The latest impasse in the NBA labor negotiations has placed in jeopardy the possibly that the season will begin on time, if at all. Before the league and the players’ union met on Tuesday, there was a hint of optimism that the two sides would move closer toward reaching a compromise with training camps scheduled to open in less than three weeks. They had been meeting, talking and the clock was ticking.
But after nearly 5 ½ hours of meetings in New York, the hope that an agreement could soon be reached exploded, as National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter emerged to tell a group of reporters, “We’ve advised (players) they may have to sit out half the season before we get a deal.”
For those half-glass full folks, the comment could be considered progress given that Hunter said last month in Baltimore that he didn’t expect there to be an NBA season in 2011-12. Either way, with no negotiating sessions scheduled, the lockout could last a while longer.
“I’m very disappointed,” Andray Blatche said of the latest setback after hosting a team workout on Tuesday at Columbia Gym in Clarksville. “I can’t wait for the season to start back up. This is something I live for, this is something I love doing. This is a major part of my life. And I know everybody else that loves watching basketball is disappointed, too. We just need to go ahead and get some kind of agreement going so we can get back on the court.”
Both sides continue to haggle over the owners’ demand for a hard salary cap. Players are willing to give back some of their percentage of basketball relation income (they currently receive 57 percent of the revenue), they remain unwilling to give back many of their salary exceptions and prefer to keep the current salary structure, which allows teams to teams to go over the cap to build competitive teams. Hunter referred to it as a “blood issue.”
“Well, we did not have a great day, I think it’s fair to say that,” Commissioner David Stern told reporters.
If there was any positive from the negotiating session, the owners and the players have been able to talk about a better way of resolving their differences as it relates to money. But the delayed progress has let to some dissension, as several high-powered agents reportedly are pushing for the players to decertify the union, an option that Hunter has yet to consider.
Players have been warned about the possibly of a protracted lockout for some time, so while the latest setback was discouraging, it wasn’t unexpected. But veteran forward Rashard Lewis told Comcast SportsNet New England that he hopes that there will be some games next season.
“I’d rather a late start then no start. That’s one thing you don’t want to do, is lose a full season,” said Lewis, who entered the league during the last work stoppage, which resulted in a 50-game season. “In my rookie year, when I got drafted in 98, that was the first year of the lockout. I didn’t know a lot about it. I’m a little bit more understanding now. It would be devastating to lose a whole season.”
Lewis, Jordan Crawford, Shelvin Mack and Larry Owens have been playing at trainer Joe Abunassar’s Impact Basketball Competitive Training Series in Las Vegas the past two days, while Chris Singleton and Hamady Ndiaye have joined Blatche in Clarksville for the workouts. Wizards forward Trevor Booker left on Tuesday for Israel, where he will play for Bnai HaSharon until the lockout ends.
Lewis said it is imperative for players to remain sharp in case of a resolution. “All NBA players should stay in some type of conditioning. I remember last lockout, some guys came in overweight. A lot of injuries happened. If you start late, they’re going to cram games in. Sometimes we played four games in one week. Back-to-back, day off, back-to-back. So we have to keep yourself in some type of conditioning.
“When they say it’s over, it’s almost like they say you have to report that day or the next day and hit the ground running,” said Lewis, who scored 29 points on 14 for 15 shooting and added 13 rebounds in a 101-94 win in Las Vegas. “Playing here in Vegas in the Impact league is good for all NBA players, to get yourself in shape, work on your game and just wait to see what happens on the other side of the fence.”
Blatche said the continued lockout makes it important for the players to come together for workouts. “We’ve still got a chance to have more practices and still get better and be prepared. Because, who knows? Anything can happen. Something still can happen. I don’t want guys to say the lockouts not going good, we’re not having a season no time soon and not work out and not be ready just in case something works out. Like, we reached an agreement now we’re going to start in three weeks. I want guys to be ready.”