NBA union prioritizing help for retired players in CBA talks, LeBron James says

NBA players are pushing for more money in the next collective bargaining agreement -- for the players who came before them.

Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, vice president of the National Basketball Players Association's executive committee, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the union has prioritized getting aid for retired players.

The NBA and its players have agreed that the next CBA will include new league-funded programs to help retired players with education and medical expenses, four people with knowledge of the situation told the AP. The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because talks are ongoing.

In exchange for those programs, and pending full approval from both sides, the split of basketball-related income would remain the same 50-50 deal as it is in the current agreement.

Deciding how to divvy up the revenue pie was the biggest obstacle that led to the ugly lockout five years ago. But with that issue essentially taken care of this time around, negotiations have been much smoother as both sides look to reach an agreement on a new deal before the Dec. 15 deadline to opt out.

For James, NBPA president Chris Paul and the rest of the union, taking care of those who are no longer playing is a worthy compromise for trying to recoup any of the financial ground lost during the 2011 labor dispute.

"We got a group of guys that are in there that know the negotiations, so any way to give back and try to help our former teammates and help former players and things of that nature," James said. "Because we've all built this league together. No matter how big of a guy you were or if you were the 15th guy on the bench, we all built this league into what it is today. But it's not just my idea. I'm not taking any credit for that. But it's all part of the process."

Mike Glenn, a 10-year NBA veteran and a member of the National Basketball Retired Players Association's board of directors, said the CBA has dominated conversations among retirees for more than a year.

"We're very thankful to Chris Paul, LeBron and others who have provided the leadership to include us in the negotiations and have the foresight to see that they'll be us in a couple of years," said Glenn, currently an Atlanta Hawks analyst for Fox Sports Southeast. "There are so many guys with medical issues who have had hip and knee replacements. With the cost of health care going up, it would be the biggest thing that's happened for retirees in 10 years."

The CBA process will resume next week, when the league and the union meet ahead of the NBA Board of Governors meeting in New York, which begins Oct. 20. NBA commissioner Adam Silver and union head Michele Roberts met in Spain earlier this month, when the league had a preseason game there. Silver and Roberts -- along with other members of the negotiating committee -- are preparing to return to the bargaining table with both sides in deal-making mode.

New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony expressed optimism that a deal will get done before Dec. 15.

"We're working. We're working towards figuring out a solution and kind of how we want to work together," he said Thursday. "Believe it or not, we don't want to strike and they don't want to strike. So the best thing to do is really figure it out sooner rather than later. We want to try to get something done. I think the NBA and the owners are very receptive to that, and we are, too. I think this time before we were so far away from each other. You can feel the difference, you can see the difference, you can see the reaction, you can see the contact we're having, the information that's being sent on both sides. I think we're closer to getting something done. Hopefully it'll get done soon."

During the bitter negotiations of 2011 that resulted in the loss of 16 games for each team, the players ultimately accepted a decrease from 57 percent of basketball-related income to a band between 49 and 51 percent depending on a variety of economic factors for each particular season. After the league secured a new $24 billion television contract, franchise values skyrocketed. There was talk of the players opting out of the 10-year deal and seeking givebacks from the owners.

But the talks between the owners and players this time around have been much more cordial.

The influx of money has been key for the players, Anthony said.

"We're not going in there saying we want more money. We don't want to mess that up," Anthony said. "We see how the league is growing, we see the growth of the league. We want to be a part of that. There's certain things within the CBA that we would like to see as players of the union. So hopefully we can make something happen."

There also is a trust level that was absent from previous talks, a factor that was only strengthened when the owners agreed to the new programs that will help players after their careers come to an end.

James stressed that the medical and education programs benefiting retirees were not his idea alone, but a collective decision from the union to seek help for the players who helped make the league what it is today. Now, with so much revenue flooding the system to the benefit of both sides, the dialogue appears to be centered on the greater good over dollars and cents.

"I just want to see the league continue to grow; that's all that matters to me," James said. "The players are a huge, huge piece, but we also know the owners have great minds as well. Our commissioner is great, but our league, our logo, the Jerry West logo is probably the most well sought-out, admired logo in the world, and we've got to figure out a way to keep it going, keep raising the bar. That's my only concern."

The new agreement is expected to include several other new elements as well, said the people with knowledge of the discussions.

They said owners are pushing to give their teams more options to keep homegrown players in their organizations, a topic that came to the forefront after Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder to form a new super team with the Golden State Warriors. One of the proposals, the people said, includes the possibility of adding a second five-year maximum contract. Currently, teams can offer only one five-year max contract, which can make it more difficult for teams to keep multiple stars happy.

The people told the AP new elements also include an increase in the rookie salary scale to fall more in line with the surging salary cap, which was first reported by Yahoo Sports. The people also say two-way contracts that would pay players less when they are in the D-League and more when they are with their NBA teams -- a structure that has worked well in hockey for some time -- will be a part of the deal.

ESPN's Ian Begley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.