THE NBA could be joining the NFL in a labor freeze as the league and union representing its players have one last negotiating session scheduled before their collective bargaining agreement expires today.
Representative for the players and owners are scheduled to meet in a New York hotel on Thursday about 12 hours before the midnight deadline and the NBA will be seeking contract changes to offset net losses they claim run to some US$300 million.
With the two sides far apart on several financial issues and the players opposed to a new salary cap system, the league could be facing its first work stoppage since the 1998-99 season was reduced by 32 games to 50.
NBA officials have said that 22 of the league's 30 clubs are losing money, while player union officials have called on the league to revise its revenue sharing provisions to address the problem.
"I think it's fair to say the revenue sharing will be considerably more robust after a new collective bargaining agreement is entered into," NBA Commissioner David Stern told reporters after an owners meeting in Dallas this week.
"It's hard. We've discussed principles, ideas and the like. But it's hard to complete one without the other."
Stern, however, said revenue sharing alone could not resolve the league's financial problems.
Negotiations have stalled with the sides far apart on a "soft" salary cap which was set at US$58 million per team for the 2010-11 season, with exceptions allowed.
Under the current deal, 57 percent of basketball-related income is designated for players salaries. Owners would like to reduce that to near 50 percent.
While NBA owners did not vote to impose a lockout should the sides fail to reach an agreement, they empowered their labor relations committee to take "whatever steps were necessary" to get a new agreement.
"The owners authorized the labor relations committee to do whatever steps were necessary to effectuate a new collective bargaining agreement," NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver told reporters.
The NFL, seeking to tilt the percentage of some US$9 billion in revenue more in favor of owners, locked out their players after their collective bargaining pact expired in March with league operations still on hold.
Commissioner Stern held out hope that a deal could be struck and a lockout avoided, and would not rule out extending the deadline.
"Nothing in this world is absolute," Stern said. "There's always time to make a deal."