what would amount to a pay freeze at $2 billion for 10 years, with participation in league growth only if revenues grow more than 4 percent in a given season. They also are resisting the NBA's pursuit of a hard salary cap and shorter individual contracts.

Stern blamed the players for an unwillingness to seriously bargain after a meeting on Aug. 1 and accused them of backing out of another meeting. Evans believes Stern has been more aggressive in his tone because the numbers don't support the position the league says it is in after a successful 2010-11 season on and off the court.

"He has to go to extremes to try to prove his case and normally he doesn't negotiate through the media,'' Evans said.

The league has backed off its demand for non-guaranteed contracts in a new CBA, but still wants its salary cuts. The league has proposed a flexible salary cap that the players contend is really a hard cap, which would replace the current system that allows teams to exceed the cap through the use of various exceptions. Evans called the elimination of the exceptions a "total slap in the face to Michael Jordan and all the great players that came before us.''

The NBPA also has urged the owners to address their financial plight through more aggressive revenue sharing, given the disparity in markets such as Los Angeles and New York from those in Sacramento, Charlotte or Milwaukee. Stern and NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver have countered that, if the league overall is losing money, there aren't enough profits to go around to make struggling clubs whole.

"We just want something that's fair,'' Evans said. "We don't feel like their proposals have been in good faith at all. That's why we filed the suit with the NLRB.''

Despite the differences, there's still time to make a deal without losing any of the season. During the 1998-99 work stoppage that reduced the season to 50 games, the league didn't cancel the start of training camps in early October until Sept. 24. Camps are scheduled to open Oct. 1 this season, with the regular season set to begin on Nov. 1.

But with no progress made since the lockout began, Evans seems to agree with Stern that something has to happen quickly.

"If a deal's to be made,'' he said, ``it's going to have to be very soon."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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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