NBA — 27 October 2011
NBA, Players Make Progress Toward Deal

NEW YORK – The NBA and Players Association are pushing hard to reach the framework of an agreement to end the league-imposed lockout after moving closer to consensus on several important issues, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.

Negotiators met for more than 15 hours, finishing past 3 a.m. ET Thursday, and sources said talks centering on the system issues resulted in significant progress on one of the labor fight’s most vexing obstacles: the luxury tax teams would have to pay for going over the salary. Negotiations will resume at 2 p.m. ET Thursday.

“They need [Thursday] to punch it over the end line,” one source briefed on the talks told Y! Sports.

There was a significant effort among the NBA’s owners to push hard to get a deal done with the players over the weekend, sources told Yahoo! Sports. NBA commissioner David Stern wasn’t happy with the implosion of talks that occurred with him home ill last Thursday, and sources said he was more determined than ever to rally his owners to find some compromises to make a deal with the union.

“I leave these guys alone for a little bit of time,” Stern said, “and all hell breaks loose.”

From front-office executives to player agents, optimism is rapidly rising that there’s significant momentum toward reaching an agreement and saving most, if not all, of the 82-game regular season. Union executive director Billy Hunter said he “assumes” the full schedule could be saved if a deal is reached by “Sunday or Monday.” Stern said the league will work with the union to schedule as many games as possible.

The two sides didn’t discuss the split of revenue – a contentious issue in previous negotiating sessions – instead taking Hunter’s suggestion they “park” the discussion while negotiating system issues. Stern indicated the talks likely won’t return to the split until the league and union have finished with the system. League and union officials will continue to meet in small groups Thursday. Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt will brief the owners’ labor-relations committee before talks resume.

The players would be willing to move closer to a 50-50 split on basketball-related income (BRI) if they can maintain comparable exceptions to the ones they had in the previous labor agreement – and a luxury tax that doesn’t too punitively discourage big-spending teams from exceeding the salary cap, sources said.

[Related: NBA stars to play in Puerto Rico]

The NBA ended talks last week when the union refused to accept an ultimatum on a 50-50 split of the BRI. The owners dropped the precondition of the players accepting that split, and allowed talks to push into the system issues on Wednesday.

The sides had agreed tentatively on a $5 million midlevel exception late last week, but have been haggling on annual percentage raises and the allowable length of those contracts. The NBA wants midlevel deals to last a maximum of three years; the union wants four.

The progress on Wednesday night had been spurred by quiet talks between the two sides in the aftermath of an acrimonious and abrupt end of discussions last week.

“Clearly, things happened [in recent days] to get this from a ‘sad, sad day for the NBA’ and ‘you were just lied to,’ to a current tenor where all signs point to the real possibility of a deal,” one source briefed on the talks late Wednesday told Yahoo! Sports.

Once an agreement is reached in principle, the league’s board of governors and the players will both have to ratify it. About three weeks will be needed to get the deal finalized in writing, allow teams to sign free agents and hold abbreviated training camps, possibly pushing the start of the regular season into the last week of November or the first week of December.

“There’s no question today was a better day than last Thursday,” Silver said. “I think it’s too early … still in the negotiations to express confidence we’re at a deal. There’s no question, though, we did make progress on some significant issues. But there are still some significant issues left.”

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Steve Guiremand

Steve Guiremand is the editor of Rebel Nation, a UNLV all-sports publication owned by Stephens Media that is printed weekly from August through April. He was born in southern California and graduated from the University of Southern California in 1978. He has covered college and professional sports as well as recruiting for over 30 years for several publications including the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, The National Sports Daily, the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Las Vegas Sun. He moved to Las Vegas in 1998 and has covered UNLV football and basketball as well as the old Las Vegas Stars triple-A baseball team. He’ll blog about UNLV sports and recruiting.

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