Let's see if anything productive occurs in these Saturday talks. Whether you believe professional athlete agents have more power now than back in '98 is beside the point, they can still be a thorn in the sides of us fans. More worryingly, agents have way too much influence on negotiations. David Stern was only pulling any punches when he started pointed fingers at various agents. If you can't trust the Commissioner's words, then at least believe Russ Granik.
NBA Commissioner David Stern - frustrated by more fruitless negotiations - blamed player agent David Falk and out-of-touch leadership in the players union for the current postponement of the 1998-99 season.
Stern said Wednesday that the selfishness of Falk and a few others who represent the league's top-paid players are preventing any progress from being made.
``I'm more pessimistic now than I've ever been,'' Stern said after a short bargaining session ended again with no progress. ``There may not be a deal here to be had. I'm afraid the whole deal could be held hostage ... because some of the agents are wanting to flex their muscle.''
Falk represents Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Juwan Howard and Alonzo Mourning - all officers in the union and all extremely well-paid - along with Michael Jordan.
Although the NBA's latest proposal would help the majority of the league's players financially, it would put a limit on the amount any individual could make, affecting those in the superstar category.
``For the vast majority of players, 80-90 percent, there is nothing in the deal that isn't really good for them,'' said Russ Granik, NBA deputy commissioner. ``It's hard to conceive that a majority of the players - if it was put to a vote - wouldn't endorse it.''
Stern said he will make one change in the current lockout policy, allowing teams to start talking to their players, making sure they understand the owner's proposal.
According to the NBA's latest proposal, no one player could make more than 35 percent of the team's salary cap. If the player has been in the league less than nine years, he couldn't make more than 30 percent, and if he was in the league less than six years, he couldn't make more than 25 percent. The salary cap this season is expected to rise to $34 million.
There are exceptions, though, that still would allow players already over that amount such as Jordan, who made $33 million last season) to increase previous salaries by 5 percent.
Penny Hardaway, for example, is scheduled to make $8.5 million this season. If he chose to re-sign with Orlando after becoming a free agent next summer, the starting salary in his new contract could not exceed 30 percent of the Magic's salary cap.
``I'm flattered they think I'm running the union, but clearly what David Stern is trying to do is tactically divide us - the agents from the players, the high-salaried players from the middle class,'' Falk responded. ``This should be a wake-up call to the union to stay unified and not let them divide us.''
The owners' proposal also includes a 50-50 split of league revenues between the owners and players. It retains the Larry Bird exception for free agents, allowing teams to exceed the salary cap to sign their own free agents.
It includes a four-year rookie wage scale with restricted free agency after the first contract. It raises the minimum salary from $272,000 to $350,000. Minimum for veterans also is $50,000 higher for each year they have played in the league.
The proposal allows teams over the cap to use a $1.5 million exception to sign a new player each season. In three years, that exception will be worth the average NBA salary.
``I just don't know where the players are at on this,'' Stern said. ``I just hope they realize what's at stake here. The owners will not open the season under any system approaching the old deal. It's just not going to happen.''
Earlier this week, Billy Hunter, head of the players union, predicted the season would not begin until January, implying his side would not do a deal before the first week of December.
``If we lose this season, it's going to be a disaster for the players, the owners, the fans and everyone associated with the league,'' Stern said. ``Our teams will recover over a very, very extended period of time. But the players will irretrievably lose $1 billion in salary.''
Stern already has canceled the schedule for November. Both sides concede they would need a minimum of three to four weeks after signing a deal before the season could begin.