NEW YORK (AP) — NBA owners and players failed to reach a new labor deal after about seven hours of talks Saturday, focused mostly on the league’s salary cap structure.
The sides will meet again Monday, though time is getting short to save the start of the regular season — scheduled to begin on Nov. 1 — and neither side sounds optimistic.
“I wouldn’t say there was any progress. What happened was, they put some concepts up, we put some concepts up, and we’re still miles apart,” union executive director Billy Hunter said. “There’s a huge bridge, gap, that I don’t know if we’re going to be able to close it or not.”
In their longest bargaining session since the lockout began July 1, the sides focused mainly on one of the two major issues that divides them. Owners want a hard cap, or at least want a number of changes to the current soft cap system, which the players prefer to keep largely intact.
The sides didn’t even attempt to deal with the division of revenues, the other big obstacle to a labor deal that would end the lockout.
Commissioner David Stern said he had nothing to announce in terms of cancellations. But the remainder of the preseason schedule is in jeopardy — some games already have been canceled — and given there hasn’t been the progress he wanted this weekend, the regular-season games could now be threatened, too.
“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.
Stern did indicate some level of progress, saying: “We’re not near anything, but wherever that is, we’re closer than we were before.”
The sides will meet in small groups, then bring large groups back for another meeting Tuesday.
Hunter again said owners haven’t moved off their proposal to trim the players’ guarantee of basketball-related income to 46 percent, down from the 57 percent they were guaranteed in the previous collective bargaining agreement.
With the sides so apart on money, Hunter suggested they separate the issues and focus on one at a time. They started with the cap, where the league has transitioned from a desire for a hard cap to a proposal that would make the luxury tax more severe for the highest-spending teams. Union officials fear that would act like a hard cap by scaring teams into spending less to avoid a harsh penalty.
Stern, Hunter and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver all said they felt some good came of going at the cap issue first. But they couldn’t solve it, and it leaves another problem on the horizon largely untouched.
“I can’t necessarily characterize things as we made progress and that I’m somehow more optimistic than I was yesterday,” union president Derek Fisher of the Lakers said. “The reality is we still have an extremely long way to go. Even with the exchanges that we made today, there’s still huge gaps in what we’ve proposed compared to what they proposed, and then obviously we still have the economics that are just kind of sitting out there waiting for us to tackle. So there’s a lot of work left to be done, but we’ll keep at this.”
There had been optimism earlier in the day, when union vice president Maurice Evans said things were “going pretty good” when he left in the afternoon to catch a flight. But though the sides met for another two hours more, they couldn’t reach any sort of breakthrough.
Fisher said the players basically gave the owners a list of things they wanted kept in the next cap, likely things such as the midlevel and Larry Bird exceptions that allow teams to exceed the cap. However, the league is looking for ways to keep costs down for owners, and those items are easy targets.
Stern also confirmed he and Miami All-Star Dwyane Wade had a “heated exchange of some kind” during Friday’s meeting. Most of the star players had left by Saturday, but Stern and Silver said they were pleased by the number of players who did show up, singling out Boston’s Paul Pierce as one who said some meaningful things.
Hunter said he assumed it would be possible to save the entire season if the sides agreed to a deal by the middle of next week. But that will be difficult, given it could take as much as month between an agreement being reached and the time games could be played, so that free agency and exhibition games can first take place.
Hunter added the union hadn’t even signed off on the league’s plan for enhanced revenue sharing among teams, after Stern indicated Friday that players would be OK with it.
But though Stern had warned of “enormous consequences” of not making significant progress toward a deal this weekend, he is remaining hopeful.
“If we didn’t think that there was any hope, we wouldn’t be scheduling the meetings,” he said. “But that’s the best I would say right now.”