Thursday, November 24, 2011

NBA talks resume to start season on Christmas Day

Source : Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo! Sports

After two days of meetings, NBA officials and players will resume talks on Friday to try to end the lockout and resume play on Christmas Day, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.

Representatives of the owners and players met in New York on Tuesday and Wednesday, as Y! Sports first reported, and discussed the possible settlement of the players’ recent antitrust lawsuits – which would essentially be an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. These are no longer considered collective bargaining talks but rather a settlement of pending litigation.

While the two sides have enough time to negotiate a deal for a shortened schedule for the 2011-12 season, they likely would have to reach agreement no later than this weekend if the league also hopes to save its showcase games scheduled for Christmas. NBA commissioner David Stern has repeatedly said the league would need about 30 days after an agreement is reached before the season could start. The league could still find a way to start on shorter than 30 days notice, but not more than several days, sources said.

Negotiations between the two sides broke off on Nov. 14 after the union decided to disband. Players Association president Derek Fisher(notes) wasn’t in New York for the meetings this week, but could return as soon as Friday, sources said.

The NBA wants to play a 66-game regular season, as reported by the New York Times, and would need an agreement in place by early next week to make that possible.

The two sides will meet again Friday, and there’s a push within the league office and from Players Association executive director Billy Hunter to have Fisher in the room, league sources said. Nevertheless, Fisher hasn’t committed to attending the meeting, perhaps because of legal concerns about how a judge in the federal suit could view his participation. There’s still a sense the owners could be setting up a trap for the Players Association, perhaps leading them on in talks now only to pull the plug and make a case to the judge that Hunter’s and Fisher’s involvement in the meetings shows they’re still acting as a union – and that the disclaimer of interest and subsequent lawsuits were nothing more than negotiating tactics.

“They felt they needed Derek there to continue,” one high-ranking league official told Yahoo! Sports.

Several ownership sources were enthusiastic over the removal of polarizing Players Association counsel, Jeffrey Kessler.

As one ownership source said recently, “Remember, the NFL got its deal done when [Kessler] finally was out of the room.”

If the two sides agree on the framework of a deal, Fisher can resume an active role because the players can simply reinstate themselves back from a trade association into a union.

When asked if the two sides had made much progress on a settlement to the lockout, the source said, “Not yet, no.”

Hunter didn’t inform the Players Association’s executive committee of the meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday in a call on Wednesday morning, and those players didn’t learn about the secret meetings until Yahoo! Sports reported them on Wednesday afternoon.

Several league sources say there isn’t significant ownership support for a regular season that consists of less than 60 games, but few see a scenario where Stern cancels the season before Jan. 1, 2012. In the 1998-99 lockout, a deal wasn’t reached until early January, and the league played a 50-game regular season. reported on Tuesday that Jim Quinn had been contacted recently by both sides to act as a mediator in resuming talks. Quinn was previously an outside counsel for the Players Association and played a part in cutting a deal to end the 1998-99 lockout.

In their last round of negotiations as a union, the players had agreed to accept a 50-50 revenue split with the owners, provided they resolved some of the system issues that could limit player movement. Stern had repeatedly said the owners were done negotiating and that the players must accept the league’s proposal or risk a worse offer.

The players rejected the deal and hired antitrust attorney David Boies to help represent them. Boies has repeatedly said the goal of the players’ litigation is to spur the owners to start settlement talks.

Lawyers representing the players initially filed two antitrust suits against the league that have since been consolidated into one in Minneapolis. Hunter told reporters on Tuesday he thought a magistrate could be appointed in the case to begin settlement talks early next week.

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