NBA Owners Say No to Crucial All-Star Weekend Meeting With Players
The meetings that so many expected to take place were seen by most as a final frontier of sorts on the labor front, an 11th-hour attempt to resolve their many differences in time to avoid a lockout that would begin when the collective bargaining agreement expires in July. But according to Maurice Evans, the Atlanta guard who serves as executive vice president on the NBA Player's Associations committee, the owners have made it known that they have no interest in engaging the players on such a stage.
"They don't even want to meet with us at All-Star break," Evans told me by phone on Wednesday. "You're telling me you can't pull a few guys and some owners into a room for an hour and try an update what's important? What's important is us continuing our league and not having a work stoppage, so if it was really important to them, I would think they would want to find time to do that."
While the owners have expressed concern that negotiations would steal the spotlight from the event itself - much like it did when a star-studded cast of players took part in the contentious talks at last year's All-Star weekend - Evans sees it differently.
"They don't want to do it because they don't want to have the LeBron James and the KGs (Kevin Garnetts) and the Kobes (Kobe Bryant) and all these guys in one spot where they can come in and look them in the eye and address them," Evans said. "It's easier to look at Mo Evans and Derek Fisher and Keyon Dooling and Etan Thomas and guys like us and Theo Ratliff (all of whom are members of the NBAPA executive committee).
"It's easy to come in and look at guys who aren't making $20 million (per season) and aren't franchise players, and say, 'Hey we need (salary) rollbacks. We don't have enough money. This model isn't working, blah blah blah blah.' But tell that to LeBron James. You can't lie to those guys, because you know it's working."
The negotiations clearly aren't working, though. The owners submitted their proposal last February, with their plan calling for a drastic restructuring of the current system that includes a hard salary cap and salary rollbacks that would total some $800 million. The players responded in July, countering with a plan that they felt offered a number of fair-minded concessions but certainly stopped well short of the owners' goals. The owners have yet to respond with a counter-proposal.
All the while, Evans said the meetings that have taken place have been pointless.
"We went in (to meet) so many times over the summer, and literally every time we would fly into New York, we would meet and then come out saying, 'Why did I even come here?' " Evans said. "Nothing had transpired. They'd say 'Later on. Let's do it later on.' Well this is the later on that we were talking about, and you're postponing and postponing and postponing. If it continues like this, I don't know how we'll ever get a deal done."
The players, Evans said, will rally collectively in much the same way they did last February no matter if the All-Star weekend meeting takes place. And, yes, for those who wondered, that does include James. Despite his late-December comments regarding the merits of contraction, Evans said James is on board with the rest of his colleagues.
"Even with those statements that LeBron had made, which were taken out of context, really the players are sticking together," he said. "It won't be the players who are putting us in a situation where we're in a bad way and saying we don't want to play. The players have done nothing but want to play. The guys don't want to waste their talents, so they're going to go on and play elsewhere. They'll play in Europe. Guys are saving their money. Everybody is blessed, and in this type of economy the money that we've made is more than sufficient enough to carry us and support our lifestyles.
"For (the owners) to try and do that, to have a work stoppage, they stand to lose a ton of money. They're playing with fire, because of the money they'll lose in TV ratings, ad revenues, new sponsors coming on board. ... There's no way to recoup the money that they're going to be missing out on."
The disinterest in an All-Star weekend meeting is the strongest sign yet that the owners are hell-bent on a lockout. Yet if it were up to the players, Evans said, the games would remain.
"We're here to talk," he said. "We want to resolve this thing. We all love this game, and we're all privileged and honored to be playing it and want to continue to play it."
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