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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 7, 2010

NBA: Could labor issues overshadow All-Star week?

AP Basketball Writer

NEW YORK The NFL's party week was briefly interrupted by a sobering message about the league's labor situation.

Now it could be the NBA's turn.

The league's collective bargaining agreement also will expire in 2011, and management and the players' association will meet next weekend during the All-Star events in Dallas as they try to negotiate a new one.

Indications are it won't be easy. CBSSports.com, citing a person familiar with the document, reported that the first proposal the league sent the union last week called for a reduction of the players' share of the basketball-related income from 57 percent to below 50, as well as reductions in the length and amount of maximum value contracts, and elements of a "hard" salary cap to replace the current system that forces teams exceeding the cap to pay a luxury tax.

Neither the league nor the union have commented about the proposal, but it will surely be a topic when commissioner David Stern, and perhaps players' association executive director Billy Hunter, meets with the media on Saturday.

Last week before the Super Bowl in Miami, DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL's players union, strongly warned of a potential lockout. He called the chances of football not being played in 2011 after the league's CBA expires a "14" on a scale of 1 to 10.

Stern said he will not ask Hunter to avoid saying anything similar that would spoil the good times in Dallas, where the league is expecting Cowboys Stadium to host the largest crowd ever to watch a basketball game.

"There's nothing that I could or would do with respect to Billy's ability to say anything," Stern told The Associated Press. "That's his job, that's his obligation and we understand it. We could go to the table and switch sides and argue the other side. That's just the reality of it and so eventually there will be a deal, and we hope it's going to be sooner rather than later."

Hunter sometimes appears with Stern at the commissioner's annual state of the league press conference on All-Star Saturday night, but it's not clear if he will do so this year especially if Friday's bargaining session goes poorly.

The sides already held some informal meetings last summer and exchanged some financial documents, getting an early start on what could be difficult negotiations. The economic downturn hit many team owners hard and they are seeking significant changes in a system that the players argue has largely worked.

Stern has said the central issue will be the division of revenues, though a reduction in maximum deals would surely anger some of the league's superstars especially with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade among those hoping to sign some this summer. Players can currently re-sign with their own teams for up to six years and with other teams for five.

The league's last lockout reduced the 1999 season to 50 games. Stern has been optimistic that starting talks early will help prevent another work stoppage.

"At the end of the day, we have a combined interest with our players to grow the pie to the greatest extent possible," Stern said. "And then we need a sustained business model to make sure that our players in effect remain the highest-paid players in professional sports and that our teams have the opportunity to be profitable.

"I'm sure that reasonable people can disagree about the exact formula that gets you there, but I don't think reasonable people will disagree on the desirability of our goal and so we'll just have to find something that works for both sides."

The current deal will expire July 1, 2011. The league has an option to extend it another year, but has already informed the players it won't.