NBA Lockout Watch, Day 120: Sides Sounds Optimistic A Deal Could Be Close
The NBA and NBPA have "moved to the cusp of ending the four-month old lockout, and there’s strong belief on both sides that a Friday bargaining session could culminate with the framework of an agreement to preserve most, if not all, of a full season," according to Adrian Wojnarowski of YAHOO SPORTS. The sides met for seven-and-a-half hours Thursday, and one source said, "It’s moved to a very good place. There’s a strong expectation (within the negotiations) that hands will shake (Friday)." Negotiations were scheduled to resume at 10:30am ET Friday "with talks expected to quickly progress to the proposed revenue split between the league’s owners and players." Both sides "sounded optimistic they could soon settle the major issues separating them." NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter: "We’re within reach -- and within striking distance of getting a deal." NBA Commissioner David Stern added that it "will be a 'failure' for the league’s owners and players if a new labor agreement isn’t finished within the next few days." Wojnarowski noted before "tackling the revenue split, the biggest hurdle left to solving the system issues appears to be with the use of midlevel and bi-annual exceptions for tax-paying teams" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/27). Stern said after Thursday's negotiating session, "I can’t tell you we’ve resolved anything in such a big way, but there’s an element of continuity, familiarity and I would hope trust that would enable us to look forward to (Friday), where we anticipate there will be some important and additional progress or not." CBSSPORTS.com's Ken Berger cites sources as saying that there has been a "noticeable uptick in urgency" to end the lockout, with the "last realistic possibility to salvage games already canceled -- and avoid canceling more -- set to evaporate without a deal in the next several days" (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/28). Thursday's session "was limited to a small group of negotiators, which Stern said would also be the case Friday." Union economic consultant Kevin Murphy was not at Thursday's meeting, but he "was summoned to New York for Friday's negotiations, a sign that final number crunching could be at hand" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 10/28).
FINALLY CRACKING A SMILE: In L.A., Mike Bresnahan notes Stern was "caught smiling in the back of an interview room after Thursday's meeting." He was also "upbeat when he sat down at the dais to talk with reporters" (L.A. TIMES, 10/28). On Long Island, Alan Hahn reports with a "smiling Stern sitting in on his news conference, Hunter pointed to his counterpart when asked at what point BRI would return to the front burner." Hunter said, "David Stern is sitting back there. I believe he can tell you." Stern interjected while smiling, "Tomorrow!" Hahn writes, "The giddy repartee between the sides cannot be overlooked, but those involved in the talks believe things once again will reach a delicate stage when the BRI is broached" (NEWSDAY, 10/28). In Houston, Jonathan Feigen wrote at Thursday's press conference, Stern "went from heckler in the audience to open mic night comic," and it took NBPA President and Lakers G Derek Fisher to "warn that the bargaining gets toughest at the end." Both sides said that they "had not even begun to discuss how to split the basketball related income, the issues that led them to being separated a week earlier and for the mediator to bolt out of town." Feigen noted even the "negotiations on the system issues that filled the two days of talks were not complete, though there was considerable progress on the sticky luxury tax system" (CHRON.com, 10/27). Fisher said after Thursday's session, "There’s no guarantees we’ll get it done, but we’re going to give it one heck of a shot tomorrow. And I think Billy and the union’s negotiators feel the same way" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/28).
FINISH STRONG: YAHOO SPORTS' Wojnarowski noted the two sides "still have a litany of 'B-list' items that they barely discussed in the process, including the draft age minimum, code of conduct for players, drug testing and pensions." But items like that "often fall into place quickly once the major issues are resolved in talks." Sources said that the sides "have made significant progress on one of the labor fight’s most vexing obstacles: the luxury tax teams would have to pay for going over the salary." But there are "still a couple sticking points with the tax that need to be resolved" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/27). During Thursday's press conference, Stern was asked "if the league was prepared to make another economic move Friday if necessary to get the deal done." Stern said, "We're prepared to negotiate over everything. We're looking forward to it." Berger notes the two sides are "trying to agree on the framework of a new system of player contracts and team payrolls before proceeding with the final, most important, and interrelated piece of the negotiation: the split of BRI." Sources said the "split of revenues was not discussed Wednesday or Thursday" (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/28). Sources said that Hunter "spoke to players earlier Thursday and reiterated the union's stance that players want at least a 52-48 split of BRI." Hunter said, "I think we're within reach and within striking distance of getting a deal. It's just a question of how receptive the NBA is and whether or not they want to do a deal" (ESPNNY.com, 10/27). SI's Ian Thomsen writes, "Talk of salvaging an 82-game slate ... is far less important than getting the details right on Friday" (SI.com, 10/28).
are still some significant issues left to negotiate
ROOT OF THE OPTIMISM: TRUE HOOP's Henry Abbott wrote Thursday's press conference was the "first time either side has been this jolly and the first time either side has declared a day as the day." Abbott: "Friday is the day, and no one's afraid to say it." He noted there are three reasons for the progress. Federal mediator George Cohen "was effective," and both sides "appear to be genuinely motivated to meet the next deadline, coming any day now, which is the latest possible day to make a deal while preserving the chance of an 82-game season." Sources said that a third contributing factor "has been the absence this week of one of the union's most feared negotiators, lawyer Jeffrey Kessler." Abbott noted much "was made of Portland owner Paul Allen's appearance in last week's mediated session. The suggestion was that he was there to send a message that owners were holding a hard line." But league sources said that it was "nothing of the sort." The sources added that Allen "was there at the invitation of the NBA's negotiators to watch Kessler" (ESPN.com, 10/27).
MEDIA REAX: In Philadelphia, Kate Fagan notes progress is "being made, a middle ground could be in sight, but crucial hurdles remain." Fagan notes neither the union nor the NBA "was willing to extrapolate specifically on the progress made, saying it would be fruitless to discuss advances when any given issue could trigger a backslide" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 10/28). In N.Y., Marc Berman writes the "skeptic will argue too many false alarms have occurred for an agreement to be probable, that this is a show by Stern, who is representing a caravan of hard-line, small-market owners wanting it all." A source said that there is "always a possibility of today ending with acrimony that short-circuited last Thursday's federal mediation talks" (N.Y. POST, 10/28). In N.Y., Mike Lupica writes, "We will find out in the next day or two, before more of the NBA season is canceled, how much the league’s owners actually want to make a deal." Lupica: "We know players want to play, because they always do. Now we will find out about the owners, if enough of them really are willing to bang an entire season of professional basketball in this country to get the system they want." It is "impossible for any reasonable person to believe that there isn't a deal to be made that is fair to both sides, and made now." But it is "on the owners." The "idea that this is all about Hunter's players being the pigs here is ridiculous, and always has been, whether they have the leverage in this or not" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/28).
82-GAME PICKUP: Hunter has said a full 82-game schedule is possible if a new CBA deal is reached by Monday. N.Y. Daily News reporter Frank Isola said, "I don’t know why you would try to squeeze 82 games in. That could mean having to play a lot more back-to-backs, maybe three games in three nights, scheduling issues. It’s not good for the players in terms of their physical well-being and the product won’t be as good.” He also added that Stern did say about the potential of a three-game home stand in four nights, “it might be asking a lot from the fans” (“Daily News Live,” SportsNet N.Y., 10/27). Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan said playing all 82 games "would just be further proof that the owners do not care about the quality of the product that they are putting out there” (“Around the Horn,” ESPN, 10/27).