NBA owners, players return to negotiating

Surrounded by NBA players, including New York Knicks' Chauncy Billups, left, and Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook, right, NBA Players Association president Derek Fisher speaks during a news conference after a meeting of the players' union in New York, Monday, Nov. 14, 2011. The NBA players rejected the league's latest offer and have begun the process to disband the union. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Trying to salvage what could potentially be a lost season, representatives for the NBA owners and the players have resumed negotiations to avoid the cancellation of the NBA's Christmas games.

Sources told Yahoo! Sports that the talks began Tuesday and were scheduled to continue through Wednesday. "We should know more by later [Wednesday] evening," said one of the sources.

In order to have games on Dec. 25 -- the day the NBA's television schedule is launched -- both sides have to reach an agreement in the next several days, according to The New York Times

The two sides' talks are now centered on settling their lawsuits — the players filed an antitrust lawsuit against the league in Minnesota and the league filed a pre-emptive suit in New York.

Because the union disbanded, it cannot negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. That can only be done once the union has reformed.

Union executive director Billy Hunter said Tuesday he expected that a Minnesota magistrate judge would mediate the players' lawsuit against the NBA, as the court did in the NFL's labor dispute.

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Hunter specifically mentioned U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, the court-appointed mediator in the NFL talks. Boylan is not the magistrate assigned to the NBA antitrust suit, although the district judge has the discretion to appoint a different magistrate to mediate.

"What may very well be is the judge there directs the magistrate, as they did in the NFLPA case, to host a settlement conference, and that could possibly occur as early as next week," Hunter said.

One reason the players' lawyers decided to consolidate two suits against the NBA in Minnesota, he said, was that the district court there routinely uses magistrates to mediate cases.

Different groups of players filed separate lawsuits in California and Minnesota last week. On Monday, lawyers withdrew the California complaint and filed a consolidated, amended suit in Minnesota. Players attorney David Boies said at the time that the choice was made because cases move faster in Minnesota.

Hunter said Tuesday that the possibility of having a magistrate mediate also played into the decision, with the same goal in mind: resolving the labor strife quickly.

"It makes it easier for the parties to get together when the court is involved," he said.

NBA owners locked out the players July 1, and the labor strife has forced games to be canceled through Dec. 15.

The owners had already filed a lawsuit of their own in the Southern District of New York and could file a motion to have the Minnesota case moved there.

After the two sides were unable to reach an accord, the players disbanded the union last week. That set the stage for the increasingly bitter labor dispute to move from the negotiating table to the courtroom, which could jeopardize the entire 2011-12 season.

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