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Former union chief says sides may not be feeling pressure yet

Sep 23, 2011, 9:04 AM EDT

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Fans, we’re feeling pressure. Later on Friday the official news will come down that the preseason has been postponed and the first preseason games have been canceled.

While that seems like it should be pressure to us, it may not be to Billy Hunter and David Stern.

The cancellation of games — even regular season games — does not reach into the negotiating room like you would think, said Charles Grantham, the former head of the NBA players union who helped negotiate the league’s Collective Bargain Agreements between 1980 and 1995.

“You don’t feel the pressure of cancelling regular season games, I think if possible you may think about adjusting your workout period, your preseason schedule,” Grantham said.

He added the real pressure comes when you start to feel progress in the talks — something that had seemed to happen in recent weeks but has now faded.

“Once you get some moves away from the area of confrontational bargaining — meaning that you are stuck on your page and I am stuck on their page and there is no movement — then there is a kind of pressure,” he said.

While much of the public debate has been around the issues of hard or soft salary cap, Grantham said that the first order of business need to be to figure out exactly what is “basketball related income.”

“The first thing I think happens is you define the pie,” he said. “The definition of the pie — whether you’re talking football or basketball or hockey, because they all have similar systems — is in flux with each negotiation.”

Grantham said the players willing to reduce their share of BRI shows they are serious about negotiations, although clearly the owners don’t think it is enough of a giveback. After they figure out all that the two sides can get into issues such as the system — the structure of the cap — and things such as guaranteed contracts.

If you want to know where the players line in the sand is, try to decouple league revenues from the salary structure.

“The best thing we ever did in 1980 when we went into this revenue sharing agreement was tying players salary to revenue,” Grantham said. “So as long as revenue went up and business was good and people were running their business efficiently then player salaries would go up….

This period here, of recessionary or concessionary bargaining if you want to say that, then you’re starting to look at milestones and triggers going forward that reflect the changes that you’re making now. But also put a positive spin on that as well. Meaning, if we’re taking a hit now, three years from now (and we’re signing a six-year deal) if revenue starts to grow at a certain rate or you hit certain milestones then those three or four points I’ve giving you back I get the chance to recoup.”

That doesn’t sound a lot like the talks going on, which shows you how far apart the two sides really are. Maybe that will change when they start to feel some real pressure.

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