NBA hopeful of avoiding lockout

David Stern said the league still has enough time to negotiate a new CBA before June 30

MIAMI – After an afternoon of negotiations on Wednesday, the NBA and players union both expressed hope the league can avoid a lockout when its collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of the month.

The two sides said progress had been made during a four-hour session at a downtown hotel. League and union representatives also plan to meet in Dallas on June 7-8 when the NBA Finals move to Texas next week.

The league’s CBA is set to expire on June 30. A lockout would likely begin the next day if there is no new agreement in place.

“It’s still our hope that there may be a deal here to be done," NBA commissioner David Stern said. "We’re going to test it to the limits. If we’re wrong, we’re wrong.”

Players union executive director Billy Hunter has previously said he was “99 percent sure” a work stoppage would take place this summer. But after Wednesday’s talks, he expressed new hope, saying the discussions were “much more fluid than we’ve had in some time.” Stern added that while both sides are still “quite far apart,” there is also enough time to hammer out a deal.

“I’m hopeful,” Hunter said. “We know the pressure is building. And if anything is going to happen, it’s going to have to happen between now and June 30. We’re going to make every effort to see if we can make a deal. If we don’t, we don’t. It’s not going to be for a lack of trying.”

NBA players Keyon Dooling(notes), Roger Mason(notes) and Maurice Evans(notes) joined Hunter in representing the union during the talks. Union president and Los Angeles Lakers guard Derek Fisher(notes) didn’t attend because of a previously scheduled family vacation. Among the owners at the talks were the Miami Heat’s Micky Arison, the Dallas Mavericks’ Mark Cuban, the Boston Celtics’ Wyc Grousbeck and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Dan Gilbert. Lakers vice president Jeanie Buss also attended.

Stern said both sides will have “negotiating teams” in attendance at next week’s meetings.

“I’d say that we had a really good discussion,” Stern said. “The idea was for owners and players to exchange views, and there was a full and complete exchange. Sometimes quite animated. Always in good humor. But it’s important for the parties to hear each other out.”

Both sides declined to reveal specifics about the talks with Stern saying only that economic and system issues were widely discussed. Hunter declined comment on whether the owners were willing to lessen their hopes for a hard salary cap.

Mason said the big-market teams seemed more open-minded about revenue sharing. Dooling said an agreement was still “far away,” and both sides agree it will take much longer to put together a deal once a lockout begins.

“Hope is all we can have right now,” Mason said. “I know we are still apart on key issues. We want to get a deal done as players. We don’t want to get locked out. I think the owners don’t want to lock us out as well. Those are two positives and we have a lot of work to do in the next month.”