NEW YORK -- With the NBA lockout almost three weeks old, commissioner David Stern and Players Association director Billy Hunter have decided to sit down and talk, their first meeting in nearly a month.
The meeting will be held over breakfast today morning. They are expected to discuss the prospects for resuming formal collective bargaining negotiations for the first time since June 22, when the ninth meeting between the sides broke off after only 30 minutes. The lockout began July 1.
"The purpose is to determine whether they are in the same posture as they were before the lockout, and see whether it's worth scheduling some sessions and if there's any potential movement," Hunter said Monday.
With discussions at a standstill and both sides dug in for a long fight that could last beyond the scheduled start of the regular season, today's meeting will be an opportunity for Stern and Hunter to gauge whether either side has a newfound urgency to move forward.
"Maybe it's just an issue of us having a no-holds-barred conversation," Hunter said, "and see whether there's any areas where we can agree on further in-depth discussions and maybe find some area of potential agreement."
Stern, through a spokesman, declined an interview request Monday.
The June 22 meeting ended abruptly when the union insisted it would not consider any proposal that included a phase-out or weakening of the "Larry Bird exception," which allows teams to exceed the salary cap to retain their own free agents.
There has been little news in the labor stalemate since July 1.
The union has filed a grievance with arbitrator John Feerick on behalf of players with guaranteed contracts who are not being paid during the lockout, and the league responded by asking a Federal Court to rule that Feerick has no jurisdiction. The court is awaiting a response from the union sometime in the next seven weeks.
Feerick notified both sides Monday that he has scheduled a hearing for July 30 to hear arguments on whether his jurisdiction expired July 1 when the collective bargaining agreement expired.
It has been more than a week since the union adjourned its annual executive council and player rep meeting in Hawaii. In the meantime, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that eight hardline owners are prepared to scuttle the entire 1998-99 season if an agreement cannot be reached that is satisfactory.
At the core of the dispute are economic issues and the amount of revenue being devoted to salaries. Under the old collective bargaining agreement, the owners had the right to seek a new deal if player payroll costs exceeded 51.8 percent of all revenue lumped into the category of "basketball-related income."
Stern says those costs were about 57 percent last season, and about half of the league's 29 teams were unprofitable.
The union has scoffed at that claim, saying only four teams at most actually lost money.
Stern, seeking what he calls "cost certainty" for the owners, has insisted the players agree to receive a specific percent of basketball-related income. Hunter has said Stern wants that number to be 48-50 percent.
The union has resisted being pinned down on a number, saying that agreeing to any specific percentage would be tantamount to accepting a "hard" salary cap.
The union has, however, proposed a formula that would slow future salary cap growth if the percentage of basketball-related income devoted to salaries exceeded 63 percent.