Posted Aug 1 2011 12:22AM - Updated Aug 1 2011 8:27AM
NEW YORK -- The warring parties in the NBA lockout are scheduled to meet Monday in Manhattan for the first time in 32 days.
Training camps for the 2011-12 NBA regular season, if they were to start on time, would open on or around Sept. 28. Or, if we're counting, in about 59 days.
Until that first number (32) gets bigger than the second (59), most insiders don't expect the negotiations of a new collective bargaining agreement between the NBA owners and the players' union to get serious.
Which is one way of saying, any news that gets generated Monday from the first face-to-face talks since the lockout was imposed on July 1 could be the wrong kind: A hardening of positions. Bad blood. Purple rhetoric. Posturing. Without urgency, a staredown is more likely than a breakthrough.
Consider the events of the NBA's last lockout, which began in the summer of 1998 and seeped into the winter of 1999. That one dragged on for 191 days -- from no deal to deal -- and left all involved with a frantic two weeks to sign players, assemble rosters and schedule enough two-a-days to prep for a mere two preseason games. The season itself already had been truncated to 50 games, compressed into a February-to-May schedule.
Then, as now, the owners and the National Basketball Players Association went 0-for-July in bargaining sessions. In 1998, the two sides exited a meeting on June 22 and did not meet again until Aug. 6, a gap of 45 days. This time, they're talking after 31, which technically puts them two weeks ahead of a not-very-productive pace.
"It's been long but it's been weirdly quiet," said Derek Fisher, the Los Angeles Lakers guard and union president, in an interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com. "To push as hard as we did in the month of June to see if we could get a deal done prior to July 1, it's essentially been crickets since then."
The owners and players, after exchanging a few proposals over 18 months in advance of the June 30 expiration of the last CBA, met on May 31 and once or twice weekly through June in Miami, Dallas and New York. By the most recent session, they still sat on opposite sides of a vast chasm: The owners are seeking a hard salary cap, a significant reduction in the current 57/43 split of basketball-related income and shorter contracts.
The players, still skeptical over the league's report of $300 million in losses for last season, want to maintain the current soft salary cap. They offered to reduce their share of BRI to 54.3 percent for what they said would be $530 million in salary givebacks over a six-year deal. NBA commissioner David Stern called that proposal "modest" while outlining a 10-year proposal that would guarantee players at least $2 billion in compensation annually (the 2010-11 figure was $2.17 billion) but exclude them from fully sharing in anticipated growth.
A group of 10-15 principal figures are expected to attend Monday's session, a source close to the discussions said, including Stern, NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver, San Antonio's Peter Holt (head of the owners' labor-relations committee), NBPA executive director Billy Hunter, Fisher and various lawyers, economists and staff members. Some larger sessions in June included owners from the league's 30 teams and player-representatives from most of the clubs.
Several wrinkles have emerged since the last negotiating session. Numerous players have explored the possibility of playing overseas during a lockout or for the entire season. An audit of financial data for 2010-11 confirmed that players would receive their $160 million in escrowed salary under the old CBA, along with an additional $26 million because their share of BRI actually slipped below 57 percent.
Both sides continue to prepare for possible intervention from the National Labor Relations Board, with whom the union has filed a complaint. And the NBPA reportedly still is considering the ramifications of a possible decertification vote as a way to apply leverage from federal courts to the labor talks.
Still, as long as the parties are dealing with weeks and months rather than hours and days before some portion of the 2011-12 NBA schedule gets jeopardized, it's hard to envision much progress. In 1998, the lockout hit late September before 24 preseason games were cancelled and the opening of training camps was postponed indefinitely.
Asked about Monday's session, Fisher told ESPNLosAngeles.com: "It's more about getting the process started again. Kind of rolling the sleeves back up and starting to do the hard work that it's going to take to try and get something done between now and October 1 or when the start of training camp would be. I don't know if there's going to be any major movement on Monday."
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