Hurdling Toward A Lockout

The rhetoric leaving Tuesday’s meeting in New York between the union and owners was more amicable than it was last week. Concessions were made and hope was there.

Just not a whole lot.

The players walked into Friday’s meeting wearing shirts that said “Stand,” a symbol of the solidarity for the union after a divided union struggled to get a good deal (at the time) during the lockout in 1999. The players lost the battle of public opinion and learned there lesson.

Both sides said Tuesday there is still a long way to go. Wednesday the rhetoric got even worse. And Friday seemed to signal the inevitable:  

A lengthy lockout is coming.

First what happened at Tuesday’s meeting. The owners continued to “soften” their stance (depending on who you talk to) and made an interesting proposal. Instead of a straight hard cap, David Stern and the owners proposed what they are terming a “flex cap.”

The flex cap sets a soft cap at $62 million with a hard cap above it with exceptions to enable teams to resign players. But by no circumstances would teams be able to go over the hard cap ceiling. NBPA president Derek Fisher called Stern’s characterization of the flex cap system a “total distortion of reality.”

To the players, a hard cap is a hard cap. And if they can come to an agreement on that the debate will still rage on what the numbers should be. The owners are down from their original offer of a $45 million hard cap with no exceptions. But this is still not where the players want.

The players are dead set against a hard cap and there does not appear to be much hope until the players come off that stance. But that position is going to be pretty hard to break. The two sides are also still negotiating the split of basketball-related income. The players currently get 57 percent of that pie. The owners want that number much lower. And they appear to be hurtling toward a 50/50 split.

The players walked out of Friday’s meeting without making a counter proposal. At Tuesday’s Board of Governor’s meeting, the owners are expected to officially declare a lockout. There are meetings scheduled for next Wednesday and (hopefully) Thursday in New York, but optimism is very low.

“The best time we’re going to spend next week, hopefully, is in a meeting with the players on Wednesday that with any luck goes over to Thursday,” David Stern told Steve Aschburner of “That’s where we are. The one thing that we don’t want is a lockout. We’ve told the players that. We’ve expressed a willingness to negotiate over everything. So Wednesday, Thursday gives us two days.”

Only time will tell. But the hard cap is going to be the big sticking point and how much whatever salary cap they agree to is going to be right behind it. On those two issues, there is still not a lot of hope for avoiding a lockout on July 1. Whether we get a season is going to be the issue.

The new major sticking point is the owners wanting to keep the money — approximately $160 million — held in escrow for the 2010-11 season. The players are definitely not happy that the owners, already requesting major payroll slashes, want to keep this money.

Hunter did not characterize these steps as the two sides reaching an impasse, a legal step that would mark the complete breakdown of negotiations. But this is not a good sign at all. Hunter told Berger that he expects the owners will vote to lockout the players Tuesday at the Board of Governors meeting.

Fisher told Berger on Wednesday that the players Fisher has spoken with are in “total disbelief” over the owners most recent proposal. Some are even asking why the two sides are still talking.

There appears to be dark days ahead.

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About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily