Owners, players reportedly closer to figuring out money split

NBA players back out
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It’s all about the money. Both sides have tried to tell us that the NBA lockout was about other stuff, but make no mistake it is all about the money.

And they may be closer to figuring that out.

Multiple reports out of Wednesday’s eight-hour plus bargaining session in New York have said that the sides have gotten closer to figuring out the split of basketball related income (BRI, which is basically the revenue the league brings in). That is the core issue in the lockout. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo said it most clearly.

As long expected, the two sides have moved closer to a “50-50 split, give or take a point with ranges based on revenue performance,” one source said.

While the league’s owners and players made progress in Wednesday’s 8½-hour mediation session, one source involved in the talks was hesitant to characterize it as a “breakthrough” moment, saying system issues could again derail talks.

The two sides will be back at it in talks starting at 2 p.m. Eastern in New York.

Previously the owners had offered the players a range of BRI, between 49 and 51 percent, based on the level of revenues that came in (the more revenue, the higher the percentage for players). The players countered with a 51 to 53 percent split offer.

Reports suggest the two sides are back to discussing ranges in that ballpark and made progress. Those ranges are not far apart and there clearly is a deal that can be made there.

There are two key challenges here.

One is Commissioner David Stern and union chief Billy Hunter being able to sell their constituencies on this. Hardline owners have wanted to keep the players below 50 percent of BRI. Hardline players — led by stars like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett — have said they will not go below 53 percent (the players had 57 percent in the last labor deal). Both sides will have to be convinced this is the best deal and one they should approve.

Secondly, there are system issues to be dealt with and the luxury tax remains the key one. That, too, is about the money. In the old system, there was a dollar for dollar tax on salaries over a certain threshold (last season $70 million). The owners want to dramatically increase that fine (start at $1.75 to $1 and increase the tax 50¢ every $5 million over) in order to stop teams like the Lakers and Mavericks from spending so much. The players see it as a de facto hard salary cap designed to depress salaries and force more non-guaranteed contracts. Which is exactly what it is. The two sides need to find a middle ground on this issue as well.

The progress the two sides are making is incremental. But that is a lot better than the progress they were making before federal mediator George Cohen stepped in the room.