Deputy commissioner Russ Granik told members of the NBA's competition committee Monday to prepare for a lockout, four league sources, including two NBA general managers, have told ESPN.com.
League spokesman Tim Frank was more circumspect when confirming Granik's remarks, saying Granik told the committee "to prepare in case of a lockout."
Sources, some at the NBA's pre-draft camp in Chicago, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, are not optimistic that the league and the players' union can reach agreement on a new collective-bargaining agreement before the current contract expires June 30.
The same sources say, however, that any work stoppage will not be a long one.
"There's going to be a lockout," an NBA executive told Ford. "I don't think there's any way we get a deal done any time soon. We're not seeing eye to eye right now. The truth is that players don't really believe a lockout will hurt them in the summer. It won't be until there's a threat of losing that first paycheck that they'll get serious about negotiating again."
While this could be no more than posturing by the NBA, sources on the players' side are quietly conceding the same thing.
"I think they'll lock us out," a source with the NBA Players' Association said. "I think David [Stern] has always wanted to lock us out. I think it's a mistake. They act like they don't have anything to lose, but I think they do. The summer league, free agency, NBA players' playing in the qualifying tournament for the World Championships. The bottom line is that the players want to play. They [the players] offered to extend the current deal until a new one could be put into place. They [the owners] want this, and there's nothing we can do to stop them."
A number of issues currently separate the sides. The biggest is the owners' insistence that guaranteed contracts be considerably shortened. Currently, players can sign for a maximum of six or seven years, depending upon whether the player is signing with a new team (six years) or his current team (seven years). The owners have been trying to get that rolled back to five years.
Three other issues have become sticking points for the players: 1) the owners' proposal to reduce the amount of annual raises in a contract; 2) a "super luxury tax" that would more harshly penalize teams that spend more than a certain predetermined threshold; and 3) the proposed minimum age requirement of 20 years old.
Despite the resignation that a lockout appears inevitable, sources also have expressed optimism that any work stoppage would not be protracted or actually threaten the 2005-06 season.
"I think both sides will take the month of July off," a prominent agent said. "I think we'll head back to the table in August and have something hammered [out] by September. The NBA has no interest in losing revenue and fan support by canceling games. The players have no interest in losing their paychecks. The stakes just aren't high enough right now. But they will be in the fall."