Do owner, player negotiations finally get serious Wednesday?

2 Comments

Wednesday in Manhattan, NBA commissioner David Stern and players’ union director Billy Hunter are going to sit down in a room across the table from each other and talk new NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement.

They have done that a few times in various settings, exchanging a few proposals, for two years now. With absolutely no progress.

But we are now a month or so away from when training camps were supposed to open, less than six weeks from the first preseason games. About two months from the first regular season games.

We’ve said all along that until there was real pressure, a real deadline, the negotiations would not move forward. Well, now is about time for both sides to start really moving toward a deal.

The question is will it happen? We’re not the only ones wondering, agent Bill Duffy said this to Yahoo’s Marc Spears.

“This is a telltale meeting,” said agent Billy Duffy, whose client roster includes Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo and Greg Oden. “I think we will know the seriousness of both sides’ position after Wednesday.

“I don’t think the season starts on time. There really has been no progress. The union has been patient on hoping there would be movement on the league side. The league hasn’t demonstrated any movement whatsoever while the union is flexible.”

Back in 1999 — when the league missed half a season due to a lockout — the resulting deal was hailed as a win for the owners. They got a salary cap. They got a maximum salary put in.

But a dozen years later the current crop of owners sees that deal as a loss — 57 percent of all Basketball Related Income (BRI) has to go to the players in the form of salary. Doesn’t matter if it is bad deals or good ones, salary is a set percentage of league revenues. As costs outside of just players have risen to run a team, the owners have taken a financial hit trying to pay the rest of it out of their 43 percent. The owners wail of financial losses on their toys.

The owners want a bigger slice of the pie. The players union offered to come back to 54 percent, but the owners want that number below 50 percent and they want to redefine how BRI is calculated (more net than gross income).

The owners want to overhaul the system, including hard salary caps, shorter contracts and ways to get out of the end of bad deals. The players are playing goalie, trying to keep as much of what is in the current deal  as they have. But for them, they want a percentage of salaries tied to the league’s BRI — with new television deals on the horizon they want a share of that money, not to just let the owners pocket it.

If you want a positive heading into Wednesday’s meeting, it is that this — this is just top executives from both sides. There are not hardline owners in the room for Stern to have to placate, there are no players (outside of union president Derek Fisher) in the room that Hunter has to put on a show for. Both sides know each other, know the issues and are civil with one another. This is a setting where there can be real dialogue.

But with the two sides so very far apart right now, will that matter? We can hope so, but it’s hard to be optimistic.