NEW YORK — Deadline Day became Dialogue Day for the .
An ultimatum that had threatened negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement between owners and players was set aside so negotiations could resume, the sides closer to an agreement than they have been since imposition of a lockout by the league July 1.
The talks aimed at ending the lockout continued after the close of business Wednesday, with the league’s owners and players once again searching for the final pieces of a deal to save the season.
Negotiations continued into this morning over “system” issues the players insist they must have if they’re to agree to a 50-50 split of basketball-related income.
The , through president , the guard, Tuesday indicated its willingness to accept the 50-50 deal in exchange for some “tweaks” in the system issues.
Commissioner had warned the National Basketball Players Association that an offer from the league that promised the players the 50-50 split would disappear forever if they declined to accept it by 4 p.m. CST, the close of the league’s business day Wednesday.
Inflammatory rhetoric followed warning, characterized by the union as an ultimatum. Among the incendiary remarks: A charge by National Basketball Players Association outside counsel and lead negotiator that Stern had treated the players “like plantation workers.”
Kessler apologized to Stern on Wednesday morning, and talks resumed around 12:30 CST on Wednesday afternoon. Stern, Deputy Commissioner and Spurs owner , chairman of the owners’ labor relations committee represented the league, along with league attorneys and Dan Rube. Fisher, NBPA executive director , Kessler, attorney and economist represented the players.
With the union’s willingness to yield to the owners’ insistence on a 50-50 split of revenue — a precipitous drop from their 57 percent share that represents a pay cut of 12 percent and an immediate loss of $280 million in salaries — came an appeal to the league to re-open talks to address system issues.
Stern was said to be authorized to make some compromises, and the length of time spent in small-group discussion gave rise to some optimism that a breakthrough might be possible, given the small number of outstanding issues.
Most of the disagreements centered on the luxury tax system that serves as a brake on runaway spending by some teams.
The owners want to stiffen the financial penalties for profligate spending. The players are willing to see the penalties increased but object to some of the rules the owners want to impose.
The league’s proposal on Saturday would ban luxury-tax-paying teams from executing sign-and-trade deals and from using the full mid-level salary cap exception, worth $5 million.
Fearing a chilling effect such rules would have on the free-agent market, the players want to see those rules “tweaked” to promote a more robust free agent market.
Failure by the two sides to reach agreement promises to lead to increased effort by some players to decertify the union as its bargaining unit. This would open the way for a federal antitrust suit, but the process of decertification figures to take about 45 days. The NBPA would be able to negotiate with the league before a decertification vote were taken.
Stern’s warning to the union Saturday was simple: Accept the league’s offer or face a much worse offer in the future. The league’s economic offer would be reset to 47 percent of revenue for the players, with a “flex” salary cap the union already has deemed a hard cap. Further, the reset offer will seek to roll back current contracts.
Such an offer would almost certainly lead to the decertification vote going forward.
Wednesday’s talks aimed to avoid that Doomsday scenario.