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Steve Aschburner

NBA's calendar braces for first major impact as talks resume

Posted Oct 3 2011 10:59AM

NEW YORK -- A year ago on NBA media day, Derrick Rose wondered why he shouldn't be the league's Most Valuable Player.

This year, the Chicago Bulls' point guard wonders when media day will be.

Those annual gatherings for photo shoots, interviews and the rosiest outlook for each of the 30 teams that fans get all season were supposed to be held Monday. Instead, the gyms and strobe lights will stay dark and, rather than rosy, everyone involved may grow increasingly red-faced over the vandalism they're about to do to their favorite league.

Rather than its annual coming-out party, the NBA was booked for a small, definitely not festive gathering of eight or nine guys in suits in a hotel conference room in midtown Manhattan. Again. Principals for the two sides in the league's labor dispute were to meet Monday: NBA commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and San Antonio owner Peter Holt of the labor-relations committee for the owners and union president Derek Fisher, executive director Billy Hunter and a couple attorneys and economists representing the players.

On Tuesday, the negotiations will open back up to a larger group of owners and players. After that, well, nothing is scheduled for Wednesday, although that could change. By Friday -- based on the timeline established in 1998, the only previous time the NBA has canceled games -- the start of the regular season figures to be in jeopardy, if not already sacrificed.

Here's how the start of the 1998-99 season fell:

Oct. 5: The remaining two weeks of the preseason get whacked (the first two weeks already had been canceled).

Oct. 8: The owners and players break from yet another unproductive negotiating session.

Oct. 13: The first two weeks of the regular season are lost. That season, opening night was supposed to be Nov. 3. This season, opening night is booked for Nov. 1.

So where do the negotiations sit now, in the early stages of the lockout's fourth month?

"Not near anything," said Stern.

"Miles apart," according to Hunter.

Those assessments came Saturday, after a bargaining session that lasted more than seven hours despite never addressing the No. 1 issue: the split of basketball-related income. So stymied are both sides in trying to close their current gap -- the owners are offering 46 percent, the players want 53 percent (down from 57 in the last collective-bargaining agreement) -- that they agreed to put that to the side after a feistier, four-hour meeting Friday.

In that one, attended by enough stars and role players to put on a pretty good Finals, Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade objected to Stern's tone and apparent finger-pointing, and called him on it. There were reports that some players were on the verge of walking out of the session, irritated by the owners' unwillingness to move on the financial split.

All of it played out, and continues Monday, at a location luxurious enough to remind the average fan, navigating life daily through an ailing U.S. economy, that neither side truly is hurting.

In strict dollar terms, each percentage point of the BRI represents about $38 million, based on the players' 57 percent share ($2.17 billion) in 2010-11. By offering a drop to 53 percent, they essentially are offering more than $150 million in salary givebacks -- which would cover about half of the $300 million the owners have said they lost last season.

At 46 percent, the players would be giving up about $416 million -- a pay cut of nearly 20 percent that would slice about $1 million off the NBA's average player salary ($5.15 million in 2010-11). A 10 percent pay cut -- something with which plenty of Americans are familiar since the 2008 recession, right up to current conditions -- would drop the players' share to about 51 percent.

The "system" issues that the sides talked about exclusively on Saturday are considerable, too. The players say they are united against a hard salary cap and want nothing to do, either, with the tougher luxury-tax system proposed by the owners (escalating penalties for blowing past the cap, starting at the most recent dollar-for-dollar tax but rising to three and four times the overspent amount).

The players say that would have the same effect as a hard cap, discouraging teams such as the Mavs and Lakers from their habitual big-spending. The owners say the players' position is like someone on a diet dictating that both pizza and milkshakes remain on the menu.

The owners argue that since the league overall operates with a hard cap -- the players' split of BRI is a zero-sum game -- there should be no serious objections to a team cap that also is hard. The players flip that and ask why, with a hard aggregate cap, a hard team cap is such a priority.

They cite undesirable side effects, for their side, of such a system, notably fewer and shorter guaranteed contracts and an anticipated wider pay gap between stars and role players. The owners cite the very real $1.5 billion in losses over the six years of the last CBA as a compelling reason to try another way.

Reports of other topics have leaked out, including the possible demise of sign-and-trade deals and a July 1 cutoff for a player's "Bird" free-agent rights to go with him if he's traded in the final year of his contract. Both seemed to be aimed at limiting the prospects for more Miami "Super Team" approaches and the distraction of players essentially forcing trades by not signing extensions with their current team.

Stern said Saturday that there would be no cancellation announcements Monday, either of regular-season games or what's left of the original preseason (which seems like a goner regardless, given the turnaround time needed on a completed labor agreement).

Whenever that deal reaches the handshake stage, each of the league's players will have one vote out of approximately 450. That's a lot less sway over what actually will happen compared to, say, the control Rose had in making his MVP vision come true. All such visions have been postponed indefinitely in the NBA.

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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