NBA Cancels First Two Weeks of Regular Season

October 11, 2011

Two days and 13 hours of discussions between the NBA and the players union provided no resolution leading to NBA commissioner David Stern officially cancelling the first two weeks of the season.

Stern termed the negotiations to being “very very far apart on virtually all issues.” Stern also suggested that the cancellations, just the second work stoppage in league history to knife into the regular season, essentially guarantees that a full 82-game season has also been lost after fruitless talks found NBA owners and players unable to agree on key items such as luxury-tax specifics, contract lengths and annual raises.

Not considered major issues that would derail negotiations as recently as last week, but they became contentious issues on the 102 day of the lockout and over the last 48 hours as the sides’ ongoing inability to agree on a workable split of annual Basketball Related Income. Players have always wanted a 53-47 split while the league and owners have voiced a 50-50 split which has proved to be a major stumbling block.

“We think that we made very fair proposals,” Stern told reporters in New York, describing himself as both sorry and sad about the parties’ inability to get close to the framework of a deal before Monday’s deadline to start the regular season on Nov. 1 as scheduled.

“I’m sure the players think the same thing,” Stern said. “But the gap is so significant that we just can’t bridge it at this time.”

Asked if he was prepared to rule out an 82-game schedule now that all games through Nov. 14 have been formally scrapped and not merely postponed, Stern said: “Yes, I think that’s right. And with every day that goes by, we need to look at further reductions in what’s left in the season.”

Stern and players association executive director Billy Hunter were in similar positions in 1998, when a 204-day lockout only left time for a 50-game regular season.

Hunter said on Monday, intimating that cancelling games and forcing NBA players to miss checks has been the owners’ intent for months: “I’m convinced that this is all just part of the plan.

“I think everybody’s waiting for the players to cave,” Hunter added. “They figure that once a player misses a check or two, it’s all over. I’m saying … that would be a horrible mistake if they think that’s going to happen, because it’s not going to happen. The players are all going to hang in.”

NBA players displayed their solidarity all day long with dozens of “LET US PLAY” tweets and #StayUnited hash tags at the urging of union president Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul. Yet as one source close to the talks observed: “People were tweeting ‘LET US PLAY’ all day long and the owners’ offers got worse by the end of the day.”

Sources told ESPN the primary stumbling block in Tuesday’s talks centered around a punitive luxury-tax system being pushed by the owners that the union views as a virtual hard salary cap.

Stern cited the owners’ willingness to surrender their longstanding insistence on an actual hard cap as an example of how the league “made concession after concession.” But sources said that owners proposed system changes this week that included a luxury tax of $2 for every $1 that teams strayed above the tax threshold — doubling the tax that was applied in the previous collective bargaining agreement — and didn’t stop there.

The owners, sources said, also want teams that stray beyond the tax line three times in a five-season span to pay $3 for every $1 over the tax limit. Sources said that the proposed tax penalties would rise to $4 for every $1 dollar over the threshold for any team that crossed into tax territory in five straight seasons.

Sources said that owners also pushed for contract limits of four years for free agents re-signing with their current teams and three years for free agents joining new teams, with the union proposing five years and four years, respectively. Sources say that the league, as reported last week, likewise continues to push for tax-paying teams to be denied the use of their Larry Bird and mid-level exceptions and is still pushing for the mid-level exception to be reduced from a maximum of $5.8 million annually over five years in the previous CBA to a two- or three-year maximum contract that can’t exceed $3 million annually.

“It makes no sense for us to operate under the current model, where taxpayers … have a huge advantage over other teams,” NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said.

Referring to suggested penalties for big-spending teams, union president Fisher said: “It’s still as close as you can get (to) a hard cap.”

No further negotiating sessions have been scheduled and none are expected before next week, sources said, with Hunter and Fisher scheduling a meeting with union members Thursday in Los Angeles.



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