No progress seen in labor talks
DALLAS — While the NBA Finals are captivating fans around the world with intense drama until the final buzzer of each game, just 2 miles away from the American Airlines Center, the NBA and Players Association are trying to avoid a potentially catastrophic lockout and the prospects aren’t rosy.
After nearly 10 hours of meetings over the past two days, the sides have agreed only to meet again next week in Miami. Both sides concede there has been little progress.
The good sign is that talks have not gotten contentious but there is a great possibility an agreement will not be reached by the June 30 expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement. Lakers guard Derek Fisher, the president of the Players Association, told reporters at the Hilton Anatole that the league’s owners have assured a lockout if a deal isn’t reached.
Players Association director Billy Hunter pointed out the major issues that could cause potential cancellation of games: a hard salary cap, guaranteed contracts, and length of contracts.
The owners want a hard cap, more stringent than the current soft cap that penalizes high spenders with a luxury tax.
The owners also want to reduce the amount of guaranteed contracts, potentially rolling back the value of current contracts and they want to shorten the length of maximum deals. Hunter said the players will not accept or agree to a hard salary cap and they have proposed several ideas that would reduce spending but avoid such a salary structure.
“Both sides were extremely frank and direct with each other about our expectations,’’ Fisher said. “At this point in the negotiations we still feel we’re very far apart in major components. We’ve also tried to express we’re committed to be willing to some adjustments and tweak some things and makes some ‘compromises’ in order to try get this deal done without the event of a lockout. At the same time, we have the responsibility as a Players Association to prepare our guys for that possibility.
“I don’t want to sugarcoat that reality that a lockout is a real possibility. But we’re not going to wait for that to happen and then get serious about this process.’’
Commissioner David Stern reiterated that the sides were very “far apart’’ on a deal. Players Association members believe owners will not budge on the hard salary cap, regardless of the number of proposals they offer.
“We are miles apart,’’ Hunter said. “I think Derek nailed it when he talked about the hard cap. I think it’s more about guaranteeing a profit to the owners. So it’s because of the size of the demands that we’re struggling to reach an accord.’’
A unique story line in the NBA’s equation is the process of the NFL lockout, which has been ongoing for three months. The league and Players Association said they want to avoid litigation but the deadline is looming.
Hunter didn’t appear optimistic the owners will suddenly turn a few leaf and scrap their plans for a hard salary cap, but he won’t rule anything out.
“I think there might be a possibility and I think we’ve shown them ways that they can move, that they can accomplish some of what they want,’’ he said. “I can assure you, once we go to a hard cap, I don’t expect we’ll ever come out from under it. But I guess at this point, hope [for a deal] springs eternal.’’
Mavericks backup center Brendan Haywood is again uncertain after playing only three minutes in Game 4 because of a strained right hip flexor.
“I didn’t have a lot of lateral movement, so it was tough to be out there,’’ Haywood said.
Haywood came out in the fourth quarter of Game 2 because of the injury, and didn’t play Game 3. Neither he nor coach Rick Carlisle was sure of his status for Game 5 tonight.
“Don’t know. The more rest, the more treatment, the better,’’ Haywood said.
Mavericks guard DeShawn Stevenson expects to be coming off the bench instead of starting again in Game 5.
“Yeah, I think we have to, it worked,’’ Stevenson said after practice yesterday. “We’ve got to keep the same thing going.’’
Carlisle switched his lineup before Game 4, inserting J.J. Barea into the lineup instead of Stevenson. The Mavericks won, 86-83, to even the series at 2-2.
“This is a move we’ve made several times in my three years, starting Barea,’’ Carlisle said. “He has always stepped up and competed at an extremely high level.’’
The former Northeastern standout played just less than 22 minutes, scoring 8 points on 3-of-9 shooting with four assists and a turnover.
Stevenson came off the bench with his first double-figure scoring game in more than four months, scoring all 11 of his points in the second quarter. That included three 3-pointers in a span of about 3 1/2 minutes.
“My role is just to come out and bring energy off the bench, and we have the luxury to do stuff like that,’’ Stevenson said. “I just want to win.’’
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Material from the Associated Press was also used in this report.