NEW YORK (AP) — With exactly one month until the season is scheduled to start, NBA owners and players are meeting for a second straight day in hopes of ending the lockout.
Negotiators returned Saturday for further talks after the sides met for more than four hours Friday. All-Star players such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony attended that session, but fewer players were expected Saturday.
An agreement on a new labor deal may be necessary in the next few days to avoid having to cancel regular-season games. Already part of the preseason has been scrapped, and Commissioner David Stern has said there must be progress this weekend or there will be “enormous consequences.”
Both sides, however, have cautioned there is still plenty to work out.
“There are a lot of issues on the table. I think just even in question of the number of hours in a day, I’m not sure we could complete a deal this weekend,” Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said after Friday’s meeting. “The question is how much progress can we make on the significant issues.”
They made some on one of them Friday, but two big hurdles remain.
Stern indicated that the union will OK the owners’ plan for enhanced revenue sharing. However, the salary cap structure and division of revenues between the sides remain obstacles.
A person familiar with what happened during Friday’s meeting said the normally mild-mannered Wade angrily expressed frustrations with the process, directing most of his comments toward Stern and saying he felt disrespected by the commissioner at one point during the meeting. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the sides agreed to keep details of the day’s dialogue private.
Stern emphatically denied he would threaten to cancel the entire season this early even if things don’t go well this weekend. Still, he repeated that there would be danger in not making progress soon.
“Both sides agreed that the consequences of not making a deal lead us to the prospect of possibly at some point in the not distant future losing regular-season games,” Stern said. “And we agreed that once you start to lose them and the players lose paychecks and the owners lose money, then positions on both sides will harden and those are the enormous consequences that I referred to in terms of trying to make a deal.”
There were 21 players and 10 owners in the meeting. Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Elton Brand, Baron Davis and Andre Iguodala were among the other players who stood behind union president Derek Fisher at his news conference after the session.
“We feel it helps the process for our teams to hear directly from a lot of times their star players, their franchise players, the guys who mean the most to our game,” Fisher said.
Players have been frustrated that owners have shut them out of their plans for expanded revenue sharing. Stern had said the plan couldn’t be completed until the collective bargaining agreement was done, so the league would first know how much it would be paying out to the players.
But Stern said the players now know everything the league knows and insisted “that will not be the issue that separates us.” He has said the plan is for the revenue sharing pot to triple next season from this year’s $54 million and added Friday that the goal was to quadruple it by year three.
The salary cap remains an obstacle. Players have stressed they will fight any attempt to impose a hard cap system instead of the current soft cap that allows teams to exceed it through the use of certain exceptions.
Owners this week relaxed their insistence on the hard cap, instead proposing a system where there would be four levels of the luxury tax, and the more a team spent, the higher that tax. (There is currently a $1 penalty for every $1 over the tax threshold.) But Fisher, without getting into specifics, said that system still wouldn’t work for the players.
“I think the idea was if you removed the name ‘hard cap,’ that that would be good enough in itself. But we still believe the mechanisms … still in just about every sense would be a hard cap for teams,” he said. “There would be very few, if any, teams that would be in a position to spend over that particular number, so that’s how we feel about it at this point. It doesn’t mean that the negotiation is over, but it’s definitely not anywhere close to where we’d be able to agree to it.”
The division of revenues is the last of what Stern called the Big Three items. Owners are seeking to reduce the players’ guarantee from 57 percent in the previous deal.