New York, NY – There was little reason to be optimistic that the NBA season will start on time after the latest round of labor negotiations failed to make any progress toward ending the lockout.
The sides met in a bigger group Tuesday, but talks stalled without any inroads being made on hashing out a new collective bargaining agreement and with no further meetings scheduled.
"We did not have a great day. I think it's fair to say that," NBA commissioner David Stern said.
Stern added that it was still a goal for the season to start on time, but the players would not submit another proposal unless the owners agree in advance to keep the salary cap system exactly the same.
"We tried hard to come up with a counter to that today, but it didn't seem to be in the cards," Stern said. "We had a long day of meetings with the players and with our owners. At the beginning and at the end of the meetings we reiterated to the players that we need a system that is economically feasible and one that allows all of our teams to not only make a profit if they're well operated, but also to compete."
The troubled league is under the gun to prevent a loss of games as the work stoppage drifts further into its third month. A worst-case scenario of losing the entire season seemed at least plausible after union executive director Billy Hunter said players were told to prepare for missing half a season.
"Our position on a hard salary cap is something we find highly untenable and it's something our players have indicated to us that they're not prepared to accept," Hunter said. "It could be characterized maybe as a blood issue.
"In preparation for this moment, we've told our players that they should expect in all probability not to start the season on time. We actually prepared them by saying they may have to sit out as much as half of the season before we get a deal done."
Although there remains time to get a deal done before the regular season is scheduled to start on November 1, training camps are slated to open October 3 and the first preseason games are scheduled for six days later.
"Coming out of today, obviously because of the calendar, we can't come out of here obviously feeling though training camps and the season is going to start on time at this point," union president Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers said. "We'll continue to do the hard work necessary to figure this out, though."
The current system in the NBA allows teams to go over the salary cap with certain exception rules, but a luxury tax is in play as well. Owners have said 22 teams have lost money totaling about $300 million last season.
Under the old collective bargaining agreement, 57 percent of all Basketball Related Income went to the players. On July 22, the NBA and NBPA completed the 2010-11 NBA season audit and the results showed that BRI increased by 4.8 percent from $3.643 billion in 2009-10 to $3.817 billion in 2010-11. Players reportedly want a larger percentage of the BRI to offset a hard salary cap.
Stern said when the owners spoke to the players and exchanged proposals last week, he sensed there was a potential for an economic deal that could be within reach.
"Our concern was them stating to us that the only circumstances under which they would reach our agreement and sign off on economic issues was if the cap system remained exactly as it was today with the exceptions, the mid-level Bird trade, etc. That was just basically a non-negotiable item from their perspective," the commissioner said.
Stern said all of the owners were together in the aspect that they needed a "system at the end of the day where 30 teams can compete."
"It's important to make sure our guys understand, we're not marching toward getting a deal done at this time and in any time that we can predict at this moment," Fisher added. "It's our responsibility to continue to prepare ourselves in that fashion and make sure our players are prepared so that they can make the individual and collective decisions they need to make that are best for them and their families and those involved."
Unlike the labor strife that caused NFL lockout, which long appeared to be solvable, the problems facing the NBA have led observers to warn about a prolonged dispute like the one that canceled the 2004-05 NHL season.
The owners and players will meet separately on Thursday -- the owners in Dallas and the players in Las Vegas.
The NBA locked out its players on July 1 after the most recent labor deal between the two sides expired. The sides didn't meet for the first time until a month later and last week's meetings marked their first face-to-face talks since August 1.
"We've been clear from the beginning, any proposal that we make, any concepts that we throw out related to economics would always come attached with the understanding we would feel much more comfortable with the system for the most part remaining as close to possible as the same," Fisher said. "If we can address these economics, we're not going to lose the season over the system."