From Cleveland to China, the message was clear on Wednesday: There is real hope of the NBA and its players getting a new labor deal done in the coming weeks.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver revealed that the league and its players will resume discussions on a new deal next week. Those meetings will be a prequel to the league’s Board of Governors session in New York on Oct. 20 and 21, where the labor talks will surely be very high on Silver’s agenda of things to review with the full ownership.
“Why wouldn’t I be optimistic about it?” Cleveland star LeBron James said. “First of all, I’m a player who loves the game and I see how our league is steamrolling right now. I’ve been a part of this league for 14 years and I’ve had one stoppage of play and it wasn’t good for both sides. Over the last couple of years, I’ve seen our league grow more and more and more, so why wouldn’t I be optimistic about it?”
In Beijing, where he was attending the NBA Global Games, Silver said he would return to the U.S. on Thursday — and then planned to pick up where talks left off. He said he has been meeting with union representatives, including union head Michele Roberts and president Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, as well as owners who are on the negotiating committee.
“Both sides have been very engaged and eager to get a deal done,” Silver said.
The mere mention of optimism makes these talks considerably different than the often-dysfunctional discourse that went on five years ago, when the league and its players were so far apart that the 2011-12 season wound up getting shortened from 82 games per team to 66 — the result of a 161-day lockout that wounded both sides.
Either side can opt out of the existing 10-year contract in December. But with both sides in deal-making mode, a new deal could come before that.
“Nobody wants to have a lockout,” Miami guard Goran Dragic said. “I don’t want to sit down at home and do nothing. I want to play basketball and hopefully the players union and the league are going to make a decision and that decision is going to be good for everybody. So far, it’s looking good so hopefully we’ll make a deal.”
Dragic said players are being briefed regularly by the union on the status of talks.
More money than ever is now flowing into the league, thanks to the new $24 billion television contract. And with salary caps now higher than ever and expected to continue to rise, it’s hard to envision why either side would want a work stoppage.
“Just being on the Players’ Association, having the opportunity to talk to the owners, talk to our commissioner, things seem optimistic,” said James, who has had a regular dialogue with Silver about several issues — such as scheduling of back-to-back games and the desire for a longer All-Star break, which the league now has.
“But you still have negotiations, so you know, you never know what could happen from that,” James said. “But optimistic means I feel optimistic about it. There’s no reason for me not to.”
Silver and Roberts even met recently in Spain, when she was accompanying the Oklahoma City Thunder for their preseason trip there. That’s another example of how talks now look in no way like the talks in 2011, when neither side was shy about expressing a level of mistrust with the other.
Miami forward Justise Winslow said he’s following the talks closely, and acknowledged that he’s a bit worried about what another lockout next summer may do to the game.
“We don’t want to be jobless,” Winslow said. “So we worry about it, a little bit. It’s not like guys are worrying about it too much, but we would like to have that job security. We make a lot of money, but it’s just the principle of the matter. Part of it is the money aspect, part of it is we love the game and we just want to play.”
Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant contributed from Beijing. Krawczynski reported from Minneapolis. Reynolds reported from Miami.