WHITTIER, CALIF., SEPT. 16 -- With the 1987-88 NBA season unofficially getting under way here this weekend with the annual league meetings, the question is: how long will the season last?
The collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NBA Players Association expired at the conclusion of last season and sporadic negotiating sessions this summer have resulted in virtually no progress. The players association met last weekend in Chicago to update its membership; over the next few days, the league will do the same for the current 23 teams as well as representatives for the four groups (Charlotte, Miami, Minnesota and Orlando) awarded expansion franchises.
The main issues are the salary cap imposed on each team, the right of first refusal that teams hold on their free agents, and the draft. The players association would like to eliminate all three items while the league, citing increased revenues and average player salaries, is insisting on maintaining the current system.
At these meetings, there will also be a discussion of the league's lawsuit against the Los Angeles Clippers. The suit will go to trial in San Diego federal court on Oct. 6, with the league asking for the franchise (which moved north two seasons ago) to be returned to San Diego or for owner Donald Sterling to pay $25 million -- the NBA estimate of the difference between the value of the team today as opposed to before it moved.
"We'll update the general managers as to where we are with those things but that's about all we'll do," said Russell Granik, NBA executive vice president.
Team owners who make up the NBA Board of Governors won't meet until Oct. 12 in Dallas, where more substantial discussion likely will take place. But right now, almost any news will be welcomed by representatives of the teams, who have scurried from phone conversation to phone conversation in search of information about the negotiations.
"I'm just like anybody else," sighed Phoenix General Manager Jerry Colangelo. "All I've heard is the sporadic word here and there."
There hasn't been much to report. Last Friday's meeting between players and management, in New York, was the first in nearly two months. According to both sides, nothing of substance was discussed and there won't be another session for at least 10 days.
"That's because both of our travel schedules didn't fall right," said Granik. "The way the last session went, I don't think either side was ready to rush into another one anyway. If we were making any kind of progress we'd be meeting around the clock."
According to Larry Fleisher, the union's general counsel, the fact that the league -- and not the owners -- are handling the negotiations has slowed progress.
"There's been a lack of enthusiasm by the owners," he said. "We say we want to meet and they sort of say okay. The league is negotiating and the owners are just sitting in and the league office is very busy right now with other things like the suit against the Clippers."
Granik disagrees, arguing that the collective bargaining talks are "priority No. 1 -- it's crazy to think otherwise."
Fleisher says management officials "haven't been negotiating towards a settlement, they've been negotiating towards the status quo. We started hearing that back in February when we started talking. It's getting tiresome now."