NEW YORK -- No free agency now, maybe no games later.
The NBA lockout claimed a quick casualty in Day 1, when the free agency period did not open as usual on July 1.
Games eventually could be lost, too, if owners and players can’t make progress whenever they start talking again.
“It’s going to get ugly. I’ve already been on the record saying I don’t think they’re going to play at all next season,” Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Charles Barkley said Friday.
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The last lockout reduced the 1998-99 season to 50 games, and players say they’re prepared to hang in as long as necessary this time, rather than agree to the financial changes owners are seeking.
The silence of this July 1 was a sad contrast to the dizzying events of exactly one year earlier, when LeBron James welcomed the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets to Cleveland to hear their pitches, and teams crisscrossed the country in pursuit of other stars that were available.
Interest in the league surged from there, right on through the NBA finals that drew some of the best TV ratings the event had seen in years.
“Basketball as a sport is in such a great place right now. It’s a shame it came to this,” agent Marc Cornstein said. “Hopefully, we can resolve this in a fair and equitable way.”
And, owners would add, a profitable one. Tired of losing millions in a system that has guaranteed players 57 percent of revenues, they want an overhaul that would allow small-market teams to compete with the big spenders, and all of them to make money.
Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver has said some teams would be better off if there were no games this season, though stressed no owner wanted that to happen. The NHL shut down for a year to get the salary cap system it sought. With NBA owners seeking the same result, the question is: Would they be willing to take the same route?
“I’m not scared. I’m resigned to the potential damage that it can cause to our league, all of the people that earn a living from our league,” Commissioner David Stern said. “As we get deeper into it, these things have the capacity to take on a life of their own. You never can predict what will happen.”
With the NFL in a lockout since March, two of the four major U.S. sports are in shutdown mode. In case you’re wondering, Major League Baseball is next on the clock, with its collective bargaining agreement expiring at the end of the day on Dec. 11 -- though players and owners hope to have a new deal before then. The NHL’s deal goes until Sept. 15, 2012.
NBA union executive director Billy Hunter said the sides hoped to meet again in about two weeks and would perhaps start with other topics instead of going right back to economics.
In the meantime, rookies are missing the chance to play in summer league games and don’t know when their first paycheck will arrive. National teams are worrying about putting together rosters for Olympic qualifying tournaments that won’t include their top players.
And down the line, there’s the fear that an 82-game schedule won’t exist next season.
“Nervous? I wouldn’t say that’s the right word for it. Probably upset, a little frustrated because we just want to play basketball,” Hornets All-Star Chris Paul said. “At the end of the day, we just want to do what’s right. We want a fair deal. We just want to hoop. Like I’ve said before, it’s all about our fans. I think the worst thing about this whole situation is our fans. They want to see us play.”