Federal mediator George Cohen enters the NBA labor picture on Monday.
Which is good, he could help the NBA players and owners break their stalemate. That is, if both sides really want to break it. If both sides are willing to compromise a little more.
Cohen will meet separately with groups from the NBA owners and players on Monday, then on Tuesday he will lead a joint bargaining session with the leaders from both sides. But he has just that one day with both sides in the room to break the logjam.
Then the owners will take a break from negotiations for two days because the NBA’s Board of Governors will meet in New York. That is the NBA owners official title as a group, and they will spend a day discussing revenue sharing then another day on the labor negotiations.
NBA Commissioner David Stern has said his gut tells him that if a deal is not reached Tuesday then the Christmas Day games are in jeopardy. My gut tells me that is David Stern thinking he likes the terms for a deal right now and is trying to put pressure on the players to agree to a deal.
Bringing in Cohen should help, everyone who has worked with the man seems to respect him. He has been involved in some of the biggest labor disputes in the nation recently — like the FAA vs. air traffic controllers — and he brings a wealth of knowledge to the table.
But picture him like a marriage counselor — if both sides want to make it work, a counselor can help a couple through a rough patch. But if one or both sides simply want out, there is nothing the counselor can do to change that.
Right now, the two sides seem close on the issue of dividing up basketball related income (BRI). And Cohen might be the guy who can help solve some of the system issues with the luxury tax and contract lengths that seems to be the current sticking points of talks.
But only if both sides are willing to give a little more. And right now the hard liners on both sides seem to be driving the bus. Right off the cliff, but they are driving the bus. On the players’ side that is big names like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce who have tried to make 53 percent a rallying cry for players and a line in the sand. (The players got 57 percent of BRI in the old deal, their last formal offer was 53 percent, the owners last formal offer was 47 percent for the players.) On the other side, the owners are a mixed group but there are some real hard liners who don’t want to move off 47 percent.
We fans keep waiting for the level heads to prevail in these talks, to say that their differences now are not insurmountable and not worth cancelling more games and maybe a season. Maybe Cohen can appeal to those people. Maybe. If they are really listening.