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Steve Aschburner

Labor talks to continue Thursday, maybe Friday

By Steve Aschburner,
Posted Sep 8 2011 8:13AM

NEW YORK -- Momentum is not the same thing as progress, so it wouldn't be right to assume too much from the willingness of both sides in the NBA labor dispute to meet on two, maybe three consecutive days this week.

Then again, more frequent negotiations would seem to be a better thing in hammering out a new collective bargaining agreement than the infrequent sessions -- two, total -- the owners and players held in July and August.

So after a 5 hour meeting Wednesday, with confirmation that they will meet again Thursday and possibly Friday, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association wrapped up the lockout's 10th week with more activity than acrimony.

That in itself seemed like progress.

"There's a window here," said union president Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers. "We have an opportunity here to make some progress, to try and hammer some things out. We have an obligation ... I don't think that has changed from July to now. But time is running down -- not necessarily out, but I think we all feel in that room that if we continue to work at it, we can possibly find a way to get a deal done."

Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBPA, and NBA commissioner David Stern both after Wednesday's session that enough time remains to keep the 2011-12 season intact. "There clearly is," Hunter said. "There's more than enough time."

Said Stern: "Yes. Yes. ... We have three weeks." Training camps open Oct. 3, with regular-season openers set for Nov. 1. The time required from handshake deal to full-blown CBA generally is considered to be at least two weeks.

Both sides have said repeatedly that they want to avoid losing games to this dispute. The 1998-99 season was shortened from 82 games to 50 when a new labor deal wasn't negotiated until early January.

A group of nine key players -- five from the players' side, four from the owners -- met in a session similar in size to last week's six-hour gathering. Fisher, Hunter, attorneys Jeffrey Kessler and Ron Klempner and economist Kevin Murphy represented the union. Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt and NBA deputy general counsel Dan Rube attended for the owners.

Also like last week, all parties declined to discuss specifics and no one tried to win points through the media. Stern, in particular, was mindful of this agreement-within-an-agreement.

"I've agreed to neither portray optimism nor pessimism," the commissioner said. "Just to tell you, I can't say anything. And that's what I'm doing."

Hunter, asked what NBA fans should take away from the multiple meetings and discretion being shown, said: "I think they should just keep waiting. I don't think they can conclude anything, other than the fact that we're talking and we're trying to reach an accord. That's the best I can give you."

Fisher said the union has been diligent about keeping its executive committee and player representatives informed during this time of limited details in the media. "Once the deal is done, of course the specifics will come out," he said. "From this point forward, it's really important to focus on just the deal and not the semantics and the rhetoric."

Meanwhile, there is no indication that the two sides have closed any gaps in their respective stances. It also seemed clear neither side came to Wednesday's session with any new formal proposals.

The owners still are seeking a "reset" of player compensation to address what they consider -- based on 22 of their 30 franchises losing a combined $300 million last season -- to be a broken system. The most recent shared details from their side call for the players' share of basketball-related income to be scaled back from $2.17 billion to $2 billion in the first season of a new CBA, with limited participation in BRI growth while the owners move toward a 50/50 split (the most recent deal was 57/43 favoring the players).

The owners also want a hard salary cap to prevent some large-market teams from spending two or three times what clubs in smaller markets dedicate to payroll, contending this will improve competitive balance.

The players are believed to have offered alternative ideas -- such as awarding extra draft picks to struggling teams -- while urging more aggressive revenue-sharing among the owners as ways to ensure competitive balance. They have offered salary givebacks of more than $600 million over six years and a 54.3/45.7 split of BRI (favoring the players).

"There are a lot of ideas flying around the room," Fisher said, without divulging any of them. "From our standpoint, we're in the same place we were: We're focused on getting a fair deal done."

Stern, undoubtedly saying more behind closed doors than he said to reporters Wednesday, added: "We know we have a real problem to solve and there's nothing personal about these negotiations. It's going to be about problem-solving. If we can, we can. If we can't, we can't."

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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