Players, owners 'still miles apart' as full schedule appears less likely
11 owners and more than 15 players were involved in the weekend meetings
No talks are scheduled for Sunday and a small group will meet on Monday
Commissioner David Stern said there is nothing new in terms of cancellations
NEW YORK -- The threatened "enormous consequences'' have yet to appear, but they will be revealed soon enough. Two days of extended negotiations concluded Saturday with little optimism that the NBA owners and players can end their lockout in time to rescue the full 82-game schedule.
Most fans will say nothing is more important than starting the season on time Nov. 1. But the owners and players have agreed to disagree with their paying customers on that point. It is, in fact, one of the few points on which the union and owners have struck common ground.
They are so far apart on how to divvy up the $4 billion generated by their league -- by far the most important issue separating them -- that they agreed to not discuss it whatsoever Saturday. Instead they turned their attention to the so-called system issues, including the rules for player contracts, caps on team payrolls, annual exceptions and the like. After spending all of Saturday and much of Friday on these topics they could claim little more than a better understanding of each other's positions.
"It at least helped us to focus on a couple of issues,'' said deputy commissioner Adam Silver. ``Some of the earlier meetings have been a little bit more rambling in terms of various issues sort of raised and taken off the table, put back on the table.''
Commissioner David Stern acknowledged "a pretty broad gap'' between the owners' and players' goals for a new system. "We're not near anything,'' added Stern. "But wherever that is, we're closer than we were before.''
Stern would not say when the league would announce the cancellation of the remaining preseason games, nor would he hint at a deadline to reach agreement and save the full season. But the likely window is a scant 10 days to two weeks.
They agreed to take Sunday off, reconvene Monday with a smaller group (in which it is understood that the most productive talks are likely to take place) and then meet in a larger group Tuesday with more owners and players involved.
Union president Derek Fisher of the Lakers said there were no outbursts comparable to a skirmish Friday involving Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, who warned Stern to not point a finger at him. "Well, I wrestled him to the ...'' said Stern, joking. " would guess that neither of us remember, but there was a heated exchange of some kind. I feel passionately about the system that we have and what it has delivered, what it should continue to deliver for the players and the owners, and he feels passionately, too. I think that if anyone should step up on that, it's my job on behalf of the owners to make the points that need to be made.''
That said, both sides insisted it was helpful for 11 owners and more than 15 players to be involved in the recent talks. Should the lockout be extended into December and January as players go without paychecks, the owners will surely hope the union will fragment and yield to management's full wish-list of proposals. But right now both sides have no choice but to negotiate an agreement that is supported by a majority of owners and players. Everyone in the room came out realizing how complicated and difficult these negotiations have become.
The owners continue to propose that players accept 46% of basketball-related income (BRI), down from the 57% of revenues they received last season. Paul Pierce and other players at these talks told Fisher and Hunter that the union should not relent. "We're still miles apart, to where I don't know if we're going to be able to close it or not,'' said Hunter, who also wishes the owners would agree to share revenues at a higher rate than proposed by Stern, who has said the distributions will triple from the rate of 2010-11.
Stern had warned of "enormous consequences'' if no major progress was made in these meetings. When no major progress was made, however, he backed away from that statement Saturday.
"When you start losing regular-season games, on top of losses in the exhibition season, you have two parties to an agreement that have been financially wounded in some way, those being the players and the owners, not to mention the extraordinary number of people who depend on our game for their livelihood,'' said Stern. "Those are the consequences that I worry about ... Positions harden when regular-season games start to be lost on top of the exhibition season, which is not inconsequential.''
"It's not only the positions harden,'' said Silver, ``but there's less revenue to divide up.''
"They harden because the losses are there,'' agreed Stern. "Each side is taking them; each side thinks it should make up its losses based upon the deal that they make.''
So they plan to continue talking, even if they rarely agree.
"If we didn't think that there was any hope, we wouldn't be scheduling the meetings,'' said Stern. ``But that's the best I would say right now.''