LOS ANGELES (AP) — NBA Commissioner David Stern said Saturday “it’s time to start negotiating” a new collective bargaining agreement and get rid of the rhetoric.

And with the deadline approaching, he thinks that’s being done.

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“I think we have excised it,” he said during his annual All-Star press conference.

Not entirely, though. Shortly after he said the players largely agreed with the league’s financial figures, the union said it still disagreed.

Stern said the league and the players’ association realize the importance of agreeing to a deal before the expiration of the current one on June 30, adding that both sides understand from the work stoppage of 1998 how devastating a lockout could be.

“We both have the capacity to shut down the league,” he said. “There’s no magic that’s going to keep this league operating if we don’t make a deal.”

The sides met Friday and agreed to hold more talks in smaller groups over the next few months.

The union has been frustrated by what it believes is an unwillingness by the league to negotiate. The NBA has offered no new proposals in the year since the players rejected its initial one during last year’s All-Star break.

But both sides said their meeting Friday was cordial and believe it showed a desire on both sides to focus more on the issues.

“I liked yesterday’s meeting, because the union agreed to talk about some things that they said were nonnegotiable,” Stern said.

“Yesterday what I heard for the first time in response to our statement that we’re willing to talk about everything, is that they were willing to talk about everything. And so we welcome that and now we are going to spend our time setting up small and large groups to talk about everything. And then we’ll see how it goes.”

Stern declined to specify what the union was now open to discussing, though added that in order to make the league more competitive “there are certain system changes that cover a lot of different subjects that change the status quo.”

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That would seem to imply a hard salary cap, which union executive director Billy Hunter has called a “nonstarter.” There were no indications Friday during its press conference that the union has backed off its stance against a hard cap, which the owners want to replace the current system that allows certain exceptions to the cap.

Stern also said the union now largely agreed with the league’s revenue projections. The union has long disputed the NBA’s projections of $350 in losses this season.

“We sort of both agreed that the numbers are what they are and it doesn’t pay to argue about them anymore,” Stern said. “They are real.”

Hunter released a statement after the press conference saying: There has been ongoing debate and disagreement regarding the numbers, and we do not agree that the stated loss figures reflect an accurate portrayal of the financial health of the league.”

Stern repeated that the league will have expanded revenue sharing, but not until there is a new CBA that eliminates some of the teams’ losses, because “you can’t revenue share your way to a profit as a league.”


—Stern said a franchise player designation isn’t currently on the table, but is something that could come up for discussion.

—He is confident in the Hornets’ future in New Orleans, but that the league wouldn’t spend any more time helping the Kings build a new arena in Sacramento after spending several million dollars in the previous attempt that collapsed.

Stern wasn’t sure when the league would offer a new proposal. Hunter said Friday the players wouldn’t be making one anytime soon after the league wasn’t interested in the one they delivered in July.

But Stern said he believes they’ll work through those issues.

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“I would say what gives me hope is the fact that a lockout would have huge negative consequences for everybody,” he said. “And that’s what gives me the hope and the belief that we are going to knock ourselves out to get it done.”