Lockout update: What the players want

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NEW YORK — It is Black Friday, and the players are going bargain(ing) hunting at today’s NBA lockout negotiations.

If commissioner David Stern is willing mark down a few pieces of merchandise, there will be something under the tree for everyone on Christmas Day.

There is a deal to be done today, or later this weekend, if the owners are in a giving mood, but the players had better realize that they are not going to get everything on their wish list. That became apparent to them two weeks ago at the last formal bargaining session when they couldn’t squeeze very much out of the owners, whose failed to get an endorsement out of Billy Hunter, leading us to the place we are today.

The anti-trust suit filed by the players on Monday in Minnesota has given them some additional bargaining leverage — although exactly how much is open to debate. Technically, today’s talks will be settlement discussions, because the players’ union no longer exists as a formal entity. The New York Times is reporting that the sides have agreed in advance that nothing in these talks would impact the litigation or be used to prove either side’s case in court.

There will be new lawyers in the room, and there will be an understanding that the calendar is impacting everyone’s position. We are 30 days away from Christmas, and commissioner David Stern has said it will take 30 days from the time a handshake agreement is reached until the season can start.

So here is a look at what is on the players’ wish list. Remember, when the players offered to do a 50-50 split, they did so with the caveat that they’d need five or six key system changes to drop to that number. Thus far, they haven’t gotten enough of those changes.

_ The mid-level exception: The sides have already agreed on the max salary for mid-level free agents — a $5 million starting salary– who sign with teams that are beneath the luxury tax threshold. The owners want teams to be limited to offering a four-year mid-level contract one year, then a three-year mid-level the next, then back to four, then three, etc. In numerals, it is 4-3-4-3-4-3. If the owners go to 4-4-4-4-4-4, one item is off the table.

Lockout update: Meeting set for Friday

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NEW YORK — Owners and players will met again Friday, which is 30 days before Christmas.

And since commissioner David Stern has said it will take approximately 30 days from the date a handshake agreement is reached until the season can start, Friday is going to be a pivotal day. But with that being said, if a handshake is reached Saturday or Sunday, 29 or 28 days will suffice.

A couple of clarifications are in order, based on what I am hearing.

_ The sides met Tuesday, but they did not meet Wednesday as had been reported elsewhere.

NBA sides have been meeting secretly; 66 game season eyed

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At a certain point, the sides had to start talking again, right?

And after two dozen negotiating sessions that played out in public, with both sides issuing their spin in comments to the media afterward (with the exception of sessions mediated by George Cohen), we are now learning that secret meetings have been taking place yesterday and today — presumably in an effort to settle all matters related to the NBA lockout, which would include litigation and collective bargaining matters.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports broke the news on his Twitter feed, noting that Derek Fisher, president of what used to be the players’ union, is not taking part in the discussions. Howard Beck of the New York Times says the league is eyeing a 66-game season that would begin on Christmas Day, Dec. 25. Beck also says the sides will met again Friday after taking a day off for Thanksgiving.

So there is some renewed hope, but it should be tempered with a cautionary word: Talking in private, and keeping word of the negotiations out of the public eye, can only be helpful to the process if there is a concerted effort and willingness on both sides to push this negotiation over the finish line. During the 1998-99 lockout, it was far more common for the sides to meet discreetly, but those sessions proved to be as fruitless as the larger, more public negotiating sessions.

Sheridan column: Boies wavers on whether he’ll call NBA

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NEW YORK — The next logical step in the illogical NBA lockout is for David Boies to call Jeffrey Mishkin, or for Jeffrey Mishkin to call David Boies.

The latter attorney, Boies, who represented Al Gore against George W. Bush in the 2000 U.S. presidential election, now represents NBA players, and Mishkin is the outside counsel for NBA commissioner David Stern and the owners.

It would take approximately 2 minutes for their secretaries to put that call together.

And after obfuscating and posturing for the better part of an hour in a meeting with reporters Monday night, Boies finally yielded to the  relentless logical questioning of yours truly, put his hands to his temples for 13 seconds and then said he may just go ahead and make that phone call sometime in the next day or two.

“Some lawyers say to pick up the phone is a sign of weakness,” Boies said. “But if you’re weak, you’re weak, and if you’re strong, you’re strong.  It doesn’t make you weak or strong by your calling or not calling. On the other hand, until they’re prepared to say something other than what they just put out in this statement, the question is, why are you calling?”

This particular episode of peacocking … oops, I mean news briefing … was designed to be a show of strength from the players’ new lead attorney, an epic billable hour ($1,225 is Boies’ going rate) of rhetorical posturing about how the NBA owners are now in really, really big trouble because they are leaving themselves open for triple damages —  about $6 billion if the entire 2011-12 season is missed.

Boies announced that two separate players’ lawsuits were being combined, with a new suit being filed in Minnesota, the same jurisdiction — covered by the 8th Circuit in the Court of Appeals — where the NFL players had their temporary restraining order ending the NFL lockout overturned.

“I suspect that we will hear from them, either in settlement discussions or litigation. They are going to have to answer the complaint, and were looking forward to engaging them,” Boies said. ”If this is a matter that can be settled, we’re prepared to do that. If the league’s approach is to ignore this litigation and try to go into a state of denial and hope it goes away, I think that will be not in anyone’s interest.”

With former union director Billy Hunter sitting alongside him, the players’ new lead advocate said combining the complaints was the best way to expedite the case, to which I strenuously objected. Yes, I understand that it is probably incumbent upon the owners to pick up the phone first, since it is bad form for an attorney to sue someone and then call them up to ask if they’d like to settle.

But the NBA owners have gone mum, and at a certain point it can do no harm to make an exploratory call to the people you just filed suit against. It might not be the traditional thing to do, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing, either.

NBA Lockout Update: This and That

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Good morning. There ain’t no news to report, so a little of this and a little of that. We start with Mr. Jimmy Kimmel on NBA-TV’s programming quagmire:

Watching that video prompted me to check out what the folks over at NBA.com have lined up for our multimedia needs today, and it turns out the season will start in 26 days with a nice lineup of Friday night games that includes an ESPN doubleheader of Atlanta-Philadelphia and Oklahoma City-San Antonio. At least that’s what their schedule says.

Of course, we all know by now that the schedule the NBA had planned on following will be torn up and replaced by an entirely new schedule once the lockout gets resolved by the logical and reasonable men negotiating it.

Maybe, just maybe, that schedule will feature Christmas as opening night. Paging George Cohen.

From Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: “Despite the grim outlook of potentially lengthy and costly lawsuits, there are strong indications that NBA officials and attorneys representing the players want to take one more shot at reaching a settlement before the possibility of having close to a full season is devoured by the legal process. Two people who have been briefed on the league’s strategy told CBSSports.com the NBA is holding out hope a settlement can be reached in time for the season to begin no later than Christmas. One of those people said the process already is under way through what he described as “back-channeling,” although sources from both sides professed no knowledge of such conversations. A third person said that based on how vendor contracts and other financial arrangements were put in place, starting the season by Christmas would be optimal as far as preserving those relationships, and of course, revenues. Multiple people who have spoken with top NBA officials about the matter said it is understood that starting the season after Christmas is not viewed as a viable option. ”I don’t know that there’s an appetite for a 50-game season,” another person familiar with the league’s position said.”

Meanwhile, the chorus of NBA players making noise about playing overseas continues to grow louder. Pau Gasol has said that he and his brother, Marc, would like to team up and play for FC Barcelona, which might actually get a few Americans to turn their attention across the pond. Barca, the former team of now incognito Californian Ricky Rubio, is one of two remaining undefeated teams in Euroleague, with a starting backcourt of Marcelinho Huertas and Juan Carlos Navarro. Add the Gasol brothers to that duo, and Catalonia here we come!

But about that lockout.