SALT LAKE CITY — If you're not sure how serious all of this NBA labor/lockout business is, just go on the Internet and log into the official Utah Jazz website.
There you'll see a photo of a somewhat-smiling NBA Commissioner David Stern — what he has to smile about these days, we'll never know — along with a feature story on former Jazz guard Delaney Rudd, information on the Nu Skin Jazz Dancers' auditions and plenty of info on tickets for the upcoming season.
Assuming, of course, there is an upcoming season.
After all, from every indication, at least part and possibly all of that 2011-12 season could be in serious jeopardy.
And if you look around the Jazz website a little more, you'll find limited information about the actual Jazz basketball team. Oh, sure, there's last season's roster, with recent NBA Draft picks Enes Kanter and Alec Burks added to it, along with stats and game-by-game scores from last season.
But don't look for any photos of Jazz players — they're not there. All other NBA teams have done the same thing, and some other teams, like the Chicago Bulls, have gone so far as to remove all information regarding their roster entirely.
On Friday shortly after midnight, the NBA owners went into lockout mode. We've known this day was likely coming for quite some time, and hey, we've been through it before.
In 1998, right after the Jazz had been beaten in the NBA Finals by the Bulls for a second straight year, NBA owners locked out the players in a labor dispute that lasted six months.
Before the two sides could settle their differences and come up with a new collective bargaining agreement, the 1998-99 season had been shortened to 50 games and didn't start until January.
This time, owners and players — billionaires fighting with millionaires over the almighty dollar — both vow that they're in it for the long haul.
And, right now, there's no end in sight.
"We're going to stand up for what we have to do, no matter how long it's going to take," Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durrant said in an Associated Press story. "No matter how long the lockout's going to take, we're going to stand up. We're not going to give in."
L.A. Lakers guard Derek Fisher, the onetime Jazzman who is president of the players' union, sent out a Twitter feed which read: "To all our players, you have my word that I will do all I can to find a fair resolution. Nothing less."
The owners say that 22 of the league's 30 franchises have been losing money annually under the old CBA that expired late Thursday night, claiming losses totaling $300 million last season.
Thus, the owners have been calling for a hard salary cap system, shorter contracts with the elimination of contract guarantees, reductions in player salary costs and the implementation of a revenue sharing plan which would help teams like the Jazz who don't benefit from a gigantic local-TV deal like the Lakers do ($3-5 billion over the next 20 years).
Ideally, the owners' stance says, all 30 teams should be able to compete for an NBA title, and all teams would also have an opportunity to be profitable under their plan.
"We had a great year in terms of the appreciation of our fans for our game," Stern told the AP. "It just wasn't a profitable one for the owners, and it wasn't one that many of the smaller-market teams particularly enjoyed or felt included in.
"The goal here has been to make the league profitable and to have a league where all 30 teams can compete."
For the time being, players can't communicate with team personnel at any level, and players are banned from using any team facilities. Front-office officials face the threat of a $1 million fine if they discuss the lockout publicly.
"My wife likes to keep the checkbook, and I don't want to have to write one (to the league)," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said the day following the NBA Draft.
The lockout has far-reaching implications. More than 130 free agents are now hanging in limbo; no trades or signings are allowed; paychecks and league-paid health care benefits will be suspended; the Las Vegas summer league has already been canceled, and NBATV resorted to showing old slam dunk contests from 1994 and earlier — before any of today's players were in the league — on Saturday.
How long it will last is anybody's guess. But right now, things don't look very promising.
"I don't think we're closer," Stern told the AP regarding recent labor negotiations. "In fact, it worries me that we're not closer. We have a huge philosophical divide."
Billy Hunter, chief of the players union, agreed.
"The problem is that there's such a gap in terms of the numbers, where they are and where we are," he told the AP, "and we just can't find a way to bridge that gap."
Yes, right now, it's a gap as wide as Charles Barkley's backside.
So we'll sit back, wait and hope for a resolution, knowing it could be a long, frustrating wait.
And in the meantime, we'll start stretching, searching for some XXXL spandex and practicing our best moves for those Jazz Dancer auditions.
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