The effort seems there in the NBA labor talks. Time might not be.
Owners and players are scheduled to meet again Tuesday, a session that Commissioner David Stern indicated would be critical in gauging whether a new collective bargaining agreement can be reached before the current deal expires on June 30.
This will be at least the sixth meeting this month. After Friday’s 4½-hour session, both parties left believing the commitment to getting a deal done was there, yet unsure if there would be enough time to avoid a lockout.
“There’s a very clear sense of urgency, but we’re not sure between now and July 1 if we can make up the gulf that exists between the two sides,” players’ association president Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers said Friday.
Although the league agreed last week to leave contract guarantees as is, major disagreements remain.
Players argue that the current system doesn’t need an overhaul. Owners disagree and seek a hard salary cap system and a reduction of contract lengths, all part of their desire to slash player costs by about one-third, about $750 million of the approximately $2.1 billion spent on player salaries and benefits last season.
Owners also seek to change the split of revenues, of which players currently are guaranteed 57 percent. Players have offered to discuss a reduction in that percentage, but their figure was not acceptable to the league.
“We’re very far apart still on some big items as well as some small items but not afraid of the July 1 deadline in terms of giving up on this process,” Fisher said. “We’re still committed to trying to get something done between now and July 1.”
Union executive Maurice Evans of Washington, however, was frustrated by the owners’ stance, saying they’re still pushing for items that were in an original proposal that players already believed was off the table.
“There’s still major changes to the system as we know it, and according to them, there is no system,” Evans said. “So we’re starting from scratch, and that’s kind of hard to do in two weeks.”
On Tuesday, Stern expects a counter proposal relating to the economic issues of the league.
Though both he and Fisher have said things can happen quickly once there’s a breakthrough, it’s unlikely a deal will be reached this week, let alone Tuesday. Yet both sides might be reluctant to call off the talks entirely, especially since that would overshadow Thursday night’s draft.
The best news then might be if they end the meeting by deciding to have another.
“We had today, we’ll have Tuesday,” Stern said last week. “If Tuesday might turn into Wednesday and Wednesday might turn into Thursday and I know the union has all the player reps in on Thursday, and presumably if there were any significant progress across an array of issues they could be sequestered into Friday. We’ve even been known to work weekends around here. It’s not called for yet, but everyone is flexible.”