NEW YORK -- Setting up an important day in the NBA labor mediation Thursday, with BRI and revenue sharing in the spotlight:
* After more than 24 hours of federally mediated bargaining over two days, the two sides are right back where they were on Oct. 4 when it comes to the key issue of BRI split. Two people involved in the negotiations confirmed to CBSSports.com Thursday that the owners are back to offering a range of 49-51 percent for the players, with the percentage varying based on where revenues come in. This is where things were when a crucial session broke down more than two weeks ago, and we all know how that ended: Depending on who you believe, the players either rejected that informal proposal or countered with a band of 51-53 percent, which the league rejected. Either way, the economic negotiation has settled in the sweet spot that it has been heading toward ever since. The final number A) more than likely will vary based on revenue trigger points, and B) is expected to wind up with the players receiving a share of between 50-52 percent -- the midpoint of the range each side is comfortable with, which we told you on Oct. 4 meant the two sides were only about $80 million-a-year apart.
* With the owners' planning committee presenting its recommendations on a new revenue sharing plan to the full Board of Governors, the next step will be for the owners' labor relations committee to share the results with the players' executive committee Thursday afternoon when mediation resumes. While the owners have kept their revenue sharing plans separate from the collective bargaining talks, Thursday is expected to be the day when those two crucial topics unite. Before making any further economic moves, the players have been eager to examine the owners' revenue sharing plan as a way to ensure that the union doesn't bear a disproportionate burden of the economic and system changes owners are seeking. Commissioner David Stern has said the plan is to initially triple the revenue-sharing pool and eventually quadruple it. Shifting money from high-revenue teams to low-revenue teams is viewed as a crucial aspect of fitting the league's vision of a flatter payroll disparity into a CBA that already has significant economic concessions from the players built in.
* Finally, as I examined here, the most prominent sticking point in the talks remains the method by which a reduction in player salaries will be linked up with a new system that seeks to create more competitive balance. Two mechanisms that I didn't mention in that piece could help: an amnesty clause and the escrow system. The latter already was in place in the previous agreement, while the former is a new concept proposed by the owners. Under the league's amnesty proposal, sources say teams would be able to waive a player and have up to 75 percent of his contract removed from the cap and tax, with the remaining balance amortized against the cap over the number of years left on the contract. The player would still be paid 100 percent of the guaranteed money owed; this would be an NFL-style cap management tool to help teams adjust to the new system. The escrow, which evens out any underage or overage in the players' guaranteed share of BRI, also could be used to account for existing contracts that would make it difficult for teams to comply with the lower cap. But this is a tricky one, since any amount paid to the players that winds up exceeding their assigned BRI percentage would have to be refunded to the owners. Union officials may view this as a salary rollback by a different name.
* So, right on cue, sports attorney Matt Tolnick has written a thoughtful piece detailing other solutions to the problem of marrying lower salaries to a more restrictive system. Writing for Hoopshype.com, Tolnick suggests two remedies: 1) Instead of requiring teams to be under a hard or harder spending ceiling (be it a cap or tax level) every year, they would simply need to meet the requirement on average over the course of four or five years; and 2) a rollback of existing contracts commensurate with the players' overall reduction in BRI percentage. The union has flatly rejected rollbacks, and the owners have agreed to back off on the concept. But it might just be the most equitable and simplest way to make all these moving parts fit together without causing a certain class of players (i.e. draft picks or free agents) to bear a disproportionate burden.
How all of this plays out at the bargaining table Thursday is anybody's guess. But there seem to be enough good ideas to go around.