- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2011

NBA commissioner David Stern announced the first two weeks of the season will be canceled after labor talks concluded Monday night. The season was scheduled to start Nov. 1.

Top negotiators for both sides met for more than seven hours, returning to bargaining about 14 hours after ending talks Sunday night.

Owners locked out the players July 1 when they couldn’t reach a deal before the expiration of the old collective bargaining agreement.

The league had made incremental progress earlier Monday toward ending the four-month lockout, agreeing to make changes in one of the system issues.

The midlevel exception, a contract equal to the average NBA salary, was designed for veteran, nonstar players to receive higher compensation. Last season, the midlevel started at $5.8 million. Owners are seeking to shorten the length of midlevel contracts and reduce the minimum, which the players are willing to discuss.

Negotiations continued Monday, with both sides putting aside what has been the major sticking point, the split of basketball-related income, to discuss some of the system issues that also will need to be resolved in a new collective bargaining agreement.

In addition to the midlevel exception, other system issues include:

• The salary cap, which was $58.044 million last season. Owners originally wanted a hard cap and the players a soft cap, but both sides appear to have compromised on a flex cap.

• The luxury tax, which penalizes teams for exceeding the cap. The tax threshold kicked in last season if a team’s payroll exceeded $70.307 million.

• Larry Bird rights, which allows teams to exceed the cap to keep their free agents. The owners would like Bird rights limited to one player per team per season.

The meetings were attended by Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, Spurs owner Peter Holt, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, and senior vice president and deputy general counsel Dan Rube for the owners side.

Representing the players were union executive director Billy Hunter, union president Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers and union vice president Maurice Evans of the Washington Wizards, along with attorneys Jeffrey Kessler and Ron Klempner.

“We’re not necessarily any closer than we were [going into] tonight,” Fisher said after Sunday night’s session. Neither side was available for comment by press time Monday.

But neither side appears ready to settle on the principal issue, dividing the BRI.

The owners are proposing a 50-50 split, while the players have said they will not go below 53 or possibly 52 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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