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With NBA labor talks, it’s also about who is NOT in the room

Oct 28, 2011, 8:55 AM EDT

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Throughout these NBA labor negotiations there has been a lot of focus on who is in the negotiating room. When it has been a small group led by Billy Hunter and David Stern, there has been progress. When Kevin Garnett or Paul Allen — or really any larger group — becomes involved things blow up.

But there is one other interesting dynamic out there — union attorney Jeffrey Kessler.

One of the most celebrated sports attorneys around, he is the union’s hard liner. He helped guide the NFL players when they filed to decertify their union. He recommended the same thing for the NBA players and the league feared him enough to file a preemptive legal strike against decertification.

And he has been out of the room this week as negotiations have moved to the brink of an NBA labor deal. (He is out of the country on other business.)

Which leads to this fascinating note at TrueHoop by Henry Abbott.

Much was made of Portland owner Paul Allen’s appearance in last week’s mediated session. The suggestion was that he was there to send a message that owners were holding a hard line.

NBA sources, however, say it was nothing of the sort. In fact, they say, he was there at the invitation of the NBA’s negotiators to watch Kessler. Allen was one of several owners who thought Stern and Silver had made players an overly generous offer of 50 percent of basketball-related income. The league’s lead negotiators essentially replied: Go see for yourself. You think you can get Kessler to go for 47 percent? Good luck to you.

Certainly some of this is spin from the league trying to defend Allen — right now everything both sides say is spin — but there might well be some truth in it.

And if Allen went in a hard liner, watched Kessler in action then reported back to the hardliners that 47 percent was out, it could help explain this week’s movement.

Remember, the NFL labor deal was struck while Kessler was away as well. Coincidence?

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