Stern focused on labor deal, not pondering lockout

NBA commissioner David Stern insisted Sunday he hasn't thought about the effects of a possible lockout next year, and gave new assurances that the league and players' union remain focused on reaching a new labor agreement.

The sides are divided over the renewal of the collective bargaining agreement that expires June 30, raising fears of a possible lockout.

"We are actually focusing our efforts so entirely on reaching a deal that we haven't gone into a risk assessment mode for a lockout, because we are trying as hard as we can to reach an agreement with our players," Stern said. "We have been talking for a long time. I think that the atmosphere is cordial and open. We have provided the players with as much access as have ever been given to financial records, which is complete audited reports (and) tax returns. Although I can't say we have made great progress, both sides are committed to meetings and talking."

Stern was speaking at a news conference ahead of the exhibition game between the New York Knicks and Italian team Olimpia Milano.

"We met last week and I'd say we will be meeting several times in the fall and we remain optimistic that with the energy on both sides we will be able to do it and reach an agreement on both sides," Stern said.

The NBA is expanding its European presence this season. Aside from the annual preseason tour — which also includes the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves — the NBA will return in March for the first regular season games played in Europe. The New Jersey Nets and the Toronto Raptors will play a doubleheader on March 4-5 at London's O2 Arena, where the Lakers play the Timberwolves on Monday.

However, Stern remained unsure if regular season games overseas will become a recurring feature of the NBA schedule.

"The answer is I don't know," he said.

"We don't make a big distinction between the friendlies and the fixtures," he added, using the European term for exhibition games. "It is a start in London in March and we hope to see more of those if we possibly can.

"We have played regular season games before in Tokyo and in Mexico City, so it is not entirely new to us."

Stern also responded to claims by LeBron James' manager Maverick Carter that race played a factor in how the two-time reigning NBA MVP's decision to join the Miami Heat was covered this summer.

"I guess I would say that, No. 1, I wish it were so that America was a post-racial society, but I don't think that would quite be accurate," Stern said. "That being said, I believe the vast majority of the reaction to LeBron, but not necessarily all, was not motivated by racial issues."