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Steve Aschbruner

Much of the same as little progress made on specific issues

Posted Nov 10 2011 2:37AM - Updated Nov 10 2011 11:32AM's Labor Central

NEW YORK -- Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, for some people, is the definition of insanity.

For the owners and players of the NBA, along with the media folks covering them and so many fans and workers counting on them, it is instead a working definition of what has become now their 133-day-old labor lockout.

After another bargaining session that stretched nearly 12 hours, the principals from both warring sides restated their positions and gave status reports on the negotiations. Yet they acknowledged virtually no movement on specific issues and certainly nothing imminent on the big topic, a compromise that gets everyone back to work and has (what's left of) the 2011-12 NBA regular season up and running.

"We have agreed that we have sort of stopped the clock and we continue to negotiate," NBA commissioner David Stern said. "I would not read into this optimism or pessimism. We just continue to negotiate as we continue to negotiate. Are there any questions?"

No one bothered to ask if they were continuing to negotiate.

Added Stern, lest anyone presumed some real deal-making: "Nothing was worked out today."

The union side matched the league in offering no news as, well, no news.

"We spent a lot of time covering all of the issues that we still have remaining," union president Derek Fisher said, "but we can't say that there was significant progress made today."

Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, said: "I think there was enough give and take between both sides that obviously merited us coming back tomorrow."

Though nothing was actually given or taken.

The day had begun with a deadline and, because of it, with a little extra urgency or at least curiosity as to how each side would respond once it neared and passed. So what if it was a straw deadline? The owners had said that their offer of a 50-50 split of basketball-related revenue would expire by "the end of business Wednesday" and that they would recast their proposal as a 47-percent share for the players, with a hard salary cap and other tougher stances to boot.

Yet Wednesday itself ended before the owners' and players' bit of business did. When they did wrap up shortly before 1 a.m. ET, it wasn't so much the conclusion of a long bargaining session as it was a lengthy break, with time enough to sleep, shower and shave.

And when they reconvene at noon Thursday, they apparently will pick up where they left off, with another day of basketball lost and a "litany" -- Hunter's word -- of unresolved issues.

"Every day that we lose another game just enhances the case to make a deal and causes both sides to recognize the damage," Stern said. "The clock is stopped and we're trying to see if there's a reason why we can get something to go back to our respective sides with."

Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver faced the media in one room, while Fisher, Hunter and NBPA vice president Maurice Evans did so in another. That's a sign in these treadmill talks, because the day they get as far as handshakes, they'll explain it all from one head table.

But there still are miles to go, hours to burn. Eventually, each side will have to take a tentative agreement to its constituents for a vote. It will take 30 days, Stern has said, to actually begin play.

From given what sounds like static positions -- not far but not all that close, either -- that horizon continues to roll.

One source told that the negotiations remain fragile. "It could blow up at any minute," he said. "It almost blew up a couple of times [Wednesday], but it didn't." Another source said that the players are "ready to go" with a disclaimer-of-interest or decertificiation filing with the National Labor Relations Board if talks break off. Similarly, the owners are said to be ready to revert to their harsher proposal.

Much of Wednesday's session was spent on system issues rather than BRI split, according to sources briefed on the negotiations. There allegedly was even some progress on three of five issues cited Tuesday by the union as vital to their willingness to consider a 50-50 split (the players received 57 percent in the old CBA and had moved to 51 percent in an offer last week).

Much of the debate is over restrictions that would be imposed on free-spending teams above the luxury tax threshold, with the union striving to keep them in the marketplace for players and the owners hoping to direct free agents to other rosters.

That brought back into focus the sides' philosophical difference in these talks: The owners see the economic and system issues as independent and necessary, while the union approaches them as trade-offs. It has been that way from the start and, with 132 days in the lockout log and No. 133 set to begin, that has not changed.

And around and around it goes.

"We're going to meet again tomorrow to give it our best effort," Fisher said, "but we're not sure if that will be enough."

Said Stern: "We're not failing and we're not succeeding. We're just there."

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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