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Steve Aschbruner

Owners set call to discuss lawsuits, labor options

Posted Nov 16 2011 8:06PM - Updated Nov 17 2011 6:55AM

With their basketball business shut down and anti-trust lawsuits now in play, owners of the NBA's 30 franchises will take part in a conference call with commissioner David Stern Thursday to discuss their response and strategy, confirmed.

The call, first reported by Yahoo! Sports, was scheduled earlier this week by the league's labor relations committee, the group that has headed negotiations of a new collective bargaining agreement with the players.

The players, claiming that Stern and the league broke off bargaining last week when the owners' latest proposal was put before them, ignored that offer Monday. Instead, they dissolved their union, the National Basketball Players Association, and hired attorney David Boies to work with outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler in pursuing anti-trust litigation. Suits were filed Tuesday in U.S. district courts in California and Minnesota.

The time needed for the legal actions to begin, go to trial and get resolved would kill any hopes for a shortened 2011-12 season and stretch into the following season and beyond. Even Boies has indicated that a settlement of the suits would be preferable.

"Nobody can tell you how long it's going to take," said Boies, who has switched sides after arguing against NFL players in a similar suit earlier this year. "We all know it's possible to delay lawsuits for a while, but I think it is in everybody's interest to resolve this promptly."

It is possible, though, that the owners will opt to respond via litigation of their own. They filed a pre-emptive lawsuit in New York on Aug. 2 arguing that their lockout was legal and charging that the players intended all along to disclaim the union and sue the league as a negotiating ploy. In fact, reported Wednesday that lawyers for both sides exchanged updated arguments in that case soon after the players announced their disclaimer move Monday.

The league submitted its paperwork Monday, with Kessler responding for the players Tuesday.

While speedy talks toward a settlement are the best chance both sides have of salvaging a partial season, there has been speculation that some hard-line owners -- ones who weren't eager for the players to accept their latest offer -- are willing to let the clock run. Most NBA players missed their first paycheck Tuesday, though that was balanced out for many by the returned escrow money -- approximately 8 percent of their 2010-11 salaries -- that recently was returned to them. Some of the owners reportedly want the players to miss several checks -- Dec. 1 and Dec. 15 would have been the next scheduled paydays -- to see how united they remain in their chosen strategy.

The first legal skirmish figures to be fought over jurisdiction. The league is expected to argue that its lawsuit in New York should set the venue there for the subsequent suits. The players contend they are exercising their plaintiffs' rights to file where they did. Both sides are considered to be "forum shopping," hoping to argue in district courts that have made rulings favorable to their side.

It even is possible that the owners will be reluctant to be seen as weak or bothered by the players' move and, thus, step back and allow the legal gears to grind.

Boies, when meeting with a group of reporters Tuesday in New York, dismissed the perception game. "I hope at some point," he said, "the NBA and the teams will have enough concern for basketball fans that they will resolve these problems and allow players to start playing."

Something for the owners to talk about Thursday.

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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