NBA lockout heads to key stretch

NEW YORK — NBA owners and players will meet Friday and perhaps through the weekend, with Commissioner David Stern warning there are "enormous consequences at play" as the sides try to preserve an on-time start to the season.

Talks ended after two days Wednesday so negotiators could return home before summoning their respective bargaining committees to New York for the most important stretch of the lockout. They are prepared to meet through the weekend if progress toward a new collective bargaining agreement is being made.

With the Nov. 1 season opener a little more than a month away, Stern said there would be "a lot of risk" to not having an agreement by the end of this week. But both sides said there hasn't been enough progress to put them on the verge of a deal.

"I think it points more toward the calendar than actually being able to measure progress," said players' association president Derek Fisher of the Lakers. "It points to the realities that we face with our calendar and that if we can't find a way to get some common ground really, really soon, then the time of starting the regular season at its scheduled date is going to be in jeopardy big-time."

Miami guard Dwyane Wade has committed to be part of Friday's meeting. And Fisher said the players' executive committee could be joined by more of the league's biggest names.

Wade was part of a meeting about labor issues at the 2010 All-Star weekend in Dallas, when players were briefed about owners' plans for dramatic changes to the league's salary structure.

"I look forward to learning something that I didn't learn two years ago," Wade told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "Hopefully, it's different information, something that will move us forward. Hopefully we don't walk out of the meeting back at where we were at the All-Star game two years ago."

Wade has been in New York for the past couple days for business meetings. When the invitation came to attend Friday's session, he did not hesitate.

"I've talked to a couple guys," Wade said. "I'm here. ... I was going to leave tomorrow, but I'm going to stay in town and go to the next meeting."

Training camps already have been postponed and 43 games scheduled for the first week of the preseason have been canceled. The league has said it will make decisions about the remainder of exhibition play as warranted, but the real games are what's at stake.

And maybe not just the ones at the start of the season.

"All I'd say to that is that there are enormous consequences at play here on the basis of the weekend," Stern said. "Either we'll make very good progress, and we know what that would mean — we know how good that would be, without putting dates to it — or we won't make any progress and then it won't be a question of just starting the season on time, there will be a lot at risk because of the absence of progress."

Like Stern, Fisher also indicated that the stakes are high.

"I can't say that common ground is evident, but our desire to try to get there I think is there," Fisher said. "We still have a great deal of issues to work through, so there won't be any magic that will happen this weekend to just make those things go away, but we have to put the time in."

The sides met for about four hours Wednesday, again in small groups.

The full groups have met only once since the lockout began July 1, and it resulted in a setback. Players were prepared to make what union executive director Billy Hunter called a "significant" financial concession, but owners rejected their call to leave the current salary cap structure intact as a condition of the move.

Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said it was time to go back to the larger groups again because "whatever decisions we are now going to be making would be so monumental given the point of the calendar that we're at."

Stern wouldn't comment on reports that owners had softened their insistence on a hard salary cap in favor of adding more restrictions to the current cap system that allows teams to exceed it through use of certain exceptions. Nor would he say if the season could still start on Nov. 1 without any preseason play.

"I shouldn't deal with hypotheticals here," he said. "I'm focused on let's get the two committees in and see whether they can either have a season or not have a season, and that's what's at risk this weekend."

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