As Stern, players' union stand firm, lockout seems inevitable for NBA

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In between tagging Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and slapping around Maverick Carter (more on that below), Stern addressed the looming labor issues that threaten to wipe out parts or all of the 2011-12 season. And to say there are issues would be putting it lightly; the two sides have already swapped proposals and, in the words of one NBA source, "are miles apart."

"Basically where we are at is that we would like fundamental changes," said Stern, "and the players would very much like the present system to continue."

That can't happen, Stern said. Not with his teams losing $370 million last season and a national economy in the toilet. No, fixing the NBA's problems will require a massive overhaul. The owners' proposal calls for first-round picks to have their salaries cut by about one-third, would reduce the minimum salary by as much as 20 percent, and would guarantee contracts for only half their value. The total value of a maximum salary would drop significantly, as would the number of years for which players could sign. The players would also see a reduction in their share of the basketball-related income, of which they currently receive 57 percent.

"Part of the problem with the existing system is it's based largely on revenue, not net revenue," said deputy commissioner Adam Silver. "Although our actual revenue numbers were better than what we projected, it came at a large cost. Our teams did a spectacular job in a down economy of increasing ticket sales, but that came at the cost of additional promotions, additional marketing, additional staff. They largely made up for a reduction in season ticket sales by selling more individual tickets."

The players union, predictably, wants no part of the owner's proposal. They rejected it over the All-Star break, with union chief Billy Hunter calling Stern's projected losses 'baloney.'

"I think, as I understand their answer," said Stern, "is that, 'We agree with your numbers, we just would eliminate some of them from the final calculation.'"

The Washington Post reported that part of the union's defense was that the total amount paid to players has risen only about 10 percent over the last four years, or about 2.5 percent a year, from about $1.85 billion to $2.04 billion. They will point to a salary cap ($58 million for 2010-11) that came in $2 million higher than expected and $8 million higher than the doomsday scenario the NBA floated last summer. And they will point to the tens of millions NBA owners have been doling out the likes of Amir Johnson, Drew Gooden and Hakim Warrick.

Stern will listen and smile, but he will not bend nor will he break. An NBA filled with teams swimming in red ink isn't one he wants to oversee and he will do everything in his power to change that.

"Our owners spend within the system," Stern said. "They're encouraged, praised, and otherwise driven to improve their teams. Of course, they have the capacity. It winds up driving them to unprofitability. They want to change that system so when they get driven to it, whatever they do, there won't be losses. That's all."

But that's not all. The union, which has been battered and beaten by Stern at nearly every opportunity over the years, is digging in its heels. It's why many around the league are bracing for a lockout.

"I'm expecting one," said a Western Conference executive.

"It's going to happen," texted an Eastern Conference exec.

Armageddon is coming to the NBA. At this point, it doesn't appear to be a question of 'if.' It's of how long it will last.

Among the other things that came from Stern's address ...

• Fine For GilbertStern announced that the NBA had fined Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert $100,000 for his media tirade following LeBronJames' decision to leave Cleveland.

"I think that remarks by Dan Gilbert, catalyzed as they may have been by hurt with respect to the manner and the fact for himself, his team, and particularly for the people of Cleveland, though understandable, were ill advised and imprudent," said Stern.

Stern also criticized Rev. Jesse Jackson, who issued a statement denouncing Gilbert, saying the Cavaliers owner treated James like a "runaway slave."

"Equally imprudent, I believe, are the remarks by my good friend Jesse Jackson, which purport to make this into a racial matter," said Stern. "I find that to be, however well meaning Jesse may be in the premises on this one, he is, as he rarely is, mistaken. I would have told him so had he called me before he issued his statement."

• Slap on the wrist for JamesCount Stern among the many who didn't approve of the way James left Cleveland. In his opening remarks Stern blasted James' nationally televised announcement as being in poor taste.

"I think that the advice that he received on this was poor," said Stern. "His performance was fine. His honesty and his integrity shine through. But this decision was ill conceived, badly produced and poorly executed."

Stern added that he was disappointed that James didn't give Cleveland the courtesy of a personal phone call before he made his announcement.

"Had he asked my advice in advance, I might have suggested that he advise Cleveland at an earlier time than apparently he did that he was leaving," said Stern. "Even without announcing where he was going, so we could have eliminated that. I would have advised him not to embark on what has been come known as "The Decision."

• Collusion in Miami?The signing of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami has made the question of collusion amongst players a hot issue in the NBA. However, Stern said that no action will be taken against players, who are free to discuss their futures in any setting.

"What we told the owners was that the three players are totally, as our system has evolved, within their rights to talk to each other, whether it be at a players association meeting, a collective bargaining meeting, an All-Star Game, an Olympic team.," said Stern "That is not tampering or collusion that is prohibited. However, it may be technical. That's our rule right now, our practice. You're allowed to do that."

Stern did say that he would delegate the issue to the labor relations committee, which could revisit the issue at a later date.