Originally created 12/30/98

In absence of negotiations, rhetoric heats up



NEW YORK -- While the commissioner skied in Colorado and his deputy sunned in Florida, NBA players and agents stewed on the telephone Tuesday as the lockout approached its half-year anniversary.

"If the league doesn't want to play, then we don't need to wait until Jan. 7. Just cancel the season," said Jerome Stanley, an agent who represents five players in the lower- and middle-income ranges. "But if they're not going to cancel the season, then crank it back up. We don't need any more gesturing or grandstanding, just do some tradeoffs and end the thing."

Stanley and two other agents held a conference call with reporters while players participated on a different conference call with union leadership.

Commissioner David Stern, meantime, was still vacationing in Aspen, and deputy commissioner Russ Granik was in Florida with his family. Neither is expected back in New York until the new year.

The league has scheduled a Board of Governors meeting for Jan. 7, and Stern and Granik have said they will recommend canceling the season if no agreement has been reached by that date.

The league says it has made its final offer, and no further talks are scheduled.

A hearing will be held Wednesday in Houston federal court on a lawsuit filed by players Nick Van Exel, Marcus Camby and Reggie Slater charging USA Basketball and the NBA with denying them clearance to play in Europe.

The NBA was added as a defendant Monday night.

Stanley and agents Keith Glass and Steve Kauffman said the lockout had been "scripted, orchestrated and pre-planned" by the owners.

They were especially critical of Stern's push to have the players vote on the owners' final offer, even though it has not been recommended by the union's negotiating committee.

"We have to get commissioner Stern to give an inch. He has to move," Kauffman said. "He can't just sit up there in his palace and continue with his arrogant condescending attitude."

The three agents said the union had made huge concessions by limiting high-end salaries, reducing annual raises, agreeing to a longer rookie salary scale and agreeing to reduce annual salary cap increases.

"No matter where the thing ends, the league is going to end up with a good, a very good, deal -- almost a dream deal," Stanley said. "If you took the same deal and offered it to baseball and football owners, they'd hop all over it.

"This is first sports industry to cap top end salaries," Stanley said. "Calculate how much money the Los Angeles Lakers would save by not having to pay Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant what they would have had to pay under the old deal. That money has already been transferred. That's the offer we're making.

"At what point does it become enough? At one point do the owners stand up to their negotiator and say, `We've already gotten enough. Let's move forward,' " Stanley said.

Kauffman said he was beginning to believe that the league doesn't want a season, and Glass called Stern's negotiating conduct "disgraceful."

Kauffman and Glass also said general managers have called them to complain about the owners' demand for an end to "sign-and-trade" transactions.

"It's very difficult to make trades otherwise, and that's part of the fun of the league," Kauffman said.

Another aspect of the owners' proposal would force any player traded in the final year of his contract to lose his Larry Bird rights.

Glass said he was much less concerned about the percentage of revenues, and how it will be split, than he was about rules that would restrict player movement. "This is a league with no flexibility, and no one has asked the GMs how they feel about the restrictiveness," he said.

Under a league-wide gag order, general managers, like all NBA employees, are forbidden from discussing the lockout. Violators face seven-figure fines and the loss of draft picks.