Players, owners close ranks as lockout looms
NBA labor • With lockout date a week away, union holds off on proposing a new contract.
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New York • NBA owners and players are closing ranks as a June 30 deadline approaches to reach a new collective bargaining agreement.

Members of the National Basketball Players Association walked out a back door Friday and boarded a bus without speaking to the media. NBPA executive director Billy Hunter intentionally limited his comments. NBA commissioner David Stern refused to discuss specifics and was as vague as possible.

The silence followed a four-hour meeting during which owners and players converged for the second time in four days as they attempted to avert a lockout and continue to build on the league's recent success.

The NBPA was supposed to submit a new CBA proposal Friday, but decided to hold off. Instead, more than 30 players showed up wearing T-shirts with the word "Stand" printed on the front. Several players then addressed owners, including Boston's Paul Pierce.

"He was just talking about is this more about money or being competitive. And he was just questioning the idea of what does this have to do with," Phoenix guard Jared Dudley said at the Omni Berkshire hotel in downtown Manhattan. "Does this have to do with being competitive? Let's come up with a system that we all can be competitive. If it's about money, then it's a different story that we're talking about."

Both issues are at the heart of ongoing CBA discussions, and both sides refused to divulge specifics of anything that was discussed Friday.

Stern started a post-meeting press conference by stating that "we don't have a lot to report," despite the fact that the league could enter a work stoppage next Friday. He did reveal, though, that the league is making progress during revenue sharing negotiations that parallel CBA talks.

"We had a constructive meeting. There was a lot of give and take and to and fro," Stern said. "At the close of it, we agreed that we would meet again next week … and we also agreed with the players that we wouldn't talk about the substance of what was said or what was done."

The NBA will hold a Board of Governors meeting Tuesday in Dallas. The league is not expected to vote to lock out players during the conference. Owners and players will then reconvene in New York, with Wednesday and Thursday as open dates and both as possible meeting days.

"The reason to meet is to have further discussion and see if we can avoid a lockout. … We think we're going to have one more shot at it," Hunter said.

Stern would not comment when asked whether the league could push back a June 30 deadline for a new CBA. However, he added that the NBA can do whatever it wants if owners and players are making necessary progress during negotiations.

Friday's CBA meeting was the sixth since the NBA Finals started. It followed the NBPA's annual gathering Thursday, during which players preached solidarity and Hunter said the league's ultimate goal was to break the union with a damaging lockout.

Stern said that the public airing of frustration during the same week of the NBA Draft did not help either side's cause.

"We're not interested in incendiary rhetoric," Stern said.

He added: "This is a negotiation that's going to yield its endpoint. And I think the one thing that's clear is that both sides have an enormous amount to gain from making a deal and an enormous amount to lose by not making a deal."

Both parties submitted adjusted proposals this week, giving up considerable ground. Players offered to cut their revenue share by $500 million during the next five years; owners proposed a 10-year CBA that would guarantee athletes a minimum of $2 billion in salaries each year. Entering Friday's meeting, though, both sides asserted that the other had made unrealistic demands. And NBPA president Derek Fisher acknowledged that part of the reason players did not submit a new proposal Friday was because of the divide that remains.

"There's still such a large gap, we feel that any move for us is real dollars we'd be giving back from where we currently stand," Fisher said.