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NBA negotiations go sour

No progress seen; today’s talks off

DAVID STERN Cap still at issue DAVID STERN
Cap still at issue
By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / September 14, 2011

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After last week’s NBA labor discussions generated a glimmer of hope that an agreement was within reach, the league and the players union basically went back to Square One after talks during yesterday’s session resulted in nothing but discouragement and doubt about playing a full season.

With training camps scheduled to begin the first week of October, the sides met again in New York yesterday, hoping to capitalize on the momentum from fruitful negotiations of the past 10 days.

While Players Association officials claimed they were ready to make a major financial sacrifice, they said they never had that opportunity because the owners continued to insist on a hard salary cap - similar to the NHL’s - and the union has maintained it will not accept any form of a hard cap.

The last collective bargaining agreement included a soft salary cap, allowing teams to exceed the limit if they paid a luxury tax. The Celtics were annually one of those teams.

“We did not have a great day,’’ NBA commissioner David Stern told reporters in New York. “I think it’s fair to say that.’’

If the talks had been productive, the sides were expected to speak again today, but that plan was scrapped after yesterday’s four-hour session.

“We came obviously with the intent of negotiating,’’ said Players Association executive director Billy Hunter. “We came prepared to compromise on the position that we staked out previously, hoping we could get a deal, save dollars, and maybe start the season on time.

“Unfortunately, after the negotiations and discussions we’ve had, we’re a bit pessimistic and discouraged at the ability to start on time and we’re not sure that there may not be further damage or delay trying to get the season started.

“The owners are not inclined at this stage to move off the position where they have anchored themselves. We have expressed a willingness to move off of our position in a serious attempt to reach a compromise.’’

Several NBA insiders say the owners have no intention on budging from a hard cap and some may be willing to sacrifice the season to change the financial model of the league. The players realize they have to relinquish some of the benefits they had under the previous agreement but are not willing to take a primary role in rescuing struggling owners from debt.

Stern claims 22 teams are losing money. The NBPA disputes that number.

“We reiterated to the players that we need a system that is economically feasible and one that allows all of our teams to not only make a profit if they are well-operated but also compete,’’ said Stern. “I guess to jump to the end, when we last spoke to the players, we said we have a sense that within a certain tolerance there’s a potential economic deal that may be within view. We thought that the concept generated the possibility that there were economic goals we could probably mutually meet.’’

According to Stern, the players insisted on some of the same financial concepts - mid-level exception, Larry Bird rule, soft salary cap - that were in the previous collective bargaining agreement. The owners did not respond to that suggestion and scrapped the scheduled meetings for today.

The NBA’s Board of Directors will meet tomorrow, but Stern said it will not vote on whether to postpone the season.

Stern called the players’ insistence on a soft cap an “emotional attachment.’’ He said they would earn the same amount of money under the hard cap. But Hunter - who called the salary cap a “blood issue’’ - and the players disagree.

NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver took offense to that term.

“You don’t hear us using the words ‘blood issue’ and ‘nonnegotiable,’ ’’ he said. “And frankly we don’t understand why an individual team hard cap should be a blood issue when a macro hard cap at 57 percent [the players’ share of income], which is what we have now, is not.

“How the money is distributed among the teams and among the players is a fair topic of negotiation.

“The existing system does not work. Teams that are able and willing to pay the tax have a huge competitive advantage. That’s not how our system should operate.’’

Players Association president Derek Fisher said, “Although we continue to be prepared to negotiate, right now the space from our ownership group is not there. We’ve continued to discuss and be willing to discuss major items.

“Right now, we can’t find a place with the league and our owners where we can reach a deal.

“We can’t predict a timeline or process in terms of how this will unfold. It’s discouraging. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality of where we stand right now.’’

Meanwhile, about 70 NBA players have gathered in Las Vegas to participate in an organized league of eight teams, leading up to a Sept. 23 championship game. Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal and guard Avery Bradley are among them.

Material from NBA.com was used in this report.

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