NEW YORK -- Negotiators for the league and players' association made modest progress on the use of the mid-level exception for luxury tax-paying teams Thursday, but other guidelines governing exceptions and the tax level emerged as a new sticking point, three people briefed on the labor talks told CBSSports.com.
One of the people said league negotiators signaled a willingness to raise the so-called "mini mid-level" to three years starting at $3 million for teams above the luxury-tax level, to be available every other year. The previous offer was a two-year deal starting at $2.5 million, available every other year to tax teams. There was no indication union negotiators were ready to agree to this slight improvement in the owners' proposal, as it would reduce the mid-level exception for tax teams from last year's five-year, $37 million total to three years and $9 million for teams above the tax line.
UPDATE: After conferring with owners on the labor relations committee, commissioner David Stern was prepared to deliver a revised proposal to the union Thursday night based on the deal points negotiated over the past two days, a person with knowledge of the plans confirmed to CBSSports.com. The revised proposal, first reported by Yahoo Sports, was not the so-called "reset" proposal threatened if talks broke down, the person said.
Also Thursday, a new hurdle emerged in the discussion over when teams would face the new restrictions owners are proposing for teams above the luxury tax threshold. Two of the people briefed on the talks said owners were pushing for teams under the tax at the time of the transaction to be restricted from using the full mid-level -- four-year deals starting at $5 million -- if the signing put the team over the tax. In that case, the team would be restricted to use of the mini mid-level. Union negotiators want the new restrictions to be based on where a team's payroll sits in relation to the tax prior to the use of the exception -- not where it stands afterward.
After a 12-hour session Wednesday produced minimal progress, the two sides pushed past the eight-hour mark Thursday with the threat looming that league negotiators would pull their existing offer off the table and replace it with a worse one. The new offer, originally scheduled to be furnished to the players at 5 p.m. Wednesday but delayed due to the ongoing talks, would have featured a 53-47 economic split in favor of the owners and also would include a hard team salary cap and rollbacks of existing contracts. The two sides currently are negotiating off a league proposal that would give the players a 50 percent share of revenue and maintain a soft-cap system -- albeit with a vastly more onerous luxury tax system, more restrictions on exceptions, shorter contracts and smaller annual raises.
On Tuesday, union officials held a meeting with more than 40 players, including 29 team player reps, and signaled a willingness to meet the NBA on its 50-50 economic split provided that a list of five or six system-related issues could be resolved to the players' satisfaction. One of the roadblocks in the talks, according to multiple people involved in the process, is that players who previously did not realize how severe the owners' proposal was had become emboldened to push for significant concessions on the remaining system points. Even if and when a deal is reached, agents who have long opposed the concessions delivered to the league by union negotiators will be advising their clients to review the proposal closely and vote against it if it isn't substantially different than what the players learned about Tuesday.
"The players aren't going to be hoodwinked on this one," one such agent told CBSSports.com.