Stern: “We’re Closer Than We Were Before”
The good news to come out of Saturday’s labor talks with the NBA’s Players and Owners is that there will be more talks. The bad news is they need more talks because the two sides really aren’t much closer at the end of seven hours of meetings.
Saturday’s talks focused more on the idea of salary cap structure rather than the contentious issue of how to divide Basketball Related Income. At the end of the day both sides seemed slightly more pleased with progress than on Friday, but given the gaps on just about every issue between the sides that’s an indication a lot of work is still needed to be done.
But still, even on that one issue little progress was made. “If you gave them everything they’re asking for, you’d ultimately have a hard cap,” said National Basketball Players Association head Billy Hunter. The Players are adamantly against a hard cap and even though the Owners have proposed what they call a “soft cap” in various forms, the Players argue that in effect it’s no different.
Talks will not continue on Sunday, giving each side a bit of a break, but the plan is they will begin again on Monday. The idea is the sides will split into smaller groups to discuss specific issues, then on Tuesday they will come back together in a larger meeting. The NBA’s Joel Silver credited Hunter with the idea, with Commissioner David Stern also praised the suggestion as “constructive.”
This, perhaps, is an approach that should have come up earlier and not have been such a revelation. Starting with the biggest issues so far hasn’t resulted in any progress at all, so this approach makes much more sense.
The union had tentatively planned an update meeting in Miami this week for interested Players not taking part in New York, but if meetings are continuing in NYC that meeting will be postponed.
“We’re not near anything, but we’re closer than we were before,” said Stern.
San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner, part of the executive committee of the NBPA, expressed a similar sentiment, saying there was “some closing of gaps, but remember how large gaps were to begin with.” In case anyone needs a reminder, it’s closer to the gap the Colorado River has carved in the Grand Canyon than it is to the gap in a window frame letting in cold air in the winter.
Earlier this week Stern intimated this weekend was a key date, intimating if a deal was not done by now the season could be scuttled. He later backed off that insinuation, allowing for the possibility of a shortened season. Given that the schedule has the NBA regular season beginning on November 1st and teams would need time to have a free agency period and then a minimal training camp and perhaps a preseason game or two, coupled with the fact the two sides aren’t near a deal, it would seem highly optimistic at best the season will begin on time.
“I don’t know whether the 11th hour is Tuesday or not,” Hunter said after today’s talks. “Clearly they decided they had to cancel some of the preseason, and the question is going to be one of whether they’re going to be compelled to actually begin to start canceling games. We haven’t quite gotten there yet, but time is moving in that direction. And it’s a question of whether or not that has the kind of impact one would hope it would have to bridge the gap, but it’s a pretty wide gulf.”
Stern didn’t announce any additional cancellations today – preseason games through October 15th have already been scrubbed – but it stands to reason that will be coming soon, perhaps as early as this week.
“Our desire would be to not cancel, and we had been hopeful that this weekend would be a broader marker, but for reasons which we understand, the players suggested that we resume on Monday, and we said ‘fine,”’ Stern said.
What can fans take away from this? The fact the two sides continue to talk is a good thing, because it means at this point neither side is willing to throw up their hands and walk away, which would indicate the need to completely start over whenever talks did resume. It means the likelihood of the two sides finding common ground and working out a deal are decent, but it’s not going to be fast progress. The best outcome in the next week is for the two sides to agree on the aspects of one single issue. One agreement, no matter how minor of an issue, could jumpstart the rest of the negotiations.
Will it come this week? Stay tuned.