NBA, players meeting again

Updated: November 26, 2011, 3:13 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- NBA owners and players were engaged in another marathon session Friday, meeting for more than 15 hours in talks aimed at ending the 148-day lockout in time to save the league's Christmas Day schedule.

That deadline has created a sense of urgency because the Dec. 25 schedule is traditionally a showcase for the league. This season's three-game slate was to include Miami at Dallas in an NBA Finals rematch, plus MVP Derrick Rose leading Chicago into Los Angeles to face Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.

After a secret meeting earlier this week, the sides returned to the table for another marathon session. Commissioner David Stern has said the league needs about 30 days from an agreement to when games could be played.

Participating in the talks for the league were Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the labor relations committee, and attorneys Rick Buchanan and Dan Rube. The players were represented by executive director Billy Hunter, president Derek Fisher, vice president Maurice Evans, attorney Ron Klempner and economist Kevin Murphy.

One source close to the process told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard that the league's labor relations committee -- comprised of owners like Holt, who have been at the forefront of negotations all summer -- have a conference call scheduled for later Friday night to discuss where talks stand.

The presence of both Fisher and Evans at the meeting can be interpreted as another potential sign of progress because the union must reform before a deal with the league can be completed. Fisher was expected to join the discussions Friday even after the union dissolved last week, but Evans' involvement Friday was widely regarded as a surprise.

The discussions between representatives of the owners and players are now centered on settling their lawsuits: The players filed an antitrust lawsuit against the league in Minnesota, and the league filed a pre-emptive suit in New York, seeking to prove the lockout was legal.

Because the union disbanded, it cannot negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, but the settlement talks could lead to that. The CBA can only be completed once the union has reformed.

There are still a handful of issues relating to spending rules for teams that must be worked out -- issues that have been an obstacle to a new deal since the lockout began July 1. Players fear that owners' desires to curb spending by the big-market teams would limit their options as free agents.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Stern has privately surveyed a handful of owners about their willingness to ease restrictions on the proposed mid-level salary cap exception in a new labor agreement.

It is believed the league's next proposal to the players will contain tweaks to some of the "system" issues that the players have strongly objected to in recent negotiations.

The players have long insisted -- in exchange for accepting a 50-50 split of annual basketball-related income, after earning a 57 percent share of BRI in the final year of the previous labor deal -- that the league's proposed restrictions against luxury-tax teams must be relaxed.

Although the parties agreed to a 50-50 revenue split before talks broke off and the union disclaimed itself, there are questions as to whether that agreement is still in place.

The sides have not addressed the BRI split since talks re-opened Tuesday, but sources from both sides have indicated that each party has some desire to seek a better split.

Talks last broke down Nov. 14 when players rejected the owners' proposal that included opening a 72-game schedule on Dec. 15, instead announcing instead they were disbanding the union, giving them a chance to win several billion dollars in triple damages in an antitrust lawsuit.

On Monday, a group of named plaintiffs including Carmelo Anthony, Steve Nash and Kevin Durant filed an amended federal lawsuit against the league in Minnesota, hoping the courts there will be as favorable to them as they have been to NFL players in the past.

The NFL players enjoyed several victories over the owners in federal court in Minnesota, most recently when U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson issued a temporary injunction this summer that lifted the NFL's owner-imposed lockout. That decision was stayed and eventually overturned on appeal by the 8th Circuit in St. Louis.

The legal system could take months to resolve, so both sides repeatedly have said the only way to reach a deal that would save the season is through bargaining.

The 1998-99 lockout reduced that season to 50 games. It was settled shortly after the new year and play started in February.

This season games have been canceled through Dec. 15, but in reality another week probably already has been lost, given the time needed to write and approve a new collective bargaining agreement, have a free agency period, hold training camps and play exhibition games.

ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein, ESPN The Magazine senior writer Chris Broussard and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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