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Steve Aschburner

NBA talks go short but set to resume Wednesday


Posted Sep 27 2011 6:49PM

• Update: NBPA, owners wrap up talks, agree to reconvene Friday

NEW YORK -- Starting later and ending earlier than usual, both sides in the NBA labor dispute stressed a quality-over-quantity result to their bargaining session Tuesday, which ended after slightly more than two hours.

"It didn't seem like it [was brief] in the room," union president Derek Fisher said. "But we don't waste time in there. Sometimes you get to a point where you have to break."

Said NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver: "Two full hours, I wouldn't describe that as 'brief.' "

In the sense that representatives of both the NBA owners and the players will need to spend oodles of hours together behind closed doors even when they're on the path to compromise, dotting I's and crossing T's, shaving just two off the eventual total seems as puny as a deck chair tossed off the Queen Mary.

But three factors kept the duration of the session -- from about 1:30 p.m. to just past 3:30 p.m. ET, compared to some previous five- and six-hour meetings -- from being discouraging. First, good things sometimes do come in small sessions. "We work hard at it every time we go up," said Fisher, veteran guard for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Second, each side huddled up afterwards to discuss what had just been discussed, suggesting some meat on Fisher's "ideas" or NBA commissioner David Stern's preferred "concepts" that were bandied about in an Upper East Side hotel suite. Said Fisher: "We're not holding anybody accountable to ideas being thrown out in the room. It's really just a process that we're trying to go through to see if we can get a deal done."

Third, the sides will meet again Wednesday morning for the first back-to-back sessions in three weeks. The Rosh Hashanah holiday probably rules out Thursday, but it's conceivable that -- if productive -- talks could continue Friday and even Saturday.

"They and we have both agreed that as long as there's reason to keep discussing," Stern said, "we will keep discussing -- undeterred by the calendar or weekends or things like that. We will know more after [Wednesday's] session."

Wait, maybe there was a fourth factor: The meeting was short but not because either side got upset or insulted and stormed out. "Oh no, not at all," Stern said.

Like Tuesday, the next bargaining session -- on day No. 90 of the lockout -- will feature a small group of reps from each side. Stern, Silver and labor-relations chairman Peter Holt of the San Antonio Spurs have handled the owners' side while Fisher, NBPA executive director Billy Hunter and attorneys Jeffrey Kessler and Ron Klempner were on hand for the union. Kevin Murphy, an economist from the University of Chicago, is due to again join the players' side Wednesday.

Content of the meeting remains elusive, with both sides declining to publicly discuss either the details of any proposals or even the timing or existence of new offers. The issues, though, remain pretty much what they have been since cursory negotiations began two years ago: The owners are seeking a reduction in player compensation to ensure profitability in a league that lost a claimed $300 million in 2010-11 and measures -- notably a hard salary-cap system -- that they contend will increase competitive balance.

The players are trying to hang onto as much of the existing pay and salary structure as they can. They believe a more aggressive revenue-sharing model can address both issues for the owners, but the league -- while actively working on a system to triple the money transfers among the frnachises -- has kept those developments separate from the collective bargaining talks.

At stake is nearly $4 billion in annual revenue, of which the players last season received $2.17 billion (approximately 57 percent of the pot after some mutually agreed-upon deductions). The owners have been trying to get that split to 50/50 or, according to some reports, several percentage points below that.

Last week, after a single bargaining session that produced no breakthroughs, the NBA postponed the start of training camps and cancelled the first week of preseason games, wiping 43 tune-up contests off the October schedule. Thus, this lockout joined the one in 1998-99 in costing the NBA games and revenue.

Asked if more cancellations will be forthcoming if no progress is realized this week, Stern opted for a dodge made famous a decade ago by Portland forward Rasheed Wallace when, after a playoff game, he was mandated to meet with reporters but had no interest in the exchange.

"Both teams played hard," Stern said with a smile.

Then the commissioner repeated what he said a week ago, on the eve of : "And the calendar is not our friend."

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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