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League sends last season’s financial data to union. Baby steps.

Mar 30, 2011, 6:59 PM EST

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At this point, any little step towards the NBA owners and players union actually sitting down and having a serious conversation should be taken as a good sign.

So, in that vein, we tell you that the owners have sent the union the league financials from last season, as Ken Berger at CBSSports.com reports.

The data are crucial to both sides as they prepare for more heated negotiations that center on the financial health of the sport. Owners are seeking massive changes to the collective bargaining agreement, which expires June 30, based on their contention that the current model is not sustainable due to annual league-wide losses approaching $400 million. The NBPA, however, contends that the sport is healthier than the owners are willing to admit, citing last season’s record revenues — which are detailed in the documents furnished to the union in recent days. …

While the 2009-10 data are expected to support the union’s belief that revenues remain robust and at record levels, the owners’ case hinges on their assertion that costs are too high. While the ’09-’10 data have not been fully vetted, they are expected to reflect an approximately $100 million decline in gate receipts, which was offset by a $130 million increase in non-ticket revenues, according to a person familiar with the league’s finances. The $30 million net increase in revenues represents approximately a 1 percent rise from 2008-09, during the depths of the economic recession. During the same period, negotiated player salaries have decreased $120 million, the person familiar with league finances said.

Both sides are going to look at this data and see and say different things. The owners have said they had to discount tickets and take other harsh steps to get the revenue increase. The union has said before that losses and profits are more complex than the owners have shown — if an owner also owns the building the team plays in, money can be moved from one pocket to another (or not moved) and not impact the owner but be changed to alter the team’s picture of health.

Union head Billy Hunter and NBA Commissioner David Stern are expected to sit down next month and talk. These numbers will come up.

Expect nothing of it. Don’t expect real movement until there is the real threat of losing games (September seems a good bet). And even then…

Still, we’ll take the baby steps at this point. It’s the only hope for those of us who want a full NBA season starting in the fall.

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