The "L" word is buzzing around NBA circles more and more these days, and yet the league's commissioner remains unflappably optimistic.
David Stern continues in his steadfast belief that a lockout can be avoided next summer, despite the circumstances that pile up against him.
This week, news broke that Stern wanted to cut between $750 million and $800 million of the totality of NBA players' future salaries. Players association executive director Billy Hunter struck back, saying that Stern's demands would inevitably lead to a lockout before opening night in 2011.
Stern sounds unfazed by the cloud of a future work stoppage.
"I'm allowed to be optimistic and not consider it a cloud," the commissioner said Friday. "I've probably been in a dozen collective bargaining negotiations, the last 10 of which involve some of the same actors as are currently at this table. So we know we're going to get an agreement done.
"We think that the enthusiasm of this season and the prospective growth that it will ultimately represent will enable us to sit down with the players and negotiate in good faith. We both seem intent on doing all we can."
While the $750 million figure is jarring news for players — it's approximately one third of their total salaries — Stern insisted that it wasn't anything new for the parties involved in the NBA's negotiations.
"The number is a number that in some shape or form, we had talked about when we presented our proposal to the players back in January," Stern said. "So I didn't think I was breaking new news about that."
Stern has a lot of work to do in the coming months to keep his owners happy. NBA teams are losing money at an alarming rate, and there are only so many tactics he can try to stop the bleeding. Among them: shorter contracts, smaller salaries, and less guaranteed money. None of these ideas thrill the players.
The two sides are currently far apart in the negotiations, and their divide threatens to disrupt one of the most exciting periods in basketball history. There's a clear, dire need for the two sides to come together and make ends meet.
"I'm not going to use the word 'urgent,'" Stern said. "But it's important. One of the things that we have found out ourselves as we work with our teams to keep the high level of sales and customer service, first-class arenas, and all of the amenities, is the continuing escalation of prices of making our players secure and traveling them around the world by charter. It's much more expensive than it's ever been."
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