Mike Monroe: NBA just posturing at this point

It’s Wednesday morning, and the owners and players are still talking to one another. Apparently, Tuesday was a very important day in the NBA’s collective bargaining process, but Friday is very, very important.

David Stern often resorts to hyperbole, so the massive magnitude the NBA commissioner had ascribed to Tuesday’s meeting caused some of us veteran reporters to roll our eyes.

Stern emerged on Tuesday to announce another negotiating session for Friday because the owners had made a new proposal that reflected their desire “to go as far as we can to avoid a lockout,” according to the Associated Press.

Perhaps his real goal was to make certain he can preside over the first round of Thursday’s draft without being booed off the stage or pelted with rotten tomatoes.

Thursday’s draftees may have to wait until 2012 to prove worthy of their spot in the annual selection, for there is little to suggest a collective bargaining breakthrough is imminent.

Negotiators don’t get more down-to-earth than Matt Bonner, the Spurs forward who is one of nine players on the union’s negotiating committee. But even the ever-upbeat Bonner is hard-pressed to see a way out of a process that has been complicated by major changes in the makeup of the league’s owners and a global recession that has affected nearly every business on the planet.

You can tell Bonner is discouraged when he fails to offer anything quirky or humorous in any conversation, and he was all business during a phone chat on Tuesday.

The problem with the owners’ negotiating position, Bonner said, is its very premise.

“There was movement,” he said of Tuesday’s meeting, “but the key to understanding it is that their starting position is based on the really extreme offer they made last year.

“They’re not starting from the current deal, which is our starting point, obviously. They’re starting from Candyland.”

The owners’ “Candyland” includes a hard salary cap, and Bonner and the other members of the union’s negotiating committee — president Derek Fisher and Bonner, Roger Mason Jr., Theo Ratliff, Mo Evans, Keyon Dooling, James Jones, Etan Thomas and Chris Paul — weren’t buying the latest iteration of that position, something Stern called a “flex cap.”

According to the Associated Press, Stern said the flex cap would ensure the players’ total compensation never would fall below $2 billion per year in a 10-year contract, a figure close to what the players’ total compensation was last season.

The tweak, according to Bonner, is just repackaging an old proposal in new language.

“It’s their attempt to spin something that is still essentially a hard cap,” he said.

Spurs owner Peter Holt, considered a moderate, is chairman of the owners’ labor relations committee, but it includes some relatively new owners who weren’t around when previous CBAs dictated the split of league revenues. The league insists 22 of 30 teams lost money last season and calls it proof the business model is broken and can be fixed only by the enormous changes they seek.

Frankly, some of the new owners paid too much for their teams — Phoenix’s Robert Sarver ($400 million in 2005) and Golden State’s Joe Lacob and Dan Gruber ($400 million in 2010) for example. Now they seek big givebacks from the union to prop up their bottom lines.

The players are disinclined to give up what took 40 years to gain.

This is Bonner’s first experience with collective bargaining, but he already understands the imperative that guides a negotiating committee that includes only one superstar.

“It’s humbling to be in a position where you can have an influence on a deal that’s going to affect the game that is so much bigger than you,” he said. “It will affect all the players in the game now and all the players that come in the league after you. It’s a big responsibility to do what’s right and fight for what’s right.”

The bell will ring on the next round on Friday — a very, very important day.


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