Derek Fisher, president of the NBA Players' Assn., talks to reporters… (Michael Cohen / Getty Images )
NBA owners and players on Saturday endured their longest bargaining session since the lockout began three months ago, but they emerged without a new labor deal, and the regular-season opener scheduled for Nov. 1 appears increasingly likely to be canceled.
NBA Players Assn. attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who was more gloomy than promising in his assessments of labor talks while helping the NFL players' union reach an agreement this summer, told reporters Saturday the sides are "still very far apart."
NBA Commissioner David Stern spoke as if at least the sides, after two days of "exhausting" talks, had put a dent in a massive effort to strike a new labor deal: "We're not near anything. But wherever that is, we're closer than we were before," Stern told reporters in New York after seven-plus hours of negotiations.
With the start of training camps and 43 exhibition games through Oct. 15 already canceled, league experts are bracing now for an announcement this week that the remainder of the preseason, and perhaps the regular-season openers, will be canceled as well.
Stern said deciding when to cancel more games is "day-by-day."
"Our desire would be to not cancel, and we had been hopeful that this weekend would be a broader marker, but for reasons which we understand, the players suggested that we resume [negotiations] on Monday, and we said 'fine,'" Stern said.
The parties will gather in small groups Monday and in full committees Tuesday, Kessler told reporters.
Derek Fisher, union president and Lakers point guard, cautioned that "huge gaps" remain in negotiations, and union Executive Director Billy Hunter said the parties are "miles apart."
"We're not quite comfortable with where they [the owners] are right now," Hunter told reporters.
Kessler said Saturday's session was focused on resolving the league's economic system, not how to split up basketball-related income (BRI).
Before the weekend, the players had agreed to a "giveback" of salary, moving from their 2010-11 share of 57% of BRI (more than $2.15 billion in total salaries) to somewhere around 53%.
Owners reportedly stood firm Saturday that the players' BRI should be 46% in a new contract.
The owners also want to install a firm team-by-team salary cap; the players argue that will deprive them both of guaranteed contracts and of any upside should the economy recover and attendance and television ratings increase.
Stern, in a strong nod that owners can fix some of their own economic problems that led to the league to claim that 22 of 30 teams are losing money, said Friday that owners would triple the revenue-sharing pot to about $180 million for each of the first two years of a new deal and increase it to at least $240 million in years three and beyond.
Sharing the wealth of lucrative big-market local television money that teams like the Lakers, New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls generate is deemed essential by smaller-market owners trying to remain competitive.
The players' hope is that with more of those dollars spread around, they'll be pointed at less often as the cause of the shortfall.
Pugmire reported from Los Angeles.