Spurs’ Bonner keeping hope of labor resolution alive

Spurs forward Matt Bonner spent Wednesday enjoying basketball in its purest form. He was the headliner at his eponymous youth camp in his hometown of Concord, N.H., where the average camper will never earn a dime playing the sport.

Today, Bonner — a vice president of the NBA Players Association — will be in New York for the kind of last-second shot he never practiced in his New Hampshire driveway. Principal negotiators from the NBA and union are scheduled for a final meeting this afternoon, eyeing one last chance to avert a lockout before the league’s collective bargaining agreement expires at midnight on the East Coast.

Somewhere between the Granite State and the Big Apple on Wednesday afternoon, Bonner began to channel John Lennon.

“Call me a dreamer,” Bonner said by telephone, “but I’m still hopeful we’ll be able to work something out.”

But Bonner admits what most NBA watchers are saying: The sport is on course for its first work stoppage since 1998-99.

“It doesn’t look good,” Bonner said. “There’s a lot of space between where the owners stand and where we stand.”

If that expanse cannot be bridged, owners are expected to impose a lockout, postponing the start of free agency and threatening the 2011-12 season. There is a chance, if headway is made today, both sides could agree to extend the current CBA a matter of days in order to continue negotiating.

Bonner said he did not know if the union would offer a counterproposal to the owners’ latest offer. He also would not speculate on whether the players, like their NFL counterparts, would vote to decertify the union in the event of a lockout.

The owners’ latest offer would guarantee players no less than $2 billion per year for the duration of a 10-year deal, at an average salary of $5 million per player. Union officials say that represents a pay cut of $7 billion over the life of the deal, compared with the system in place now.

Owners are also angling for a hard salary cap like the NHL’s, which players view as a nonstarter.

“They’re asking for a deal that is worse than hockey’s, which is considered to be the worst collective bargaining deal in sports history,” Bonner said. “If that’s their best offer, we don’t have much choice but to fight for something better.”

Could those differences be paved over at the 11th hour today? If Bonner is still a dreamer, he might be the only one.

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