Report: Owners of Cavs, Suns killed potential labor deal

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UPDATE 10:19 pm: David Stern called this report “incorrect and fictional” in his press conference following Thursday’s Board of Governor’s meetings.

You can take that as the gospel truth or you can take it as Stern covering the backside of his owners. We all know this was the only thing Stern could say, he had to shoot it down. Decide for yourself what you want to believe, as Agent Mulder always told us “the truth is out there.”

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6:49 pm: Right now, the hardliners among the NBA owners are driving the labor negotiations bus — they want a larger share of the overall basketball related income, they want revenue sharing and they want a hard salary cap. All of it.

The bigger point is that right now the heavyweight, veteran owners are not blocking them (see the Lakers and Jerry Buss).

Which brings us to this account of Tuesday’s big negotiating session in New York between the owners and players, as reported by Dave McMenamin at ESPN. (Hat tip to I am a GM.)

Owners and players initially found reason for optimism during Tuesday’s meetings. Commissioner David Stern and Peter Holt, the head of the owners’ executive committee, felt that the players’ proposal to take 52 or 53 percent of basketball-related income, compared to 57 under the previous agreement, was basically fair, sources said.

Owners were seriously considering coming off of their demand for a salary freeze and would allow players’ future earnings to be tied into the league’s revenue growth, a critical point for players. The owners also were willing to allow the players to maintain their current salaries, without rollbacks, sources said.

But when the owners left the players to meet among themselves for around three hours, Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert and Phoenix’s Robert Sarver expressed their dissatisfaction with many of the points, sources said. The sources said that the Knicks’ James Dolan and the Lakers’ Jerry Buss were visibly annoyed by the hardline demands of Gilbert and Sarver.

Now, let’s start by taking all this with a little salt. The public relations battle of the day is an effort by the players to paint themselves as unified and the owners as divided and in the way of the deal. They did it after Thursday’s union meeting, they did it in Derek Fisher’s letter. McMenamin is a good reporter (and a friend of this blog), and I don’t know his (or ESPN’s Chris Broussard, who is named in the story) sources, but if the report paints the owners in a bad light, you can guess it came from someone with the players’ interests at heart. That does not make it objective truth.

A second point — Sarver and Gilbert speak for other owners. They are speaking from a small market perspective, and while we can easily say “they are stopping progress” for them this bit of progress is not the end goal. They may want to go too far, but right now who is stopping them? And some of their points may be valid.

That said, it’s not hard to visualize this playing out pretty much like this. And it’s easy to point out the irony that if Gilbert still had LeBron James in Cleveland he would view all of this very, very differently.

The players have their lines in the sand, too — and keeping salaries tied to league revenues is one of them. As it should be — the league is expected to get massive new television deals in the coming years (local now and national in 2016) and the players should not be totally shut out of all that new money flowing into the league. This should be a partnership.

There no doubt are differences in owners’ opinions. No doubt they will paint themselves as unified but the disagreements and differences are there. And as long as the hardliners are allowed to drive the boat with key owners sitting back, as long as a radical overhaul is the demand, then the lockout will drag on.