National Basketball Players Association union president Derek Fisher, of the Los Angles Lakers, listens as NBPA executive director Billy Hunter, right, speaks during a news conference. (Photo: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
The NBA is hours away from holding its annual draft Thursday, but it could be a while before any of the drafted players step on the floor for new teams at this rate.
The NBA and its players seemed to make headway earlier this week in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, but talks hit a snag Wednesday night when owners apparently asked for $160 million in “escrow tax” money owed to the players this season, according to ESPN.com.
The players had agreed earlier in this week to $7 billion to $8 billion in concessions as owners have cried that the current salary structure has made it such that more than half of the league’s teams are operating at a loss. But on Wednesday the players balked at the owners' demand to keep the $160 million in escrow money from this season.
The current collective-bargaining agreement expires June 30.
"To me, it speaks to the arrogance they have in approaching us," union president Derek Fisher told ESPN.com. "Trust and loyalty pretty much go out the window when it comes to business. We haven't been partners in this venture from day one. We've been employees, the talent that has grown the game. It's difficult to be partners in recovery when we haven't been partners in generating those losses."
The $160 million in escrow is the eight percent of players' salaries that is put aside each year to make sure their total income doesn’t exceed 57 percent of the league’s basketball-related income. The money is then paid to the players in August.
But the owners are asking to keep the $160 million this year. It’s a relatively small amount of money when you look at the billions the players are willing to give up over the next several years, but both sides appear ready to dig in.
What it all means is that a messy lockout seems inevitable once the current CBA expires next week.
"Players have benefited from the current system more than the teams," NBA commissioner David Stern said in a released statement Wednesday night. "For them it has been a much better partnership. We are sorry that the players' union feels that way, since it doesn't seem designed to get us to the agreement that is so important to the teams and, we had hoped, the players."
There is no doubt the NBA salary structure must change in order for most of the league to remain viable. And that change is likely going to require the players to make substantial concessions. But the owners can’t take away money that has already been paid, either.
The two sides are set to meet again Friday and then the owners will meet early next week, when they will likely vote for a lockout that could delay the start of the 2011-2012 season.