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Regional players' meetings continue in Chicago

By Steve Aschburner,
Posted Aug 26 2011 10:00AM

CHICAGO -- If it's August, Tim Grover's gym on this city's West Side must be crawling with NBA players.

And since it is, it was, with more than a dozen players descending Thursday on the 65,000-square foot Training Facility That Michael Jordan Built (through his 15-year association with trainer extraordinaire Grover and the star-studded clientele that he delivered).

One difference: Instead of showing up to lift and sweat their way through workouts in anticipation of the NBA season, these guys arrived ready to listen and ask questions about the league's looming non-season of 2011-12, which is about a month away from being jeopardized in part or in whole by the labor lockout, which hit day No. 56.

Jordan Dumars, Michigan guard and son of Detroit Pistons' president Joe Dumars, was there to play. But the pros in attendance Thursday were consumed with business over basketball, the uncertainty about the former continuing to mess with a lot of guys' schedules for the latter.

"Slow. It's slow," said Grover, of the flow of NBA talent into his ATTACK Athletics complex this offseason. "They just don't know when they'll be starting. Guys like D-Wade and Kobe [Bryant], they know better. They don't change [their routines]."

Said Maurice Evans of the Washington Wizards, a vice president of the National Basketball Players Association, as he watched some pickup ball in his shirt, vest and tie: "It's definitely an unfortunate situation. As we stand here in a gym watching guys work out, it makes no sense for guys to have to work out in private facilities, as opposed to working out in our teams' gyms."

These days, Billy Hunter and Evans are the ones getting the workouts. Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, and Evans had flown in Wednesday night for the fourth NBPA regional meeting in nine days. Similar sessions to brief players on the mostly stalled collective bargaining talks and to offers tips and answer questions about enduring a lengthy lockout were held in Los Angeles and Las Vegas last week, with a New York meeting Wednesday.

Others are planned in Houston, Miami, Orlando and Atlanta. About 15 players showed up in Chicago, including Luke Harangody, Carl Landry, Ben Gordon and others. Earlier in the day, Hunter, Evans and other members of the union's traveling party met with a group of NBA player-agents in a downtown hotel ballroom.

"Being a rookie last year and just learning about the league, this is obviously still new to me," said Harangody, a Cleveland Cavaliers forward from Notre Dame. "I've never been through a CBA before. All the uncertainty -- What's going to happen? Is there going to be a season? -- is definitely hard.

"There were some deep questions and a lot of brainstorming about, like, what to do in the meantime while this is going on. I came out feeling that it was a very positive meeting."

Landry, a free-agent-to-be who drove down from his hometown of Milwaukee, said he has pushed himself back into two-a-day workouts, even though the start-up date of training camp -- like the team he'll eventually be working for -- is a great unknown.

"Sometimes it can be tough but you've got to stick to your regular routine," Landry said. "This is going into my fifth year in the league and I'm working out every day, twice a day. I've got to look at it as, the season will start on time. I'm just trying to stay positive."

The 6-foot-9 forward who split 2010-11 between Sacramento and New Orleans said the union briefed them on the gap between the two sides' latest proposals, while offering encouragement and advice. "Making sure we had insurance and things like that," he said. "It could possibly be a tough road ahead, but I'm looking forward to having a season this year."

That is, what, the $4 billion question, isn't it? The current squabble is all about dividing up that lucrative pie. The most recent split, the owners contend, has resulted in $300 million in operating losses last season and 22 of the NBA's 30 franchises running in red ink. In a recent offer, as described by NBA commissioner David Stern, the owners promised to keep the players' pay at $2 billion -- about 8 percent less than last season. But the union balked at the plan, saying it would lock them out of most projected growth and cost the players an estimated $7.6 billion over the deal's 10-year term.

The players remain skeptical of the claimed financial losses -- or at least some of the line items included in them, like interest expense -- and suggest revenue-sharing as the best tool for fixing the owners' problem, both in terms of money and competitive balance. They have offered givebacks of more than $600 million in a six-year CBA that Stern deemed "modest."

Each side has formally charged the other with failing to bargain in good faith, filing complaints to that effect with the National Labor Relations Board. The owners filed a lawsuit attempting to pre-empt a possible decertification move by the NBPA, a legal tactic that could put the NBA in anti-trust crosshairs.

There has been only one negotiating session (Aug. 1) since the lockout was imposed on July 1, although there are reports of a small-group session next week in New York. That meeting, described by, might be attended only by the key players in these talks: Stern, NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver, union president Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers and Hunter.

"We're seriously committed to getting a deal," Evans said Thursday. "We're excited about trying to get a deal. We understand that this is a process and we respect their opinions. We just wish they respected ours and took them more seriously.

"Because we have put proposals on the table that have offered more than $600 million into their pockets to account for what supposedly are our share of expenses. ... We've even proposed to them to allow them to hit their number and then we participate in the new growth. We've said, 'Give us a realistic number that you can grow to and then once you reach that number, we will adjust the percentages to offset that.' And they say, 'Aw, that's not a good idea. That doesn't make any sense.'

"That just makes us think all they want is to lock out and try to squeeze our pockets and wallets and hope that we will [cave] at some point."

That might happen. A month from now, training camps and the preseason will be at risk. Come Oct. 1, the same will be true of the regular-season openers. A rolling horizon of about one month's lead time could continue right into early January, the drop-dead date in 1999 to salvage the shortened 50-game season.

"If I could snap my fingers, we would all sit down after Labor Day," Evans said. "We would have serious negotiations and we would get a deal done in a week or two. We would negotiate in good faith and they would say, 'Guys, here's what we really need to have happen.' And we would say, 'Y'know what, that's not really a problem for us. Let's find a way to get that done.' And we would do that."

The moment of happy-hypotheticals passed. Reality returned. Evans was about to exit the gym, leaving behind the sound of bouncing basketballs, and head into a meeting room with other NBA players wearing street clothes and grim expressions.

"We all love to play. We're so fortunate and thankful to be able to make a living playing basketball," said Evans, a journeyman guard who, at 32, has played for seven teams in eight seasons -- with a two-year detour overseas. "I'm a fan. I love sports. I went to a Broncos-Bills preseason games and people were so excited to have football back.

"This is such a great outlet for people. Even in a recession, that's where people's dollars are going, to things they enjoy."

A winter without the NBA? Evans didn't blink. "It would be very ugly," he said. "But the NFL is going to be around. So all it's going to do is bolster their ratings. Fans are going to be disappointed, but I'm sure they'd get over it."

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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