The "most telling theme" of NBA Commissioner David Stern's 30-minute state of the league address with reporters Saturday was that the "system is broken and needs to be fixed," according to Mike Bresnahan of the L.A. TIMES. Stern earlier this season said that owners "were projecting losses of about $350 million, and though he didn't provide updated figures Saturday," he said that the "losses were palpable." Stern: "The numbers are real, the losses are real, and the need from our perspective for a different business model, that's what's governing our decision." Bresnahan noted NBA owners and the NBPA "met amicably Friday in Beverly Hills, though the sides still seemed far apart as the current collective bargaining agreement moved closer to its June 30 expiration." Stern: "I would say what gives me hope is the fact that a lockout would have huge negative consequences for everybody" (L.A. TIMES, 2/20). Stern Saturday indicated that the union "no longer disputed the league's financial statements, which are at the root of their conflict." In N.Y., Howard Beck noted the NBA has said that it is "losing more than $300 million a year and is pushing for a fundamental overhaul of the labor deal." Stern said that he "detected a slight shift Friday afternoon, during a two-hour bargaining session that involved a majority of the owners and two dozen players." Stern: "I think that there's no disagreement about the numbers." However, NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter later "issued a statement that contradicted Stern." Hunter on Friday reiterated that he is "advising players to prepare for a lockout." Beck noted the two sides "essentially have the same stances they have been for the last 13 months." Each side "has rejected the other's initial proposal in its totality," and there "have been no counterproposals and no meaningful negotiations, although several meetings are being scheduled for the coming weeks" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/20).
SLOWLY BUT SURELY: Stern said that the two sides on Friday "made some progress, but nothing tangible." Stern: "It's fair to say that we and the players each made proposals to the other. We have each expressed to the other our dissatisfaction with each other's proposals. In a very positive vein, we each agreed, the union and the teams agreed that everything was available to be discussed." Stern "mentioned that contraction is 'not currently on the table' but that the teams are looking for ways to fix the current economic structure" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/20). Lakers G and NBPA President Derek Fisher said of Friday's talks, "The dialogue was constructive. There definitely was a commitment to trying to get this process done in this room" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 2/19). In Boston, Gary Washburn wrote the NBA is "more popular now than it was even in the Michael Jordan era, with a renaissance of talent and a wealth of young players." And while the "fiery Hunter has taken verbal shots at Stern in the past, he appeared exceptionally understanding of the delicacy of the next few months of negotiation." Hunter said a lockout would "hurt all of us." Hunter: "The impact is going to be significant. Maybe we don't publicize it as much as the NFL has, but we'll be spending some time over the next couple of months getting that message out." Stern "paralleled Hunter's comments by saying the difference between negotiations now and in 1998, when owners shut down the league for 32 games, was that neither had ever endured the consequences of a work stoppage." Washburn wrote that is "something that should serve as encouragement to NBA fans" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/20).
IS HUNTER THE RIGHT GUY? YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojarowski cited several NBA player agents as saying that they have "grave concerns about Hunter's ability to spare the union unprecedented givebacks in these negotiations." One agent said, "Do I feel comfortable with Billy Hunter at the table with David Stern? No, I don't. We're so overmatched that it isn't funny. And the players don't have the (courage) to hang in there very long without a paycheck. The only thing that the league fears is decertification. They don't want to go down that road. They just want to negotiate as long as they can because they believe the players will crumble. The owners want to destroy the players in this deal. They want the whole system to change. We have one bullet and it's decertification." Wojnarowski noted "within the agent ranks, there's much criticism on Hunter's ability to rally players and take the fight to the commissioner." There is "criticism of Hunter's willingness to use the most powerful agents to get their players on board, to share the burden of uniting a union that's never matched the fortitude of the NFL's and Major League Baseball's players" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/18).
COULD NBA MISS THE WHOLE SEASON? SI.com's Chris Mannix said he believes the two sides "are lightyears apart" and that it would be "shocking at this point if there was not a lockout in July." Mannix: "Right now, from what I'm hearing, I think there's a groundswell of support from owners for not having a season altogether. I think if we get to Thanksgiving or towards Christmas, then maybe we'll see these owners decide we're just going to scrap this season, start again fresh next year." ESPN's Bob Ley: "It could be Armageddon" ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 2/20).
RISKING IT ALL: FOXSPORTS.com's Bill Reiter wrote, "While owners and players reportedly dig in their heels and prepare for a protracted battle, they risk forfeiting all the good will and excitement generated by the storylines that have arisen this year: The Big Three in Miami. The Boston Big Four. The renaissance of the point guard. The greatness of Blake Griffin and the rejuvenation of the monster dunk. The growing relevance of big-market teams" (FOXSPORTS.com, 2/20). The GLOBE's Washburn writes, "No one wants to see this fun end, which is why the current labor negotiations are more amicable than they've been in the past. ... The question is whether Commissioner David Stern is comfortable with the NBA being a top-heavy league run by only a few power teams." Smaller markets such as Salt Lake City, Milwaukee and Oklahoma City "can only hope their standout players stay after free agency," and teams such as the Bucks and Grizzlies "can draft well and cultivate their players, but they are not as likely to retain those players as, let's say, the Lakers" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/21).
WILL WORK FOR FREE: In N.Y., Mitch Lawrence reported Stern "won't take any salary if the league shuts down." Stern: "Last time, I didn't take any salary. I think a dollar would be too high in the event of a work stoppage." Lawrence noted Stern's comment was a "subtle swipe at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who said he'd take a dollar if the NFL locks out its players" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/20).