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Stern says this weekend critical in NBA talks

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / September 29, 2011

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NBA commissioner David Stern warned that talks this weekend will be critical toward either striking a labor deal or losing regular-season games following yesterday’s second consecutive day of discussions in New York between the league and Players Association as the lockout reached its 90th day.

Stern said anything short of an agreement this weekend could mean that the start of the season is in jeopardy.

According to several media reports, the league has backed off slightly from its stance on a hard salary cap, suggesting that a heavier luxury tax - perhaps $3 for every $1 by which a team exceeds the cap - be levied for high-spending teams.

The sides broke off discussions yesterday and agreed to meet tomorrow, with several star players and big-market owners planning to attend.

“We’re not near a deal,’’ Stern told NBA.com. “There are enormous consequences at play here on the basis of the weekend.

“Either we’ll make very good progress - and we know how good that would be without putting any dates to it - or we won’t make any progress, and it won’t be a question of just starting the season on time.

“There will be a lot at risk from the absence of progress.’’

Asked if progress was made yesterday, Stern said, “I would say it’s progress to the extent that we’re meeting on Friday.’’

The sides agreed to meet with their respective committees, meaning the union has asked the players to meet tomorrow in New York and the owners will convene before the sides come together. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul are expected to participate in the sessions.

“We also felt that whatever decisions we are now going to be making would be so monumental, given the point of the calendar that we’re at, we thought we should be here with our labor relations committee,’’ deputy commissioner Adam Silver said. “And they felt they needed to have their players’ committee here as well.

“So that’s the next step. We’re getting very close [to a make-or-break point].’’

“We’re at a period of enormous opportunity and great risk,’’ said Stern. “The larger the group that is assembled to focus on that, the better, from my perspective. And I think [union executive director] Billy [Hunter] and I are on the same page on this.’’

The regular season is set to begin Nov. 1, and the league already has wiped out exhibition games until Oct. 16.

The Celtics’ first two exhibition games have been canceled, and they are scheduled to begin the regular season Nov. 2 against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

An agreement is needed soon if the NBA is to squeeze in the signing of free agents, training camps, and exhibition games one month before the regular season.

A decision on the final two weeks of the preseason as well as the regular season could be made following the weekend.

“If we can’t find a way to get some common ground really, really soon, then the time of starting the regular season on the scheduled date is in jeopardy big-time,’’ said union president Derek Fisher of the Lakers.

“I can’t say that common ground is evident. But our desire to try and get there, I think, is there.

“We still have a great deal of issues to work through, so there won’t be any magic this weekend to make those things go away, but we have to put the time in.’’

The owners want a hard salary cap, a rollback on salaries, reductions on maximum contracts, and a limit on cap loopholes such as the Larry Bird and the mid-level exceptions.

They also want a major reduction in the players’ share of basketball-related income, which was 57 percent in the previous collective bargaining agreement. The players have offered to make it 54 percent but the owners reportedly want a number in the 40s.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashburn14

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