Sources: NBA slightly eases cap stance

Updated: September 28, 2011, 9:45 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NBA commissioner David Stern offered a new proposal to the players' union in Tuesday's labor talks that modestly budged from the owners' long-held position on establishing a hard cap, according to league sources familiar with the negotiations.

Sources told ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher that the owners did not offer players a finite annual team limit on salaries but as of Tuesday night were willing to relax the cap only if the following conditions are met:

• The "Larry Bird exception," which allows teams to exceed the cap to retain their own free agents regardless of their other committed salaries, is limited to one player per team per season.

• The mid-level exception, which the league valued at $7.4 million last season and could be extended by as many as five years, is reduced in length and size.

• The current luxury tax, the $1-for-$1 penalty a team must pay to the league for the amount it exceeds the salary cap, is to be severely increased.

In last week's negotiating session, the owners proposed that the players' share of basketball-related income, or BRI, be sliced from 57 percent to 46 percent, and a source told ESPN.com's Chris Broussard that the players were offered 48 percent of BRI on Tuesday. The owners also want a five-percent reduction on all existing salaries for this season, a 7.5 percent reduction of all 2012-13 salaries and 10 percent reduction of 2013-14 salaries, a source said.

Even before Tuesday's session, several agents expected that the owners would relent on the hard cap but dubbed it a negotiating ruse. One prominent agent, who requested anonymity, said the players already were effectively working under a hard cap in the last deal because of the existing escrow system, whereby owners were allowed to hold and keep eight percent of each player's salary if total salary expenditures exceeded 57 percent. Although it was not outlined in Tuesday's proposal, presumably the same escrow system would be in place, only with the threshold being 46 percent of BRI.

That means, then, sources said, that the only concession owners made Tuesday -- in the face of an array of cuts sought by the players -- is no concession at all.

Stern hinted that Wednesday's negotiating session will determine when more discussions are warranted. It's been expected there would be no talks Thursday because members of both bargaining teams will be observing the Jewish holiday, but they could resume talks before the weekend.

"They and we have both agreed that so long as there is reason to keep discussing, we will keep discussing, undeterred by the calendar or weekends or things like that," Stern said. "We will know more after tomorrow's session."

Both sides said neither concern nor optimism should be read into the brevity of the meeting. They simply needed time to think about what had been discussed.

"We've talked extensively in ideas and concepts, these are things that if we can get into the range of, get into the zone of, then maybe we can put a deal together," players' association president Derek Fisher of the Lakers said.

Unlike last week, Stern grinned often while speaking to reporters, but he said that was "only because when I didn't smile the last time I was described as something between dour and surly, so this is my smiling face. And we're looking forward to reconvening tomorrow."

He repeatedly said the sides discussed "concepts," but wouldn't get into any of them. And when asked if more exhibition games would be scrapped without a breakthrough this week, he borrowed a line from Rasheed Wallace in answering.

"Both teams played hard," he said. "And the calendar is not our friend."

Training camps were postponed and all 43 preseason games scheduled for Oct. 9-15 were canceled Friday. With the lockout nearly three months complete, players and owners are trying to agree on a labor deal in time to avoid any further damage to the NBA calendar. The regular season begins Nov. 1.

The format was again with small groups, and that will remain the case Wednesday. However, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said the owners' labor relations committee would be prepared to return to the table this week if necessary.

"They stand ready to come to New York, or wherever else, if there's a reason to continue on Friday," he said. "So the groups may expand."

Stern and Silver were joined by Spurs owner Peter Holt, who leads the labor relations committee, and NBA senior vice president and deputy general counsel Dan Rube.

Fisher and union executive director Billy Hunter had attorneys Jeffrey Kessler and Ron Klempner with them, and economist Kevin Murphy will return Wednesday.

Stern was asked if the sides would continue to meet often if this wasn't headed somewhere. Though he assumed they would, a clearer idea could emerge Wednesday.

"We won't really be able to answer that question fully until after tomorrow's session," he said.

Information from ESPN The Magazine senior NBA writers Ric Bucher and Chris Broussard, and The Associated Press, was used in this report.