David Stern emerged from Thursday's Board of Governors meeting in Dallas declaring that the owners have agreed to authorize the negotiating committee "to be ready to negotiate on all points . . . on all subjects."
The message, which comes two days after some modest momentum in collective bargaining talks with the NBPA was halted when the owners refused to discuss concepts of a deal that involved a soft cap. Stern did again make it clear on Thursday that "the vast majority of the owners are, indeed, in favor of a hard cap system."
On Tuesday, deputy commissioner Adam Silver strongly defended the league's stance in demanding a hard cap in the next CBA -- Silver, as you read in the previous Fix, pointed to the ambition of league-wide parity and a competitive balance -- and he followed it up on Thursday by saying the focus needs to be on the economics of the deal and how it works with the system, whatever system it may be. For instance, Silver said, the NHL's "flex cap" system, which is one of the formulas the NBA has presented to the union, didn't solve all of the NHL's problems because there are still teams that struggle to make money.
"And what we've told the players from the very day we began these negotiations are that we need a system in which every team if well-managed can be profitable, but independently we need a system where every team can compete for a championship," Silver said. "So those aren't trade-offs. It's not as if every team could compete as in the NHL, we're willing to sacrifice the economics, and it's not the case that if the macroeconomics of this league work, by the way, so revenue sharing isn't a solution. What we've told them is that 30 teams combined are losing $300 million, so all we would be doing is divvying up those losses among the 30 teams. But what we've told them is that in addition to solving the economics, on behalf of fans in 30 independent communities, those teams need the ability within a system to compete, if well-managed, for a championship."
But before you begin to think that maybe the NBA is now suggestiing they'd consider a soft cap if the economics were good (the NBPA was willing to go even lower than their propsed 54% split of the BRI), Stern chimed in with this:
"Even if a league where one team could pay 100 to its roster, another team could pay 50 and would be economically successful; our owners and our fans don't want it because it wouldn't be competitive, and so you can see that these are completely separate issues for us, and they're equally important."
Both sides came out of their individual meetings promoting a solidified front and with interest in getting back to the negotiating table.
Though only 35 out of 400-plus players attended a union meeting on Thursday in Las Vegas, NBPA president Derek Fisher emerged feeling confident.
"We're unified," Fisher told reporters, as players wore shirts that read "Stand," which were debuted in New York at a meeting with the NBA in June. "There is not the fracture among our group that has been reported."
Fisher and NBPA executive director Billy Hunter updated the players on collective bargaining, while the players also listened to an address by DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFLPA who just endured his own lockout and managed to reach an 11th hour agreement with the NFL to save the season. Smith discussed the hot button issue within the union -- and being promoted by some high-powered agents --right now: decertification.
The NFLPA decertified during the NFL lockout and it appeared to have sparked a movement toward an agreement. But Smith told the players decertification is not a silver bullet and stressed solidarity.
Fisher made it clear in his letter to the players (see previous Fix) that he was against decertification. He told reporters on Thursday that if decertification takes place, "the union hasn't done its job."
[Great catch by SI.com's Sam Amick, by the way, in noting that the 10 players Fisher seemed to randomly mention in his passionate letter happened to each be clients of the five agents that are reportedly pushing hard for decertification.]
Meanwhile, Stern included in his address to reporters an angry denial of a report on ESPN.com that cited an anonymous source saying Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and Suns owner Robert Sarver were dissenting voices that shot down a potential deal in the making during Tuesday's meeting. The story backed up Fisher's claim in his letter to the players that the owners were divided.
"There's been some reporting speculating from, quote, sources about what one owner or another's position is," Stern said. "It is so wrong and incorrect and fictional that I think I can understand why they would only attribute it to sources and that nobody would be willing to stand behind it. It's been absolutely untrue. And I don't want to single out ESPN The Magazine for that quality of reporting; it wouldn't be fair."
Stern did say he expected the sides to talk soon, perhaps as early as Friday, to arrange the next bargaining session.
"The clock is ticking, but it hasn't struck midnight yet," Stern said. "We have time to do what has to be done, and we'd like to do it, actually."