This is a time for NBA negotiating, not ultimatums
The NBA’s players and owners will resume labor negotiations Friday in New York and agreed to meet throughout the weekend if they find enough reasons to keep the conversation going, urgency finally kicking in as the window rapidly closes to complete a deal and start the season on time Nov. 1.
Training camp had been scheduled to start Monday, but that was scrapped last week, along with 43 exhibition games through Oct. 15. No one will miss those weeks of practice or exhibitions, but both sides know an agreement must be reached soon to avoid a long negotiation and shortened season.
Or no season at all.
“We realize that the calendar, the clock, the watch, whatever you want to say, is running out in terms of starting our regular season on time,” Lakers guard Derek Fisher, president of the players’ association, told the Associated Press.
“So we’re going to try to get some things done this weekend and see what we can do.”
The 11-member owners’ labor relations committee and the union’s nine-member executive committee are likely to be joined by reinforcements this weekend. The question becomes, what can they bring to the table that they haven’t already discussed?
The one element that shouldn’t be introduced is the ultimate hammer that rests in the hands of Commissioner David Stern: the threat to cancel the entire season if there’s no significant progress in the next few days.
A report on ESPN.com said Stern was planning to issue that ultimatum and cited unidentified sources as saying the players’ union sees that as a negotiating tactic and not a realistic next step. NBA spokesman Tim Frank on Thursday called the report erroneous and “simply not true.”
Still, Stern did dance awfully close to the cancellation abyss after talks recessed Wednesday when he said, “There will be a lot of risk from the absence of progress,” and ominously declared there will be “enormous consequences at play here on the basis of the weekend.”
If there’s no framework for a deal in place by next week he might lop a week or two off the beginning of the schedule, but in a season that’s already too lengthy that doesn’t seem to fit the definition of “enormous consequences.”
It’s reasonable to think Stern has considered invoking cancellation, and why not? Hinting — or more — would allow him to gauge players’ resolve by making lost paychecks more than a distant prospect.
But it makes no sense for him to use that hammer yet. During the NBA’s last labor dispute Stern canceled games in blocks of a few weeks at a time until an agreement was reached and the 1998-99 season was reduced to 50 games. He’s likely to use the same strategy this time as long as there’s room for both sides to bend on two key issues.
Owners appear to have moved off their demand for a hard salary cap and should at least slightly relax their demand that players’ share of basketball-related income be reduced from 57% to the high 40s. Players began by asking for 54.3% of basketball-related income — which they won’t get — and will probably have to accept more restrictions on the soft cap and luxury tax system, which has more exceptions than rules and inflates salaries. They can still get very rich with those restrictions.
There are other sticking points, including revenue sharing and competitive equality, but if the gaps can be bridged on the main differences the others should follow.
Billy Hunter, the union’s executive director, has said players have told union leaders they would rather sit out the season than accept a bad labor deal. At some point Stern might be only too happy to see if players really mean it. But not yet. And, we can hope, not ever.
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