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NEW YORK — For the first time since dialogue began in earnest a year ago to re-negotiate the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement I’m getting negative feedback.

When the Board of Governors convened in New York last week they were informed by David Stern a serious snag has arisen regarding guaranteed years in the contracts of players.

The owners are pushing hard to downgrade from a maximum of seven (for players owning Bird Rights) and six (for those lacking) to four and three, respectively, as well as slicing several percentage points off the current annual increases of 12 percent and 10 percent.

It had appeared the players were leaning toward accepting something along those lines, but not anymore.

Sources say heavyweight agents such as Arn Tellem, Aaron Goodwin, Mark Bartelstein, Bill Duffy, Dan Fegan, etc., strongly conveyed to union executive director Billy Hunter that reducing such guarantees was objectionable in their entirety.

Unless, of course, the players receive back something of equivalent value.

Nobody monitoring that side of the table understands why the players should so much as consider giving back as many as two years when one is a huge concession. It’s pointed out that all the other professional sports have seven-year deals.

“The players already have given into a salary cap, a maximum cap, a rookie scale, an escrow tax and a luxury tax,” underlines someone in the mix. “And the system is working. We don’t want to blow up the system unless it can be improved, unless we can all profit. Nobody wants a lockout, but we’re all opposed to a one-way concession. So far, that’s the way it looks from what we’re hearing.”

A team executive who prefers to remain anonymous (something to do with being fined $1 million for discussing such classified information) had this to say:

“The average owner is losing roughly $7 million to 8 million per year and what’s their biggest expense? Salaries; the average is $5 million. Accordingly, a number of them are hawkish, especially the relatively new kids on the block; they’re ready to rumble over this issue, If the league doesn’t get its way their war cry is to shut down operations.

“Many franchises are being handcuffed by players whose skill level has diminished appreciably by age, injury or both (feel free to fill in the blanks with your personal pet) with several years remaining on ceiling deals.”

Meaning, the league’s 30 owners are intent on gaining an order of protection against themselves; after all, in the majority of situations, they choose to overspend and overextend in order to enlist or re-enlist such talent. Nevertheless, now they’re seemingly prepared to dig in so they won’t find themselves so exposed in the foreseeable future.”

The good news: For the time being the talks are in no danger of being discontinued, nor have they gotten argumentative or vindictive.

FYI: Just to be safe, the league hasn’t scheduled a single international event in case a deal isn’t in place when the existing agreement expires June 30.

On a more mundane matter, at the same confab, Knicks chairman James Dolan (and Mark Cuban, only not as long and loud) passionately preached to the choir concerning the (in)competency of referees, as if the guys who whistle while they work were responsible for the Knicks’ superior payroll and inferior payoff.

“He was insufferable,” sighed someone in the room. “He complained about everything imaginable relating to referees’ call and then repeated himself. He made his point and wouldn’t let it go. He just kept going off.

“Like the rest of us don’t know the officials make mistakes every game and sometimes they lead to losses (and wins). Tell us something we don’t know. But you can’t coach judgment. The officials do the best they can. I didn’t hear Dolan come up with a solution. He simply sounded foolish.”

By the way, if it turns out players under 20 are prohibited from playing in the NBA, as a compromise new owners should be required to spend at least two years in the National Basketball Developmental League until they have a grasp on how to run a team.

Following his 1-for-16 shooting misadventure in Game 1 against the Sonics, Mike Bibby, desperate to deduce his shooting problem, drove to the nearest Wendy’s to see if the employees could put their finger on it.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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