Labor talks: Are they really closer to deal?

NEW YORK -- Player reps from the 30 NBA teams will meet in New York Thursday at a critical union meeting prior to Friday's resumption of collective bargaining talks, and whatever cautious optimism they hear will be cautious to the extreme.

Although the owners have moved significantly on their financial proposals in recent negotiating sessions, they are still asking for several things that could be potential deal-killers.

A hard cap. The owners made a proposal Tuesday including what they are calling a "flex cap," which would target a median team payroll of $62 million and would include an unspecified maximum team salary that could not be exceeded under any circumstances (thereby eliminating the luxury tax and shrinking the pool of revenue sharing dollars, which commissioner David Stern pegged last fall at $54 million). To the union, the flex cap is simply another variation of a hard cap.

Salary cuts. The union put a half-billion dollar giveback on the table Tuesday and had it dismissed as "modest" by Stern. Players proposed a five-year labor agreement with $100 million less in salaries each season, cutting their share of BRI (basketball-related income) from the current 57 percent down to 54.3 percent in the first several seasons of the proposed five-year pact. Is the union willing to make further real dollar concessions that might allow the sides to meet in the middle? That is a key question with eight days remaining until the current agreement expires.

Stagnancy. Under the owners' proposed flex cap system, the $2 billion that would be guaranteed to the players each season would remain relatively stagnant over the next 10 years, having the effect of cutting the players’ portion of basketball-related income, as currently calculated, from 57 percent last season to less than 40 percent in the latter years of the proposed 10-year agreement. The players want assurances that if revenues continue to rise, they will get a fair share of the increase.

Selling out. The proposal made by the owners would allow current players to continue making similar salaries to what they are earning now, but it would drastically alter the earning potential of future generations because of the shrinking percentage of BRI that would be earmarked for player salaries. That has been one of the issues that union president Derek Fisher and members of the union's executive board have repeatedly cited as being particularly repugnant.

The union also has taken issue with the owners only recently having begun to move back to the status quo on several aspects of the deal. In the past week, the owners have dropped their demands for non-guaranteed contracts, and the elimination of the Larry Bird exception and the mid-level exception, but the union claims salaries would be reduced by roughly $7 billion over 10 years under the owners' latest proposal.

"We've had guaranteed contracts for 40 years. It's almost like somebody walks into your house, they take something that belongs to you and then they want to sell it back. And you say: 'Hey, it was mine from the get-go, so why the hell should I pay for it. And I didn't authorize you to take it, and I never said I'm available for you to take, or use, or abuse,' " union director Billy Hunter said.