NBA talks still $7 billion apart

Published 12:31 am Thursday, June 23, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — Union officials said Wednesday that NBA players and owners are about $7 billion apart over a 10-year span in their most recent proposals, a significant gap to close to avoid a work stoppage.

So far apart in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement that union president Derek Fisher said when players are briefed on the state of the talks, they are in “total disbelief” and ask why they even bother having meetings.

“When we put our spreadsheets up, we put it on the board, we lay it out, everybody’s at a loss for how to even begin to close this gap,” the Lakers’ guard said.

Email newsletter signup

They have only until June 30, when the current CBA expires, and they’ll take another crack at it during another session Friday.

But as they continue to disagree over issues relating to the salary cap as well as the enormous gap in economics, it becomes clear how difficult it will be to avoid a lockout.

“Their demand is gargantuan and we just can’t meet it,” executive director Billy Hunter said.

Hunter and Fisher decided to meet with reporters after being caught off guard Tuesday when NBA Commissioner David Stern revealed details of the league’s latest proposal during a press conference after a bargaining session. Both sides had largely kept specifics from the media during the negotiations.

Yet Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver laid out their proposal for what they called a “flex cap,” in which teams would be targeted to spend $62 million in salary, but could exceed that number through the use of exceptions to an unspecified level before the ceiling kicked in.

The biggest surprise for the union: They said owners never mentioned the $62 million figure to them during discussions.

Players insist what was proposed was still a hard cap because there was an eventual limit, and they have said from the start they will not agree to a hard cap.

Fisher said the “flex” cap was a “total distortion of reality,” saying “it’s not a flexible cap, it’s a hard cap.”

Hunter allowed that the players would have to consider a hard cap if they were to receive a much higher cut of revenues. They are currently guaranteed 57 percent, a number they say the league wants to massively decrease.

The league’s proposal guaranteed players’ total compensation would never fall below $2 billion a year in a 10-year contract, but players earned $2.1 billion this season and believe they would earn more in later years as revenues rose.

And they remain against the 10-year deal the league seeks, having proposed their own five-year contract which they say offers giving back $500 million to owners. The union believes the league wants the unusually long deal — the longest previously has been six years with an option for a seventh — because the league’s national TV contract expires after the 2015 season, when it could have more money coming in without having to share it with the players.

Hunter and Fisher also said even before a new deal, owners already want to take from the players in this one, seeking to withhold about $160 million in escrow money they would have been paid out from the 2010-11 season in August.

Fisher said that “speaks to the arrogance that they feel” and said players shouldn’t be penalized for decisions owners have made that led to their losses.

“I’m not inclined to want to give back money that we’ve earned to help you in a sense make maybe more mistakes or more poor decisions,” Fisher said.

With owners asking so much from the players, Fisher said it doesn’t feel like the “partnership” owners stressed it was during their initial meetings.

“Players have benefited from the current system more than the teams. For them it has been a much better partnership,” Stern said in a statement. “We are sorry that the players’ union feels that way since it doesn’t seem designed to get us to the agreement that is so important to the teams, and we had hoped, the players.”

Owners say they are losing $300 million this season, and players argue that can be addressed by expanded revenue sharing. Stern has said they will have it, but only after the new CBA is completed.

That could still be a while. Owners will meet next Tuesday in Dallas, and Hunter said he expects they will vote there whether to lock out the players.

But he said the players won’t accept a bad deal to avoid that.

“I can assure you that we have not lost any of our resilience,” the players haven’t, and they’re willing to hang in there and fight,” Hunter said.