NEW YORK – As labor negotiations between NBA players and owners once again reached an impasse, commissioner David Stern said the league will cancel the first two weeks of the 2011-12 regular season if a deal is not reached by the start of next week.
Stern announced the cancellation of the remaining two weeks of the preseason and set Monday as the deadline to save the Nov. 1 start of the regular season. The league and players union don't have another negotiating session scheduled after talks broke down Tuesday.
There were moments in Tuesday's negotiations when a deal appeared to be within reach. Now, the question is: How long until the two sides can get that close again?
"We'd like to not miss the first two weeks of the season, but it doesn't look good," Stern said.
After Players Association president Derek Fisher(notes) declared Tuesday's meeting "huge" in determining whether the regular season would start on time, union and league officials couldn't narrow the economic gap between them enough to close an agreement.
"We find ourselves where we expected to be: a lockout that may jeopardize a part, or our whole season," Fisher said after the four-hour session at a Times Square hotel.
Fisher said the players have agreed to reduce their share of the league's basketball-related income from 57 percent in the previous collective bargaining agreement to 53. Union executive director Billy Hunter said the owners' latest proposal had the players receiving 47 percent of the BRI, but Stern said the two sides discussed a 50-50 revenue split – "a concept, not an offer," Stern said – that the players didn't accept.
CBSSports.com reported that Stern proposed a split that would have guaranteed the players no worse than 49 percent with a cap of 51 percent. The owners were reportedly prepared to sign off on the offer when the players proposed a deal that would have guaranteed them a minimum of 51 percent with a cap of 53. The league, CBSSports.com reported, rejected that offer.
[Related: Wojnarowski: Stern needs to drop bully act]
In spite of all the rhetoric, the midpoints of the two offers indicates the gap between the two sides is just two BRI percentage points.
The owners, Stern said, have moved off their demands for a hard cap and rollbacks on existing player contracts.
Six of the league's top agents who have been pushing for the union to decertify are expected to talk with their clients within the next day and determine what next step to take. Hunter said decertification is "something we have to give some thought to."
Kobe Bryant(notes), Kevin Garnett(notes) and Paul Pierce(notes) were among the players who attended Tuesday's meeting. Garnett was extremely emotional in a meeting with players before the full negotiating session, sources said. He rallied the players, who would begin to miss paychecks around Nov. 15, to hold firm on the BRI split.
"The thought among some of the owners is that once the players started missing checks, they would cave," Hunter said.
Hunter said it would be wrong for the owners to test the players' resolve.
"Our guys have indicated a willingness to lose games," Hunter said.
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