Derek Fisher: Lockout's been quiet
LOS ANGELES -- The NBA lockout will have reached a full month on Monday when representatives from the owners and players union will officially resume negotiations in New York City.
"It's been long, but it's been weirdly quiet," said NBA Players Association president Derek Fisher on Friday, speaking at his youth basketball academy in downtown Los Angeles. "To push as hard as we did in the month of June to see if we could get a deal done prior to July 1, it's essentially been crickets since then."
As the opposing camps wade back into the waters that got pretty choppy back in late June when the work stoppage began, Fisher said there is an agreement in place between both sides to "table" the economic issues holding up the next collective bargaining agreement. Rather, in hopes of making some progress after a month-long layoff, Fisher said Monday's session will focus on "system issues" such as the feasibility of a hard cap, the length of guaranteed contracts and annual percentage increases of those contracts.
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"If, as players, we feel we can operate under a fair system, then we can maybe work towards a fair number," Fisher said. "I think our counterparts feel a little bit differently, they want to get a number set and they're not as concerned with the way the system looks if they get the right number. We don't think that's the best way to approach it. We want to make sure we keep a fair system in place for all players now and coming in later and I think the numbers will kind of take care of themselves."
Among the economic issues that caused the lockout to go into place were the owners seeking a larger share of the basketball-related income (BRI). Player salaries took up 57 percent of the BRI in the last CBA. Owners wanted to lower that number to approximately 55-45 in their favor, while players offered to lower their take to 54.3 percent -- giving up $500 million in total player salaries over five years, a concession that NBA commissioner David Stern characterized at the time as "modest."
There were also disagreements over how long the next CBA should last -- owners proposed a 10-year deal while the union started with a five-year proposal, later stretching it to six. There was also a fundamental disagreement between the union and owners over the $340 million the league claims to have lost during the 2009-10 season and whether revenue-sharing amongst owners would be a more appropriate means to recoup those losses in the future rather than slicing player salaries.
While it should be encouraging that the sides are meeting after 31 days rather than the 45 it took to sit at the bargaining table again after the last NBA lockout began in 1998, Fisher made it clear that he didn't expect the laundry list of issues to be cleared up in a day.
"It's more about getting the process started again," Fisher said. "Kind of rolling the sleeves back up and starting to do the hard work that it's going to take to try and get something done between now and October 1st or when the start of training camp would be. I don't know if there's going to be any major movement on Monday."
While negotiations stalled during the month of July, the prospect of players heading overseas to play in other professional basketball leagues heated up, sparked by New Jersey Nets guard Deron Williams agreeing to a deal with Besiktas in Turkey.
"We view it as a gentleman is being told that he can't come to work at a particular place and he's temporarily unemployed and he's seeking employment elsewhere," Fisher said of the union's stance on a potential exodus to Europe by the players. "We fully expect and anticipate that our guys are going to want to find opportunities to do what they love to do, and that's play the game."
Fisher also reported that his teammate Kobe Bryant, who reportedly will meet with Besiktas officials on Saturday in Washington D.C., appears in good shape after recently undergoing a platelet-rich plasma therapy procedure on his right knee.
"He's healthy, he's telling me -- and I saw it for myself -- that his knee is the best it's been in a long time," said Fisher who played alongside Bryant and All-Stars Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and Chris Paul in an exhibition match in the Philippines last weekend. "I didn't believe him, he was telling me he was doing some stuff at his basketball camp and I didn't believe it, but I saw it a little bit in Manila so I believe it now."
Fisher also believes that as negotiations resume Monday, the NBPA remains far from implementing union decertification as a tactic in attempting to end the lockout.
"It's still not something we're ramping up in discussion about," Fisher said, citing the unfair labor practice charge that the union submitted through the National Labor Relations Board in May as his group's primary legal action at the moment.
"Decertification is just that final thing that when we all feel like we can't do anything else but throw our hands up, maybe we go there," Fisher said. "But, right now, we're just not there."
Fisher spoke outside the expansive gymnasium at the Roybal Learning Center with close to 200 campers he brought together playing inside. He said the next time he could look to bring a group of basketball players together would be an informal player-run training camp for the Lakers roster in late September if the lockout was still in place.
"There are a number of guys that are in and around the Southern California area," Fisher said. "We might be able to get together and start getting that fellowship in again and getting reacquainted with each other after a summer off and start preparing ourselves for when and if the season starts and what date that is."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.