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NBA players, owners resume talks over division of billions of dollars

NBA Players Association president Derek Fisher, right, NBA union chief Billy Hunter, left, and LA Lakers' Theo Ratliff arrive for the NBA talks, Monday, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
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NEW YORK (AP) - A month into the lockout, the only change is in David Stern's mood.

After long maintaining he was optimistic during this collective bargaining process, the NBA Commissioner said Monday "nothing" in a nearly three-hour meeting gave him reason for encouragement.

And for that, he pointed the finger in one direction.

"I don't feel optimistic about the players' willingness to engage in a serious way," a downcast Stern said.

So the first meeting to include Stern and fellow leadership from owners and players since the lockout began exactly a month earlier produced nothing new - except blame.

Stern said the sides were "at the same place as we were 30 days ago," a June 30 session hours before the old deal expired, adding he doesn't feel players are bargaining in good faith.

Players contend that although owners insist they are committed to making a deal, their proposals say otherwise.

Neither side offered a new one Monday, three months before the Nov. 1 scheduled opening of the regular season that seems more in doubt than ever.

Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver were joined by San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt, who heads the labor relations committee, and Board of Governors chairman and Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor.

Players' association Executive Director Billy Hunter, and President Derek Fisher and Vice President Theo Ratliff, both of the Los Angeles Lakers, attended along with union attorneys.

"It's a tough position to be in," Fisher said. "I think Peter, Glen Taylor, Commissioner Stern, Adam Silver are articulating certain things in the room, expressing their desire to get a deal done, but where their proposal lies makes it hard to believe that.

"So we're continuing to try to work around what's been said and really focus on the deal on the table, and right now we're still a very, very long way from getting a deal done."

Stern disputed Fisher's take on the owners' actions.

"He's entitled to draw his own conclusion," Stern said. "We have absolutely the opposite take on it."

Fisher said the sides would try to meet at least two or three more times in August. Stern said there is always reason to have meetings, yet made it clear owners feel not enough is happening during them.

"Right now we haven't seen any movement," he said, adding "there's still a very wide gap between us."

That was left over from late June. Owners are seeking massive changes to the league's salary structure, saying they lost $300 million last season and hundreds of millions more in each year of the previous CBA, ratified in 2005.

Players have acknowledged losses but dispute they're as large as owners say, and have balked at the league's desire to institute a hard salary cap, slash salaries and reduce the maximum length of contracts.

That has created the possibility of lost games because of a work stoppage for only the second time in league history. The 1998-99 NBA season was reduced to 50 games, and players have been preparing for the potential of something similar, with many saying they would consider playing overseas to have a paycheck.

The NFL is back to work after settling its lockout that lasted about four months without missing any regular-season games. A work stoppage of similar length guarantees the NBA loses games, but the NBA's issues seem to go much deeper than the NFL's.

"From where we sit, we're looking at a league that was the most profitable in sports that became more profitable by virtue of concessions from their players," Stern said, "and with an average salary of $2 million. Our average salary is 5 million, we're not profitable and we just can't seem to get over the gap that separates us."

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