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NBA owners, union meet again at critical time

NBA Commissioner David Stern, union president Derek Fisher and their top advisers are spending more time talking about a new labor deal.

Next week, they'll find out if they can make progress in a bigger group.

With negotiations at what Stern said is "getting to be an important time," the two sides met for the second consecutive day on Thursday, again for about 5½ hours. They'll return to the bargaining table Tuesday, this time with more players and owners, to try and find a way to end the league's lockout and save the 2011-12 season.

Though Stern and leaders from the players' association have said they like working in small numbers, the commissioner said they think it's "a good idea to have larger group meetings at this point."

Fisher, a guard for the Lakers, agreed.

"At some point, before you can try and make any attempt at any large progress, you have to involve all the respective members that are ultimately going to make the decisions, so we felt it was best to try to do that at this time and Tuesday we'll give (it) a shot," he said.

Stern said there was nothing yet to show the larger groups, which would include members of the owners' labor relations committee and the union's executive committee. The commissioner also would not offer any insight into what it meant that the number of attendees would be increasing, after all the meetings since the lockout began July 1 included just the leadership from each side.

"I don't really know that it's positive or negative, I just think it's time to bring the parties into the room who are ultimately responsible for either making a deal or deciding that there shouldn't be a deal," Stern said.

The two sides could again meet for consecutive days next week in New York, then both will update their members on the state of the talks next Thursday — not long before a decision would have to be made if any changes in the NBA calendar are in order.

Owners will meet Thursday in Dallas. Fisher said the union will speak to players in Las Vegas, where 40 are slated to play in a league being run at the Impact Basketball Academy.

Stern said no vote would be taken at his meeting, nor would any decisions need to be made by then. But there should be a clearer picture of whether a full season remains possible at that point.

"I suspect that by next Thursday, we'll have had more of an opportunity, in particular in the larger group, to continue to exchange ideas," Fisher said. "I do think there will be an effort at least from our part, to have some type of feeling about where this is going by the time we go and talk to our players on Thursday in Las Vegas. I can't assume that's what Commissioner Stern and the league is going to do, but it's a fair assumption.

"So I don't view that as a deadline, I don't view that as a threat of any kind that things have to be figured out by Thursday, but I would assume there will be information shared to the respective parties by then."

Cancelations during the 1998-99 lockout didn't start until Sept. 24, when the opening of training camps scheduled for Oct. 5 were called off. Camps would likely open Oct. 3 this year.

The talks Thursday again consisted of nine people: Stern, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt, who heads the labor relations committee, and NBA senior vice president and deputy general counsel Dan Rube from the league side. The union negotiators were Fisher, executive vice president Billy Hunter, attorneys Jeffrey Kessler and Ron Klempner, and economist Kevin Murphy.

The sides said after Wednesday's meeting that talks could continue into Friday if they were going well, but Stern said Thursday they preferred to wait until next week to allow for the members to travel to New York.

Neither side is hinting if progress is being made to end the work stoppage, saying they agreed to keep details private. But after a six-hour meeting last week, the frequency of their talks is being viewed as a positive after they held only two sessions in the first two months of the lockout that began July 1.

There appears to be disagreement on whether new proposals have been made — Fisher said there haven't been, Silver said Thursday there have — but otherwise there has been no indication that talks are going poorly since they resumed after nearly a month break following a fruitless Aug. 1 session.

But players already have been asked to accept an 8 percent pay cut in the first year of a new deal, changes to the salary cap structure and the maximum length of contracts, all obstacles to an agreement being reached.

Fisher said the talks have been "engaging" and "active," before adding, "but we still haven't found that place where we can come out and say, 'here's where we are and progress is being made.'"

"But there's an understanding that we have constituents to answer to. We're trying our best to get a deal done. Right now it isn't there yet, but we'll keep at it."

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