NBA Players Association officials addressed the media Friday evening in Los Angeles following the union's meeting with NBA owners and representatives that afternoon. The press conference was delayed by an unexpectedly long afternoon meeting coupled with a rare day of inclement weather in L.A. During his opening remarks, Fisher lightened the mood by likening rain in L.A. to snow on the East Coast.
Union chief Billy Hunter began the press conference by detailing the events of the afternoon labor negotiations. The meeting lasted two hours, with more than 50 people in attendance. Hunter noted that 25 players attended, including 15 All-Stars. As Adrian Wojnarowski reported earlier in the day, these All-Stars included New Orleans' Chris Paul, Utah's Deron Williams, Atlanta's Al Horford and Joe Johnson, and Miami's LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Hunter stated that despite expectations to the contrary, the meeting was "somewhat amicable," and that both players and owners "kept the rhetoric and volatility down." Hunter emphasized that one of the players' first priorities is to avoid a labor lockout in general. To this end, Hunter indicated that the union and owners agreed this afternoon to "meet much more often." Before this afternoon, it had been two and a half months since the two groups last met.
Before turning the podium over to Derek Fisher, Hunter praised Derek Fisher and his role in the meeting, stating that Derek Fisher "never ceases to amaze [him]." This was a sentiment that both Hunter and board member Keyon Dooling would echo many more times through the course of the press conference.
In his statement to the media, Fisher primarily addressed the impact a lockout would have not only on NBA players but also on various related jobs in NBA cities. Of these, he emphasized the importance NBA arenas have relative to their respective cities. Dooling's subsequent statement focused on the diversity of players present at the labor talks. He mentioned that "every demographic of player was represented," a departure from previous labor meetings. Hunter later mentioned he felt that the presence of so many NBA players would impact the way NBA owners view negotiations in the future.
After their opening remarks, Dooling, Fisher and Hunter accepted questions from the media. As expected, the conversation tended towards the union's stances on revenue sharing, guaranteed contracts, the proposed additions of a hard cap and NFL-style "franchise tag" and talk of contraction.
Hunter addressed the question of the proposed hard cap -- one that would replace the NBA's current soft cap and remove the league's current system of exception-based free agent acquisition. The union has been against the hard cap since its initial proposal. It would impact the extent to which teams extend themselves to offer new player contracts. But Hunter also spoke at length on another potentially negative angle, saying:
A hard cap would impact basketball much more than it would the NFL. Rosters are larger [there]. 25 to 30% of an NFL team turns over every year or every couple years. If you apply that to basketball and 5 to 15 players, the reality is you would turn over much quicker, and the ability to develop a good team would be almost impossible.
When asked if the hard cap would make it easier for smaller market teams to compete with larger ones, both Hunter and Fisher responded that multiple small market teams have found success in recent years while staying under the salary cap. With the advent of "super teams" such as Miami's Big 3 and New York's move for its own Big 3, that argument isn't one that basketball analysts will take very seriously.
Fisher also addressed the issue of guaranteed contracts. NBA owners have come out in favor of moving towards a non-guaranteed contract system, similar to the one employed by the NFL. Fisher noted that "every NBA contract is negotiated; every team has the opportunity to negotiate a non-guaranteed contract." Fisher went on to claim that by clamoring for non-guaranteed contracts, owners are simply trying to protect themselves from themselves. Fisher also mentioned that the concept of a "franchise tag" is one that is yet to be discussed by either side.
In a larger sense, it would be tough to say that significant progress was made at today's labor talks. However, as indicated by Hunter's and Fisher's rhetoric, both sides understand that time is now of the essence. The commitment to more frequent future labor meetings would seem to indicate as much.
Journalists like to say that without deadlines, nothing would ever get done. Today's labor talks may have opened both players' and owners' eyes to the fact that the lockout deadline is right around the corner. Whether things get done remains to be seen.