If NBA fans get their way, it'll be the only fight the locals are talking about by then.
The power players in the basketball lockout have been treating the negotiating room like a place for pugilists ever since it began on July 1. There have been jabs thrown through the media and haymakers attempted through the court system, but this week will go a long ways toward determining how many more rounds we have to go. And with all due respect to Impact Academy trainer Joe Abunassar and his "Competitive Training Series," which tips off Monday and will surely be entertaining, his event is suddenly the hoops undercard in Sin City.
Following a week in which a small group of representatives from both sides met twice in New York for more than five hours per session, a large-scale Tuesday meeting between owners and players in the Big Apple will set the tone for the respective return to their corners. With more than 60 players expected to be on hand for two weeks of five-on-five games between eight teams, the National Basketball Players' Association opted to hold a Vegas meeting on Thursday, just as NBA owners are expected to convene in Dallas.
While the cloak of secrecy has been draped over the recent discussions, two sources with knowledge of the talks indicated that no formal proposals were exchanged. The players expected the owners to put forth a new proposal for quite some time now, and the continued absence of one at Tuesday's bargaining session would be a foreboding sign for the fate of the coming season.
Meanwhile, the reading of the labor tea leaves will continue.
On the heels of Roger Mason's now-infamous tweet in which the NBPA vice president wrote, "Looking like a season. How u," but later claimed his account was hacked, one league source claims that union president Derek Fisher text-messaged numerous players last week indicating that some progress had been made and imploring them to be physically prepared just in case the season started on time. There was another curious happening on Thursday, when -- according to ESPN's Chris Broussard -- NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver attended the U.S. Open with Wasserman Media Group CEO, Casey Wasserman.
In addition to being one of the most influential agencies in the NBA, Wasserman Media Group relies heavily on an agent who just so happens to have a history of pushing back harder than the rest during a lockout landscape. Arn Tellem - who represents a league-leading 34 NBA players, including 10 All-Stars -- drew the ire of commissioner David Stern and union executive director Billy Hunter during the 1998-99 lockout for taking a more extreme position than most of his colleagues.
"Let me say this in no uncertain terms, [fellow agent] David Falk and Arn Tellem do not run the union," Hunter was quoted as saying in mid-November of 1998. "They've never run the union as long as I've been here. I'm going to make my own decisions. I'm my own man."
According to one agent, the current-day Tellem is as extreme as ever in his views. It is believed that he is a strong advocate of a capitalist system that is far less restrictive than even the previous agreement and is an ardent fan of decertification. If progress had, in fact, been made in the current negotiations, the notion of a high-ranking league official like Silver checking in with the most staunch of opponents to gauge the likelihood of bridging the largest of gaps would seem to be a natural next step.
Either way, the players who are waiting for the latest word can't afford to let the lockout get the best of their bodies no matter how long it lasts. Enter Abunassar, the renowned trainer who teamed with Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley to create a high-level training ground that is also the offseason's first formal NBA-only event in the states.
While some stars were paid handsomely to play an exhibition in the Philippines and others have played pro bono with non-NBA players at Pro-Am leagues around the country, the CTS will offer a more elite environment that comes at a convenient time.
"I just think it all fell perfectly because guys are getting tired of the individual workouts," Abunassar said this week. "Even our guys [at his Impact Basketball Academy] who are in the gym training with 20-something guys, they really die for the five-on-five competition every day. ...Their rationale is, 'Hey look, we need to get up and down and what better way to do it than against other really high quality NBA guys?'"
While New York's Chauncey Billups, Washington's John Wall, Minnesota rookie Derrick Williams, Golden State's Stephen Curry, Toronto's DeMar DeRozan, Milwaukee's Stephen Jackson, and Memphis' Zach Randolph qualify as the headliners, there could be more to come. Players like Indiana's Danny Granger, the Clippers' Blake Griffin, and Atlanta's Joe Johnson have shown interest but haven't committed to taking part.
The league will begin in the early afternoon on weekdays, with four games each day and a total of 65 to 70 players likely to cycle through by the time it's over. A limited number of seats will be sold, and it remains to be seen whether the games will be streamed online.
Some veterans are using the CTS as a way to form unofficial training camps with their respective teams, while young players are finally getting their chance to take part in a Las Vegas summer league after the official version was canceled in July.
"For rookies like [Memphis'] Josh Selby and [New Jersey's] Jordan Williams, or [San Antonio's] Kawhi [Leonard], a lot of their agents are approaching it like an upgraded summer league," Abunassar said. "It's a chance for them to get summer league in with vets. What better way for Selby to learn than playing next to Chauncey Billups, you know? It's a good deal for them.
"It's been a bonanza. Guys are fired up, man. If we do it right, it's going to be good. The training element of it, what the guys are going to get out of it, is going to be outstanding."