Well, so much for optimism. Today was a key day in NBA labor talks, and ended with a thud. In a session attended by an expanded cast of player and owner representatives after some vague, ostensible progress over the past couple of weeks and whispers of an impending settlement, talks hit the wall again and made the prospect of cancelling preseason games appear inevitable.
After a 5-hour negotiating session in New York City, NBPA President Derek Fisher said, "right now, we can’t find a place with the league and our owners where we can reach a deal sooner rather than later." Fisher continued: "It’s discouraging and unfortunate, but that’s the reality of where we stand right now."
Additionally, the improved tone of the last two weeks and restraint shown by both owners and players in not discussing their specific differences with the media went out the window today. Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver and Union chief Billy Hunter aired their grievances regarding the position of the other around a hard, soft or flex salary cap.
According to Howard Beck of the New York Times:
Hunter said, "It (keeping the current soft cap) could be characterized maybe as a blood issue" — a remark that Silver seized on as evidence of the union’s rigidity.
"That doesn’t seem a constructive way to negotiate," Silver said.
And 'round and 'round they go. Both sides concur they have moved closer to agreement on financial issues except for the hard or soft cap issue which, of course, has been the major sticking point all along. The current soft cap has so many exceptions that it's not a cap at all. Owners can either err on the side of overpaying to hold onto or add players, or be skewered by fans when they allow players to leave even when the players leave to become clearly overpaid elsewhere (*cough*JOE JOHNSON!*cough*).
As for the players, they think hey, nobody's holding a gun to owners' heads forcing them to ink players to ridiculous deals like the ones signed by Rashard Lewis or Gilbert Arenas on a grand scale and, on a smaller scale, overpaid role players like Josh Childress who litter league rosters. In the players' view, If you don't want to pay guys, you don't have to. Why do owners need a rule to protect them from themselves?
Later this week, Commissioner David Stern, Silver and the owners will meet; Hunter, Fisher and the players will meet separately amongst themselves. After those meetings, next steps will become more clear and will probably soon include the official postponement of training camps and cancellation of preseason games.The regular season is scheduled to start on November 1. There is still time to work out a deal and start the season then, but it will require some catalyst to get either side to move from their stubborn stances on the one central issue.