Settlement talks between NBA players and owners were set to resume Friday with the hope of ending the league's five-month lockout and perhaps beginning the season on Christmas.
His appearance in this week’s negotiations – along with that of several other key Players Association officials – figures to run the risk of validating the league’s charges that the disbanding of the union was a "sham" negotiating tactic. Nevertheless, the belief that the end of the lockout is within reach this weekend inspired Fisher to make the move to join the talks.
Representatives of the owners and players spoke on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the possible settlement of the players’ recent antitrust lawsuits – which would essentially be an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. It is felt that Fisher's appearance is needed to reach an agreement on a deal.
Several high-ranking sources – on the league and players sides – believe there’s a do-or-die nature to getting a deal done to start the season on Dec. 25 and preserve a 66-game regular season.
Once again, the Players Association will have familiar negotiating faces in the room with the owners' representatives: Fisher, executive director Billy Hunter, staff lawyer Ron Klempner and antitrust suit lawyers. Some on the players' side still fear Stern is setting up the players with these talks and will use the participation of key union figures to show the disbanding of the union wasn’t for the purpose of filing antitrust suit in court, but gaining leverage in negotiations. Fisher understood the consequences, but sources believe there’s so much motivation to reach an agreement to end the lockout he needed to join the negotiating sessions.
"They felt they needed Derek there to continue," one high-ranking league official told Yahoo! Sports.
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The deal still centers on agreeing upon several key issues, including the escrow system and the use of full midlevel exceptions for tax-playing teams. The players are willing to agree to a 50-50 revenue split with the owners, provided some system issues are resolved. The owners appear to have again backed off their threats to return to a "reset" offer of a 53-47 revenue split in the owners' favor and a hard salary cap.
While the two sides have enough time to negotiate a deal for a shortened schedule for the 2011-12 season, they likely would have to reach agreement no later than this weekend if the league also hopes to save its showcase games scheduled for Christmas. NBA commissioner David Stern has repeatedly said the league would need about 30 days after an agreement is reached before the season could start. The league could still find a way to start on shorter than 30 days notice, but not more than several days, sources said.
Negotiations between the two sides broke off on Nov. 14 after the union decided to disband.
Several ownership sources were enthusiastic over the removal of polarizing Players Association counsel, Jeffrey Kessler, as the players' lead negotiator.
As one ownership source said recently, "Remember, the NFL got its deal done when [Kessler] finally was out of the room."
If the two sides agree on the framework of a deal, Fisher can resume an active role because the players can simply reinstate themselves back from a trade association into a union.
When asked if the two sides had made much progress on a settlement to the lockout, the source said, "Not yet, no."
Hunter didn’t inform the Players Association’s executive committee of the meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday in a call on Wednesday morning, and those players didn’t learn about the secret meetings until Yahoo! Sports reported them on Wednesday afternoon.
Several league sources say there isn’t significant ownership support for a regular season that consists of less than 60 games, but few see a scenario where Stern cancels the season before Jan. 1, 2012. In the 1998-99 lockout, a deal wasn’t reached until early January and the league played a 50-game regular season.
CBSSports.com reported on Tuesday that Jim Quinn had been contacted recently by both sides to act as a mediator in resuming talks. Previously an outside counsel for the Players Association, Quinn played a part in cutting a deal to end the 1998-99 lockout and is again helping lead talks with the players' antitrust attorney, David Boies.
After Stern threatened to pull back the owners' last proposal, the players rejected the offer and hired Boies to help represent them. Boies has repeatedly said the goal of the players’ litigation is to spur the owners to start settlement talks.
Lawyers representing the players initially filed two antitrust suits against the league that have since been consolidated into one in Minneapolis.
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