Facing the possibility of the first shortened season in NBA history, owners and players resume labor talks Thursday with few expectations of progress.
"We're ready to sit there and talk all day and all night and maybe someone will come up with something," NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik said. "Often that's how it happens, but I have no reason to be optimistic."
The bargaining session will be only the second between the sides since the lockout was imposed July 1.
The owners and players have only a couple of days to come up with a deal that will save an 82-game season, and such a breakthrough seems unlikely with the sides far apart on the main economic issues.
"I hope it's going to be substantive," players union director Billy Hunter said. "I'm going to tell David (Stern, the commissioner) what we don't like about their last proposal, and then suggest that we really talk about something that's going to create some movement on both sides."
| Players union president Patrick Ewing, signing a basketball for fan, will be present when the players and owners resume negotiating on Thursday. (AP) |
The last time owners and players were together in the same room was Aug. 6, when the players made their most recent proposal, and the owners responded by walking out of the room.
Two hour-long informal sessions have been held in the last two weeks, with only Stern, Granik, Hunter and union president Patrick Ewing attending.
Both sides now expect the work stoppage to force the cancellation of games. The entire exhibition schedule has already been canceled, and the regular season is due to begin Nov. 3.
"We feel that the NBA is making a lot of money. Everybody, for the mospart, is doing financially OK," Ewing said. "So we don't see why they had to lock us out. If you asked David Stern, I don't think he would say that the league as a whole is doing bad."
But Stern and the owners claim as many as half of them are losing money and the league as a whole is much less profitable than it was just a few years ago.
The owners are seeking a system with cost certainty, looking to gradually roll back the amount of revenue devoted to player salaries from 57 percent to 48 percent.
The players have offered some concessions, but are unwilling to accept a "hard" salary cap or give up the "Larry Bird exception" that allows teams to exceed the salary cap to retain their own free agents.
"We're prepared to address their concerns, we really are," Hunter said. "But I'm not going to bid against myself. They have taken an intransigent position in which they are not inclined to respond to anything other than what they are demanding. I'm not prepared to do that, and I would be remiss in my duty if I did that. It's not going to be a concession deal where they make demands and we concede."
Granik said the owners won't be bringing any concessions to the table. He also said the owners would reject any union proposal to play the upcoming season under the old operating system.
"Billy suggested that two weeks ago, and we told him he couldn't possibly be serious," Granik said. "The whole point of where we are is that we can't live under the old deal -- even for one more year or one more day. It's out of the question."
The players have complained that they shouldn't be expected to protect the owners from themselves, but Granik more or less conceded that's what the owners are seeking.
Discussing the $126 million, six-year contract that Kevin Garnett signed with Minnesota last summer, Granik said Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor had raised salary expectations to an unrealistic level.
"No other team could have offered what Minnesota paid him, but they paid him anyway. (Agent Eric) Fleisher was able to say `Listen, he'll go to Chicago unless you pay him this amount of money,'" Granik said.
"Now, 28 other owners have to live with that. And we've got to get away from that. We've got to get a system where one owner can't affect everyone else's salary for seven or eight years."
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