Christmas start eyed as NBA talks resume
Negotiations to end the NBA lockout have quietly resumed, with a goal of reaching a deal in time to stage a 66-game season that would start Christmas Day.
The talks began in earnest Tuesday and are expected to continue tomorrow after a brief break for Thanksgiving, according to two people informed of the talks. If a deal is reached this weekend, it would give the league the approximate four-week window it needs to prepare for a Dec. 25 opening day.
That date is enticing to everyone involved, allowing the league to take advantage of the holiday setting and a captive television audience that it hopes will be in a forgiving mood. Christmas is also the traditional kickoff for the NBA’s national television schedule.
A tipoff before New Year’s provides enough time for a compressed 66-game schedule, just 16 fewer than normal, despite starting eight weeks late. It would require extending the regular season into late April and pushing back the Finals by a week.
Before owners and players can contemplate any of that, they must resolve the same prickly issues that killed talks two weeks ago: how to restrict the top-spending teams while still ensuring a robust free agent market.
The parties essentially picked up where they left off Nov. 10, discussing a proposal that includes a 50-50 split of revenues, shorter contracts, and tougher spending restrictions. The players rejected that deal, but on the basis of a half-dozen mechanical issues that, in the grander scheme, are fairly minor.
They have already conditionally agreed to the 50-50 split and most of the payroll restrictions. Neither side has attempted to put any new issues on the table or backed away from previously negotiated points.
That gives the parties hope that a deal can be consummated quickly.
“Both sides could fairly say that it’s crazy to blow the deal up over these remaining issues,’’ one person tied to the talks said yesterday.
The stakes and the parameters have changed since the parties last met. The players dissolved their union Nov. 14 and sued the NBA on antitrust grounds the next day. Technically, the parties are now in settlement talks, not collective bargaining negotiations.
The union will have to be reconstituted to adopt any new labor deal. The resumption in talks was first reported by Yahoo Sports early yesterday afternoon. The first official confirmation came last evening, in a statement from the law firm representing the players in their antitrust suit.
According to the statement, issued by attorney Jonathan Schiller, “preliminary settlement discussions’’ will be held “immediately after Thanksgiving.’’
An NBA spokesman declined comment, other than saying that the league “remains in favor of a negotiated resolution.’’
Derek Fisher, who was the union’s president until it dissolved, has not been involved yet but is expected to rejoin the fray tomorrow.
There is also a new face at the table: Jim Quinn, the union’s former chief outside counsel, who is now playing a pivotal role in this desperate final push. Quinn worked with the union on labor deals for 20 years and has strong relationships with both Stern and Players Association head Billy Hunter.
Quinn played a similar role in the 1998-99 lockout, entering the negotiations at a late stage and helping push through a deal that saved a 50-game season.