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Steve Aschburner

Derek Fisher
Derek Fisher: "There'll be a lot of pressure on all of us in the room."
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Labor negotiations reach crucial crossroads Tuesday


Posted Oct 3 2011 6:31PM

NEW YORK -- From the beginning, Tuesday was going to be a key date on the NBA calendar, what with the opening of training camps, the first grind through two-a-days, the early glimpse of prized rookies and highly sought free agents with their new clubs, and on and on.

It remains a key date on the calendar, circled a few extra times in red, though for none of those reasons.

Instead, the league's ongoing labor dispute will hit a crossroads, an either/or point apparent in many of the words uttered by the principals after Monday's session. But it particularly was evident in a statement made by union president Derek Fisher at the end of the talking-about-the-talking.

Fisher, veteran guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, didn't take questions afterward, a departure from standard media procedures. Rather, he faced the cameras and microphones with Boston's Paul Pierce behind him and provided a snapshot of where the collective-bargaining talks stood.

At the end of his three-minute monologue, Fisher said: "A lot of signs point to tomorrow being a very huge day. There'll be a lot of pressure on all of us in the room. We'll accept that responsibility and go in and see what we can get worked out."

Officially, Fisher was speaking for the players but let's face it, his words frame the situation for the owners as well. Training camps have been postponed. Preseason games have been canceled.

The start of the regular season, even if it came on the heels of hurried-up preparations, is within days of being postponed. Once that happens, due to arena conflicts and the back end of a basketball calendar referenced Tuesday by NBA commissioner David Stern, a whole schedule of 82 games might be impossible.

So it is time. High time. At high noon Tuesday, in a larger-group setting that will feature the bargaining committees from both sides.

"We can only say we're running out of time so many times," deputy commissioner Adam Silver said. "Sometimes deadlines are constructed for both sides in making the final moves that are necessary to make a deal."

Said Stern: "It would be great to be able to make some real progress tomorrow. Whether that's possible or not, I don't know. But we had a good meeting today defining the issues and the position, and we'll see how that works."

In "setting the table" for this next pivotal session, the small-group gathering Monday broke out the fancy china and silver: talk of the specific split of basketball-related income that is at the core of any eventual compromise.

The players have moved down from the 57 percent they received in the most recent CBA to 53 percent, based on reports after the weekend sessions. The owners have been offering 46 percent. No one publicly confirmed any numbers Monday, but Stern and Silver acknowledged that "the answer lies between."

"We both understand if we don't make our best offers in the next few days," Silver said, "we're going to be at the point [where] we're going to be causing damage to the game, to ourselves, and they're going to be out paychecks."

For those trying to read between the lines, as well as body language and tea leaves, it appeared that Fisher was more glum -- rattled, even -- while only making a statement. What that meant obviously was open to interpretation: A hint of capitulation? The brink of harsher words and a more strident position after the next session?

One more reason to focus on Tuesday.

"I can't really say we made progress [Monday], but it wasn't time wasted," Fisher said. "We all wish we were starting training camp today. We know a lot of our fans in respective markets feel the same way.

"We're going to continue to work at this until we can either figure it out in a way that will spare us all a lot of collateral damage and games missed, or not."

Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, did not meet with reporters. San Antonio's Peter Holt, chairman of the owners' labor-relations committee, was not present; Minnesota's Glen Taylor subbed for Holt.

A number of players beyond those on the union's executive committee -- Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Amar'e Stoudemire and others -- have been invited to Tuesday's meeting, NBA.com's David Aldridge reported.

Also, a group of six influential agents sent a warning letter to all the players, urging them not to ratify any deal that includes concessions on BRI split or the salary-cap system beyond a specified point. Implicit in that move is a push, still, to de-certify the NBPA rather than accept a bad deal.

And Silver acknowledged that even when -- if? -- a compromise is reached on those two central issues, the work won't be done and the meetings won't end. "Literally there are 100 other issues that haven't been discussed," he said, "so there's a long negotiation ahead of us no matter what." Which adds to the sooner-rather-than-later feel of this moment.

Grab a red marker; this one needs a few more circles around 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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