NBA labor dispute wipes out start of preseason

By Jeff McDonald

On Friday morning, Spurs forward Matt Bonner was in Montreal, preparing to play in a charity basketball game and feeling even more out of sorts than usual, when he got the news.

As expected, the NBA formally announced the postponement of training camp and the cancellation of a week’s worth of preseason games for lack of a new collective bargaining agreement.

“At this point, we should all be back in San Antonio, getting ready for camp,” said Bonner, a vice president of the players’ union who has been closely involved in negotiations with the league owners. “To not be there, it’s just really weird, you know?”

Training camp, originally slated to open Oct. 4, has been pushed back indefinitely. In addition, the league scuttled all preseason games through Oct. 15 — 43 in all.

The cancellations, forecast for days if not weeks, became necessary when the latest bargaining session broke down Thursday without significant progress made.

Among the carnage were the Spurs’ first three preseason games — exhibitions slated for Oct. 9 against New Orleans, Oct. 11 at Sacramento and Oct. 15 at home against the Kings were all scrapped. For now, the earliest the Spurs might open the preseason is Oct. 17 against Cleveland, and even that seems in peril.

“We have regretfully reached the point on the calendar where we are not able to open training camps on time and need to cancel the first week of preseason games,” deputy commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “We will make further decisions as warranted.”

In 1998-99, when the NBA’s most recent lockout shortened the regular season to 50 games, the league cancelled the remainder of its preseason schedule on Oct. 6. It is assumed a similar timetable would be in effect this time around.

If a deal is not reached by mid-October, it is unlikely the regular season will be able to open as scheduled Nov. 1. Bonner was hopeful Friday’s cancellations might up the ante for both sides to broker a deal before it comes to that.

“Up until now, nothing had been canceled,” Bonner said. “Now it seems more real. Hopefully, the realness of the situation will create some added motivation to get it solved.”

Bound by a gag order issued by the league office, Spurs officials are barred from commenting on labor issues while the lockout remains in effect.

The sticking points between owners and the union are twofold: How to split the league’s revenue pie, and by what mechanism the players’ share should be delivered.

The players have offered to reduce their portion of basketball-related income from 57 percent under the last CBA to 54.3 percent or lower, with the condition that the soft salary-cap system remains in place.

Owners, most of whom the league says are losing money, want the players to take a smaller cut of the pie — in the “mid-40s,” according to Bonner — while instituting a much more restrictive hard salary cap.

“Their offer is way out in left field, and they’re sticking to it,” Bonner said.

With the clock still ticking and the calendar still creeping forward toward doomsday, players can only hope for a return to normalcy soon.

“The unknown is stressful,” Bonner said. “It’s especially frustrating for players, because we want to play. It’s what we do.”


At least three of the team’s seven games will not be played because of the lack of an NBA labor deal:

Oct. 9: vs. Hornets
Oct. 11: @Kings
Oct. 15: vs. Kings

On for now
Oct. 17: vs. Cavs, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 20: vs. Magic, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 24: @Rockets, 7 p.m.
Oct. 27: @Thunder, 7 p.m.

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