HARTFORD, Conn. -- The NBA lockout won't end until October at the earliest, several NBA players predicted Saturday night at a charity exhibition game hosted by Ray Allen of the Milwaukee Bucks.
"It'll end two to three weeks before the start of the season (Nov. 3)," John Starks of the New York Knicks said. "And I don't think anybody will be walking out of the room then."
Starks' last comment was a reference to the most recent negotiating session between the sides Aug. 6, when commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Russ Granik and six owners abruptly stormed out after hearing the players' latest proposal.
That walkout was very much on the minds of the players, who saw it as symptomatic of a bargaining process that is still in the charade phase.
"That was all staged, I'm sure of it," said Alonzo Mourning of the Miami Heat, who was one of more than a dozen players on attend that negotiating session -- the only one since the lockout began July 1.
The next big fight in the labor impasse will take place a week from Monday when arbitrator John Feerick holds a hearing on a grievance filed by the players' union on behalf of some 220 players with guaranteed contracts who are not being paid during the lockout.
The union filed a 50-page brief with Feerick on Friday, and the league will file its briefs next Friday.
One of the union's lawyers came to the charity game to brief players on developments.
Among those getting brought up to speed were Gary Payton and Vin Baker of Seattle, Michael Finley of Dallas, Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty and Travis Knight of Boston, John Wallace of Toronto, Elliot Perry of Milwaukee, Keith Closs of the Clippers, Sam Cassell of the Nets, Jerome Williams of Detroit and Charlie Ward of the Knicks.
"The owners are betting that our guys are going to give in," Mourning said. "But we'll be OK as long as we have tenacity and unity and guys understand we can't just agree on any deal."
Many players felt the key dates will come in late September and early October when the sides presumedly will have resumed negotiations.
"I don't know when, but I know it'll eventually happen," Milwaukee's Terrell Brandon said. "And I hope that both sides legitimately feel that the agreement is fair. We don't want one side to say they agreed to it just because they wanted to start playing."
The players also felt that the offers put on the table so far by the owners are simply not realistic, based upon the concessions the league is demanding. Owners have asked for a phaseout of the Larry Bird exception, which allows teams to exceed the salary cap to sign their own free agents, a maximum salary of about $10 million and the elimination of the million-dollar exception available to capped-out teams once every two years.
"If you're going to use that strategy and wait until the last hour, then don't play games with us. Don't waste our time," Mourning said. "This is no game, it's far from being a game."
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