NEW YORK — With NBA stars from veteran Kevin Garnett to Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin standing behind him, union president Derek Fisher said Thursday that players won’t accept a bad deal to avert a work stoppage.
“We’d love to avoid a lockout, but we’re unified in the sense of not being afraid if that’s what we’re faced with,” the Lakers guard said.
Player representatives from each team were in town for their summer meeting and were updated on the state of negotiations with owners. The collective bargaining agreement expires June 30, and the sides remain far apart headed into another session Friday.
Garnett and Paul Pierce from the Celtics, the Clippers’ Griffin, the Hornets’ Chris Paul and Jason Terry of the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks were among the 60 players who joined Fisher at the front of the news conference. Garnett said owners want “control.”
“It’s unfortunate, to be honest, because we have great momentum right now,” said Garnett, whose massive contract in Minnesota was a catalyst for the changes owners sought that led to the 1998 lockout.
“I think the league is, as far as anticipation and the leading stories and the careers that you can follow, you know Dirk (Nowitzki) finally winning, I mean there’s multiple stories that are intriguing right now and it’s just unfortunate that we’re all going through this right now to sort of slow that down.”
The sides swapped proposals Tuesday, but that brought them no closer.
“A lockout is something that we are trying to avoid by making multiple offers that treat our players fairly,” league spokesman Michael Bass said in an email to The Associated Press. “We are dismayed by the union’s unfortunate rhetoric.”
The league proposed what it called a “flex” salary cap, in which teams would be targeted to spend $62 million but could exceed that through the use of various exceptions. But there’s an eventual ceiling at an unspecified amount, so players still consider it a hard cap.
It’s similar to the NHL’s salary cap system, which was instituted after a work stoppage in 2004-05 and which NBPA executive director Billy Hunter called “the worst deal in all of professional sports.”
Hunter said NHL owners could only win such an agreement after breaking their players’ union, and contends NBA owners intend to lock out their players with similar hopes.
“Now they haven’t been able to impose that deal on us yet, but what they’re proposing even makes the NHL’s deal look good,” Hunter said. “In order to get that, it’s my belief that you have to do the same kind of damage, impose the same kind of damage on us. You have to break the spirit and will and resolve of the NBA players in order to achieve what they want.”
Players say that won’t happen, with Garnett believing the unity is stronger than in ’98.
The players say their proposal called for them to give back $500 million in salary over five years by reducing their share of guaranteed revenues from 57 percent to 54.3 percent, an offer that Commissioner David Stern called “modest.”
“To call our moves modest is just not accurate,” Fisher said.
Though the league has projected $300 million in losses this season and says 22 of its 30 teams will lose money, players point to record TV ratings and increases in merchandise and ticket sales in their belief that things aren’t bad enough to warrant the changes owners seek.
“Everything you can measure success by have been at record levels,” Fisher said.
That may not be enough. Both sides have indicated they’ve about reached the limit of what they would concede in a proposal, so there may not be any progress Friday. After that, owners are set to meet Tuesday in Dallas, where they could vote to lock out the players.
Fisher refused to guess what the owners would do, but made his side clear.
“We’ve been instructed not to accept a deal that is not fair to our players,” he said.