NEW YORK -- The countdown to the next NBA lockout began in a way Tuesday, with commissioner David Stern and a group of 10 team owners making it abundantly clear that they will not extend the current labor deal into the 2011-12 season.
The owners met with players' union representatives for nearly 3½ hours at a Manhattan hotel in the first formal round of collective bargaining talks toward the next NBA labor agreement.
The current deal will run for two more seasons, and the owners must notify the players on Dec. 15, 2010, whether they intend to extend the deal for an additional season.
But the message from the owners Tuesday was this: They're opting out.
And so began the countdown to June 30, 2011, when the current labor agreement -- the one that raised the age limit and made permanent the luxury tax -- will expire.
"We knew that coming into today, and that's why we agreed to meet today -- to get this process started. We don't plan on waiting until 2011 to have the talks we need to have to keep this relationship a strong one," players union president Derek Fisher said.
Fisher, elected in June to a four-year term as union president, was joined by union director Billy Hunter, staff attorneys and union negotiating council members Theo Ratliff, Roger Mason Jr., Etan Thomas, Keyon Dooling and Maurice Evans. Chris Paul, Adonal Foyle and James Jones were unable to attend.
The owners were represented by Peter Holt of the San Antonio Spurs, the head of their labor negotiating committee, James Dolan of the New York Knicks, Jeannie Buss of the Los Angeles Lakers, Dan Gilbert of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wyc Grousbeck of the Boston Celtics, Clay Bennett of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Robert Sarver of the Phoenix Suns, Glen Taylor of the Minnesota Timberwolves, George Shinn of the New Orleans Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers president Larry Miller.
Fisher said the owners laid out their argument that under current economic conditions, too many franchises are losing too much money to continue operating under the present system.
Neither side made any proposals, with the meeting described as more introductory than substantive. No owners or league executives commented, although the league office and the players union issued a joint statement calling the talks "cordial and productive."
"They continued to point that overall our game is in good shape in terms of our fans, our television ratings, and even though our attendance was down in some areas, it still was the third-highest attendance in league history, so there are a lot of foundation bellweather numbers that are strong with our game," Fisher said.
Stern has said about half of the league's 30 teams are unprofitable, and several owners have lost enormous amounts of wealth in the global financial meltdown of the past nine months.
Still, many of the strongest teams (Lakers, Boston, Cleveland, San Antonio, Orlando, Utah) have shown a willingness to spend themselves into luxury tax territory this summer in pursuit of a championship, while struggling franchises in Memphis, Sacramento and New Jersey have been shedding staff and cutting costs, and the Charlotte Bobcats are one of several teams with a For Sale sign posted.
"There are still obviously some teams that have some issues," Fisher said. "We didn't get into specific teams and their specific issues today, but it was a big picture look at where the league has been the last four years since this collective bargaining agreement began, and then where we think the league will be next year after some of the economic data comes in."
The sides said they planned to set up another bargaining meeting before training camps begin in late September.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.