The NBA will announce Friday it will postpone the start of training camp and the opening slate of exhibition games after a negotiating session Thursday in New York between players union executive director Billy Hunter and commissioner David Stern ended without a labor agreement or progress toward one soon, league sources said.
Stern, according to one source, told Hunter in Thursday's meeting the owners want to reduce the players' cut of basketball-related revenue to a figure well below 50 percent. Under the previous agreement, which expired July 1, the players were guaranteed a minimum of 57 percent of basketball-related revenue would be spent on salaries.
In negotiations, the players' union had offered to reduce its percentage to as much as 54 percent to accommodate the owners' contention they lost $300 million last season, with the stipulation that a mechanism would be instituted to reward the players if future revenue increased.
The league offered players a 46 percent of basketball-related revenue, 11 percent less than they received in last deal and seven percent less than last proposal by players, a league source said. Owners agreed to try to come up with a mechanism to solve their issues without adding a hard salary cap before the next meeting, according to the source.
The next negotiating session has not been scheduled, but the two sides agreed to contact each other with possible dates to reconvene next week, sources said. Whenever a deal is struck, it is expected to take at least two weeks to write out the complete terms and hash out the finer points.
A period for free agency and then a training camp, however truncated, also would be necessary before the regular season could begin. Most experts agree a minimum of four weeks is necessary to get it done, making the last week in September the absolute deadline for a deal to be struck before regular season games would have to be postponed or canceled.
Stern acknowledged Thursday that "the calendar is not our friend" when it comes to keeping the NBA season intact.
The league is at about the same point as when it postponed training camps in 1998, the only time it lost games to a work stoppage. The decision then came on Sept. 24 for camps that were set to begin Oct. 5. This year, players would be expected to report Oct. 3.
The regular season is scheduled to open Nov. 1, with the defending champion Dallas Mavericks hosting the Chicago Bulls. Though both sides have repeatedly said there is still time for a deal that would leave the regular season unaffected, neither would say so Thursday -- with union president Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers using virtually the same words as Stern about the coming weeks.
"I don't have control of that part of it, that would be more of a commissioner Stern, Adam Silver question in terms of logistics of starting the season on time," Fisher said. "I'm not going to try and make a guess on that one. The calendar's obviously not our friend, but we're not going to give up on the process because of the time."
Asked again if he thought things were far enough along to still believe in a Nov. 1 start, Stern said: "I don't have any response to that. I just don't. I don't know the answer."
Stern celebrated his 69th birthday Thursday but didn't appear in a festive mood after meeting for about five hours with leaders from the union. He was joined by Silver, the deputy commissioner, Spurs owner Peter Holt, who heads the labor relations committee, and NBA senior vice president and deputy general counsel Dan Rube. Fisher, Hunter, attorney Ron Klempner and economist Kevin Murphy represented the union.
Those small groups had good talks in recent weeks, but things went poorly last Tuesday when they were rejoined by their full committees. Hunter said after that meeting that players planned to make a "significant" financial concession, only to find that owners refused to agree to their condition of leaving the current salary cap system as is.
Fisher said he didn't believe Thursday's talks moved the situation beyond where it was last week.
Stern said the owners' labor relations committee would talk Friday, and both sides said they hoped to meet again next week.
"We'll keep working at it until we figure this thing out, but right now there isn't anything to really report or say," Fisher said. "I don't have any answers to any questions, other than we'll keep working until we find some solutions."
Ric Bucher is a senior NBA writer for ESPN The Magazine. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.