Mike Monroe: No summit in sight in NBA mess

On Tuesday morning, Matt Bonner rose early at his home in Concord, N.H., and drove an hour to the base of 4,000-foot Mount Tecumseh.

After parking, the Spurs forward ran 2½ miles to the mountain’s summit, an elevation gain of roughly 2,000 feet.

As he neared the top, his lungs burning from temperatures in the 20s, he found a dusting of snow on the ground.

“It was pretty cool,” he said a few hours later. “Getting up there was worth the pain.”

As he ran, Bonner tried to focus on the conditioning that will help him when the Spurs’ season begins, but the NBA’s lockout dominated his thoughts. As vice president of the National Basketball Players Association, Bonner has seen the futility of negotiations aimed at reaching a new collective bargaining agreement with the league’s owners.

It has been an uphill climb with no summit in sight.

The talks blew up on Thursday. Cancellation of another chunk of games is expected any day. Bonner doesn’t know when the two sides will meet again but hopes it will be sooner than later.

Rumors have surfaced that there have been informal conversations since the finger-pointing news conferences that followed Thursday’s sudden end to negotiations that had been led for three days by mediator George Cohen.

Team executives on Tuesday took part in a video conference call and kicked around revenue-sharing ideas, hardly the sort of development likely to jump-start the process.

You can’t get to a deal without talking, and Bonner wonders why the process continually stalls.

“I keep thinking we’re going to get a deal eventually, and now we’re into what should be the (pre)season,” he said. “If there is a deal to be made, let’s make it. What the hell is the problem?”

The problem seems to be that the owners want a lopsided win on the split of revenue before even discussing changes in the money distribution system, in part because they underestimate player resolve.

“If you’re expecting the players to collapse, I don’t see that as probable at all,” Bonner said. “Social media has helped us stick together and stay on the same page. There’s other leagues. A lot of guys will play elsewhere.

“They should not expect the guys to cave, and that’s what scares me the most. Plus, everyone got their escrow check back. That helps us, too.”

Indeed, the league recently had to refund to each player the 8 percent of salary it withheld from 2010-11 paychecks under the escrow system in the old deal when the players’ revenue share fell short of 57 percent.

Tim Duncan’s check: Roughly $1.6 million.

Bonner heard the unsubstantiated rumor, proffered on Twitter after Thursday’s blowup, that Spurs owner Peter Holt told the players they hadn’t yet endured enough pain. Re-tweeted so often that it took on a life of its own, the quote was attributed only to an unnamed source but gained traction for a few hours, a veritable lifetime in cyberspace.

“I never heard Peter say anything like that,” Bonner said. “Peter’s a really good guy, and he never loses his cool, and he’s always respectful.”

The Spurs are often cited as proof a small-market team can thrive if managed well, but it was no rumor that Holt refuted the contention last week. The Spurs managing general partner, who is chairman of the owners’ labor relations committee, used the post-blowup news conference to say his franchise lost money each of the last two seasons.

Then he asserted the Spurs would have joined the list of money losers earlier without some luck.

“We just got there a little later because, fortunately, a fellow named Tim Duncan showed up and David Robinson before that, and we won some championships,” Holt said. “So we were able to go deep into the playoffs.”

Holt has been lumped among hawkish owners intent on a lopsided win in the talks, but it is hard to imagine he favors canceling the season, given that his luck with Duncan is near its end.

The uphill climb needs to resume, and soon.


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