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Outlook for NBA is grim; regular season in peril

Talks break off without a deal

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

‘The losses to the players as well as the owners are going to be enormous here, and in some cases, it’s going to be the last year of certain players’ careers. That makes me very sad.’

NEW YORK - What was billed as a significant day for NBA labor negotiations turned out to be just that, but for all the wrong reasons, as commissioner David Stern wiped out the final two weeks of the preseason after talks again failed to produce any significant progress toward a collective bargaining agreement.

In a news conference last night, he said he will cancel the first two weeks of the regular season if an agreement is not reached by Monday. The Celtics are scheduled to open Nov. 2 at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers .

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The sides have met extensively the past two weeks, and while progress has been made, they are still stuck on the major issue of dividing the basketball-related income.

In a stunning revelation, Stern said the owners backed off their insistence on a hard salary cap, rollbacks on salaries, and guaranteed contracts, leaving BRI as the major point of contention.

The players received a 57 percent share in the previous collective bargaining agreement. The owners suggested a 50-50 split, while the players offered a 53-47 split.

“You know, I’m going to get a good night’s sleep,’’ said Stern, “because we thought that this was the time when, given the things that I’ve described to you, including various moves we made on the system issues . . . there was a real opportunity to make progress.

“It wasn’t to be, and we don’t have any plans right now [for another meeting].’’

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Six high-powered agents wrote a letter to players pleading for them not to accept anything below a 52-48 split. The Players Association has suggested that the 4 percent decrease they are offering would result in nearly $200 million more revenue annually for the owners.

Stern maintained that a 50-50 split was never officially proposed - just suggested informally - but he was told by the Players Association that it wouldn’t even be considered.

When owners were informed of that, meetings were quickly concluded.

“Today was not the day for us to get this done,’’ said Players Association president Derek Fisher, who was flanked in a news conference by several players, including the Celtics’ Paul Pierce.

“We’re also faced with the early part of our regular season being in jeopardy. We have never taken that prospect lightly. This is not a game to us. We’re taking this process seriously.

“We have been willing to negotiate. But we find ourselves at a point today where we in some ways expected to be, faced with a lockout that may jeopardize a portion if not all of our season.

“The NBA holds the key to when the lockout will be over.’’

With no meetings scheduled and both sides seemingly dug in, the chances for playing a full season appear grim.

While a 50-50 split appears equitable, the players contend that with the league holding 8 percent of player salaries in escrow, the figure is slanted toward the owners.

“The owners are taking all the risk,’’ said Stern, “and what they’ve already done is guaranteed or agreed the players’ current contracts won’t be impacted.

“The losses to the players as well as the owners are going to be enormous here, and in some cases, it’s going to be the last year of certain players’ careers. That makes me very sad.’’

NBA superstars such as Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant attended the meetings and were active in the discussions.

On their Twitter accounts, many players sounded resigned to the idea of missing regular-season games.

Stern said he truly believed the sides were close to an agreement, especially when the hard salary cap and rollbacks were eliminated from the equation.

If Stern does cancel the first two weeks of the season, the Celtics also would lose home games against the Charlotte Bobcats and Los Angeles Clippers .

“I would say I’m personally very disappointed,’’ said deputy commissioner Adam Silver. “I thought that we should have continued negotiating today, and I thought there was potentially common ground on a 50-50 deal.

“I think it makes sense. It sounds like a partnership. There still would have been a lot of negotiating to do on the system elements, but I’m personally very disappointed.’’

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

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