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Is Labor Trouble on the Horizon?

Times Staff Writer

As the Kings and 29 other NHL teams endure a costly, acrimonious labor battle involving owners and players, an empty King locker room at Staples Center suggests an unsavory question: Is basketball next?

The NBA could be skating on thin ice if owners and the players’ union do not agree on key issues before the collective bargaining agreement expires July 1. The problems are not as ominous as those that have stalled the hockey season, but a growing number of insiders say they believe the NBA could face its first work stoppage since a lockout reduced the 1998-99 season to 50 games.

Owners are hoping for shorter contract lengths with three- and four-year limits instead of six- or seven-year guarantees. Some owners would also like an increase in the luxury tax to discourage free-spending teams. The union would object to both ideas.

Forward Brian Grant, one of three current Lakers who were in the NBA during the 1998-99 lockout, remembers the last time owners and players were at loggerheads in collective bargaining.

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“It wasn’t any fun,” said Grant, 32. “Guys weren’t getting paid. Guys weren’t playing. It was all-around ugly.”

During the lockout, players lost about $600 million in salary and owners each lost 32 games’ worth of revenue until a six-year collective bargaining agreement was signed. That experience, coupled with the knowledge that the bitter hockey standoff might result in the loss of the NHL season, should be a motivator for both NBA sides.

Said forward Lamar Odom: “I put a lot of faith in [union leader] Billy Hunter. Hopefully we can reach an agreement.”

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A Rhode Island court hearing for Laker draft pick Marcus Douthit was canceled Friday as part of his continued cooperation with prosecutors since being charged with two embezzlement counts in July.

Douthit, a senior at Providence last season, has agreed in principle to pay a fine, perform community service and assist prosecutors to clear his record of the two counts, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office said.

Prosecutors alleged that Douthit received $6,500 in December 2001 after faking a car accident and filing a false insurance claim as part of a larger embezzlement and identity-theft scam. Douthit and six others were charged in a 125-count indictment in July.

Douthit, a second-round draft pick, is playing in Belgium this season but is expected to receive an invitation to Laker training camp next season.

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Kobe Bryant played more than 30 minutes in the Lakers’ first four exhibition games, a pattern halted Friday by Coach Rudy Tomjanovich. Bryant played only 26 minutes and had 25 points in the Lakers’ 113-102 exhibition victory over the Clippers in front of 16,995 at Staples Center. Bryant played 44 minutes in an overtime loss Thursday against Golden State.... Forward Caron Butler left the game Friday after sustaining a partially torn tendon in the pinkie finger of his right hand. He is listed as day to day.... Grant started at power forward in place of Odom, who had made 11 of 39 shots (28.2%) before Friday. Odom finished with 13 points on three-for-11 shooting.


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