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NBA labor talks back on again

By Jeff Zillgitt

USA TODAY

Published: Friday, Nov. 25 2011 12:20 a.m. MST

Los Angeles Lakers' Derek Fisher, center president of the NBA players' association, and union executive director Billy Hunter, left, look on during a news conference, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, in New York.

Associated Press

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The NBA and locked-out players are expected to resume talks today in hopes of reaching a deal, saving the season and playing games on Christmas.

Through a third party, former players union outside counsel Jim Quinn, the sides met Tuesday, a day after players refiled an amended antitrust lawsuit in Minneapolis.

In a statement released Wednesday evening, an attorney for the players, Jonathan Schiller, confirmed "there would be preliminary settlement discussions with the NBA immediately after Thanksgiving with regard to the lawsuit filed recently by the players in Minnesota."

A person familiar with the talks, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to go public, said the focal point is on a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), not the suit.

The person said the main participants in discussions this week were NBA Commissioner David Stern, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, San Antonio Spurs owner and labor relations chairman Peter Holt, players trade association chief Billy Hunter and players trade association attorney Ron Klempner.

"We remain committed to a negotiated solution, but we decline to comment further," NBA spokesman Mike Bass said.

Tuesday's meeting was the first formal communication between the sides since Nov. 14, when the players rejected the owners' last offer of roughly a 50-50 split of basketball-related income (BRI) and restrictions on how that money would be distributed. The players disbanded the union and filed antitrust lawsuits, which were merged into one complaint by attorney David Boies.

The New York Times reported a person who has spoken with Quinn said the attorney recently was hired by the players to be at the talks. Quinn was involved in helping the sides broker a deal that ended the 1998-99 lockout. It remained unclear the role of outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler, who has drawn the ire of Stern.

It is thought any discussions of a CBA will be based off the league's 50-50 proposal delivered to players Nov. 11. That offer included system issues — the means in which money is distributed to players -- the union found unacceptable.

To get competitive balance, the NBA wants to reduce massive payroll discrepancies between the highest and lowest spending clubs with restrictions on clubs paying the luxury tax.

Some of those restrictions in the league's last proposal:

Limited use of the mid-level exception — $3 million a year for a maximum of three years for taxpaying clubs compared to $5 million a year for three or four years for non-taxpayers.

A punitive luxury tax that escalates for each $5 million a club spends above the tax threshold.

Taxpaying clubs would not be able to acquire players via sign-and-trade after the first two years of the deal.

The union argues those measures restrict player movement and serve, in essence, as a hard salary cap.

One person familiar with negotiations who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to go public said ownership is expected to move closer on its proposal to the players, but what that will be is unclear.

A quick deal could protect the attractive Christmas Day TV slate: the Boston Celtics at the New York Knicks on ESPN, followed by a doubleheader on ABC — the Miami Heat at the champion Dallas Mavericks, then the Chicago Bulls at the Los Angeles Lakers.

Stern has said it would take about 30 days to start the season after a CBA is reached. Thirty days from Dec. 25 is today.

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