With collective-bargaining negotiations put on hold for another week and the cancellation of more exhibition games on the horizon, the outlook has never been gloomier on the National Basketball Association's labor front.
And the situation has deteriorated to a point where NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik is speaking of the likelihood that no games will be played for the rest of the calendar year and the that the possibility that the entire 1998-'99 regular season could be washed away is steadily increasing.At the very least, it appears that the scheduled start of the regular season on Nov. 3 is in severe jeopardy and could be delayed for the first time in league history - assuming no deal is made at the next bargaining session, scheduled for Oct. 8.
"Until very recently, I never really believed that you could lose a whole season, but now I'm starting to believe that's possible," Granik said Tuesday.
It seems as if the posturing is in full effect for both sides.
The NBA labor scene, which has never looked exceedingly bright since the owners locked out players back on July 1, took a turn for the worse barely 48 hours after an undisclosed meeting involving Commissioner David Stern, Granik, union director Billy Hunter and union president Patrick Ewing was termed "unproductive" by Granik.
After that meeting, the league confirmed that there would be no more meetings until at least Oct. 8 due to union officials' previous commitments. The league stated that it had hoped to return to the bargaining table as soon as Thurday.
"We're trying to get back to the table," league spokesman Chris Brienza told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Wednesday.
"We're going to have another negotiating session a week from Thursday," said Brienza, who confirmed that the league had wanted to meet prior to that. "We gave them a proposal last Thursday - our fifth - and David and Russ met with Billy and Patrick Monday. They'll meet again soon."
But not soon enough for those who have been holding out hope that the season will start on time.
Even if a deal was struck within a matter of days of the next meeting - which seems highly unlikely since only a couple weeks ago the two sides could not even decide on how many people should sit at the bargaining table - it would leave only about three weeks before the scheduled start of the regular season.
If and when an agreement is reached, the league is planning on providing teams with a three- to four-week "adjustment" period during which they can sign players and conduct training camps. Some teams, like Phoenix, Houston and Chicago, have as few as three or four players signed.
The next batch of exhibition cancellations is expected to come early next week.
In the meantime, players and owners are not exactly bridging the gap the exists between them. In fact, the chasm appears to be growing wider.
League officials are speculating that the union's inability to meet until next Thursday is a stalling tactic as it hopes to gain a favorable ruling from arbitrator John Feerick, who has until Oct. 19 to decide whether or not players with guaranteed contracts should be paid during the lockout. Feerick's decision will not end the lockout, but the union is hoping a favorable ruling would give it additional leverage in negotiations.
The league now says that should it lose the arbitration, it would appeal. That would only further bog down the situation.
Meanwhile, the union is suggesting that there has been only one face-to-face negotiation session since July 1 because owners feel it would be to their advantage to create a crisis bargaining atmosphere in which the players might panic and cave in.
The union is claiming that the league's latest proposal is very similar to the previous one in many ways and asks the players to give ground on many other "basic" issues.