NEW YORK — He is a close-talker and a loud-talker whose voice can be the verbal equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. David Stern has called his behavior “routinely despicable,” and on more than one occasion he has commandeered the post-meeting news briefings to incessantly spew vitriol at the NBA owners with whom he has been butting heads.
He is Jeffrey Kessler, the lead outside counsel for what used to be known as the National Basketball Players Association, and he is reportedly out of the picture now that talks between the players and owners have resumed with an eye toward reaching a settlement that would allow for the NBA season to begin on Christmas Day, Dec. 25.
Unless this is all a setup.
The NBA lockout took one of its strangest turns yet Wednesday with the news that secret negotiations between the sides had resumed on Tuesday and will continue on Friday after a day off for the Thanksgiving holiday being celebrated today in America. If a settlement can be reached by the end of the weekend, the union can be re-formed, a ratification vote can be taken, and everyone will having something other than presents under the tree to look forward to on Christmas.
But first they have to get to the finish line, and the past month has demonstrated that it is no easy task to do so.
A source tells SheridanHoops.com that the most significant impediment to a deal remains the owners insistence on an escrow withholding system that would ensure that the revenue split for each season ends up being 50-50. Players have offered to have 10 percent of salaries withheld, but a problem has continually arisen when the sides have discussed what mechanism would make up for the shortfall if the 10 percent withholding did not get the players’ share down to 50 percent. Would the shortfall carry over into the next season? Or would the players have to make up the difference in some other way to balance the books at the end of each season to provide for a fresh start at the onset of the next season?
Of all the system issues that remain in dispute, that is the most contentious one that could loom as a deal-killer.
So take your turkey with a grain of salt today, folks, and don’t get overly comfortable when the tryptophan kicks in and you lay down for that afternoon nap. There are still a lot of moving parts here, along with a level of mystery that is a new, added twist to this 147-day trip down misery lane.
Some giblets from around the Web:
Howard Beck, New York Times: “Derek Fisher, who was the union’s president until it dissolved, has not been involved yet but is expected to rejoin the fray on Friday. There is also a new face at the table: Jim Quinn, the union’s former chief outside counsel, who is now playing a pivotal role in this desperate final push. Quinn worked with the union on labor deals for 20 years and has strong relationships with Stern and Hunter. Quinn’s involvement was first reported Tuesday by CBS.Sports.com, which characterized his role as a neutral “facilitator.” In fact, Quinn was recently hired by Hunter to help complete the deal, according to a person who has spoken with Quinn. It appears that Quinn may have supplanted Jeff Kessler, the union’s pugnacious outside counsel, as the players’ lead negotiator.
Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo Sports: “There’s a push within the league office and from Players Association executive director Billy Hunter to have Fisher in the room, league sources said. Nevertheless, Fisher hasn’t committed to attending the meeting, perhaps because of legal concerns about how a judge in the federal suit could view his participation. There’s still a sense the owners could be setting up a trap for the Players Association, perhaps leading them on in talks now only to pull the plug and make a case to the judge that Hunter’s and Fisher’s involvement in the meetings shows they’re still acting as a union – and that the disclaimer of interest and subsequent lawsuits were nothing more than negotiating tactics.”
Ken Berger, CBSSports.com: “As we well know, expedience has not been a hallmark of these negotiations. But the time to deal, sacrifice and show all your cards is now if either side wants to have a season instead of costly, lengthy antitrust litigation with a very uncertain outcome for both sides. And the remaining issues to be agreed upon — principally restrictions on sign-and-trades and mid-level signings that the league is trying to place on high-spending teams — are relatively minor compared to the big-ticket item of a 50-50 split of revenues that owners and players already have negotiated. When the players rejected the owners’ latest ultimatum on Nov. 14, they also were concerned about accelerated tax rates the league was proposing for teams that stay above the luxury tax line for multiple years and the interpretation for when a team is considered to be above the tax threshold for the purposes of using exceptions.”
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: “There were sources on both sides late Wednesday preaching caution, noting that the talks have collapsed several times when a deal appeared to be within reach. Sources identified Miami, Orlando, Phoenix, Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers as the teams pushing hardest behind the scenes for a deal in principle by the end of the weekend to ensure that a “representative” season can be staged. And at least three teams that requested anonymity, according to interviews conducted Wednesday by ESPN.com, are highly optimistic that the framework of a deal can be struck by Monday. But one source close to talks, referring to those aforementioned collapses when a deal seemed imminent at various points during the past two months, said Wednesday night: “Are the parties talking again? Yes. Have they done anything [significant]? No.”
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: “Back-channel talks of various forms have been taking place “for a while now,” though the parties have tried to keep that quiet, another source said. Peter Holt, chairman of the NBA’s labor relations committee that oversaw CBA negotiations with the now-former-union, was in New York on Tuesday. David Boies, the antitrust litigator heading the players’ case against the lockout — or “group boycott,” as alleged in the suit — told reporters Monday that there had been no contact between the parties. But he said after the news conference that “it couldn’t hurt for me to call [NBA legal counsel Jeffrey Mishkin]. Ask me that Wednesday.”