There will be NBA-sanctioned basketball next November even if the league is locked in a labor shutdown.
Deputy commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN.com that an NBA work stoppage next fall would not prevent the league from keeping its 16-team minor league, known as the D-League, operational.
"We intend to operate the NBA Development League next season independent of the status of NBA collective bargaining," Silver said.
The D-League opens its 10th season Thursday, when the Texas Legends, coached by Nancy Lieberman, face the defending champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers at 8 p.m. ET in a game televised nationally by Versus.
Lieberman is the first female head coach of any men's team under the NBA's umbrella.
The NBA's current labor agreement with its players expires June 30, 2011, and a lockout has been widely regarded as inevitable, given the gulf in negotiating to date between the league and its players.
Some league and team officials have begun to privately express cautious optimism that a lockout starting July 1 will be lifted before a significant amount of regular-season games are lost, but few industry experts believe that a work stoppage can be avoided entirely, especially after NBA commissioner David Stern announced in October that league owners are seeking an across-the-board reduction in total player salaries of $750 million to $800 million.
The league, though, sees no reason to suspend D-League operations. Yet it's highly unlikely that the prospect of playing in the D-League will be viewed as a palatable substitute by NBA free agents who have the contractual freedom to try to earn a living elsewhere if they are indeed locked out.
D-League salaries range from a mere $13,000 to $25,500, and housing and medical care are the biggest perks D-League players receive to offset the league's modest salaries, compared to what foreign teams pay.
Stern and Silver are meeting Thursday with NBA Players Association chief Billy Hunter and union president Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers in a two-on-two bargaining session, with Fisher planning to join the talks by phone with the Lakers in Minneapolis on a road trip. Both sides acknowledge that substantial progress in negotiations must be achieved before All-Star Weekend in February to raise hopes that a lockout can be avoided.
With league officials projecting a loss for this season in the $350 million range, NBA owners are seeking major changes to the league's financial landscape, including potential NHL-style rollbacks on existing contracts.
Thursday's session will mark the first time since negotiations began in August 2009 that the two top-ranking officials from each side will meet exclusively, Fisher told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin. Proposals have been exchanged for the past 15 months.
"In terms of the clock ticking, I don't think it's put anyone in the position of desperation or feeling as though we need to make snap decisions at this very point," Fisher said. "At the same time, the plan is not to wait until June 30 to start negotiating."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.