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Union agrees to overall cap

The union is ready to offer owners an unprecedented concession _ a limit on the amount of money any player can earn. The problem Thursday was how to get the offer into the commissioner's hands.

David Stern and union director Billy Hunter spoke by telephone early in the day, and the league issued a news release saying the offer would be forwarded to the owners' labor relations committee.

But things broke down in the afternoon when union attorney Jeffrey Kessler objected to the lack of a face-to-face bargaining session at which the offer could be presented.

"They refused to meet with us, so we're not giving it to them," Kessler said. "That's no way to negotiate. We'll sit on this until Jan. 7 if we have to.

"If they want to find out what's in it, they're going to have to meet."

The proposal includes a maximum salary for all players, the Associated Press reported. The union previously agreed to limit the salaries of only those players with less than 10 years experience.

The owners had been asking for a maximum of $12.25-million for players with 10 years experience. The union's offer was expected to come in around $15-million.

The union also reportedly was ready ask for lower minimum salaries for veterans and to move off its demand for 57 percent of revenues, dropping as low as 55 percent. The owners have offered between 53 and 54 percent.

"We have already made our final offer, so if theirs doesn't look a lot like ours, then it's not going to be accepted," NBA chief legal officer Jeffrey Mishkin said.

"We've told them that if they have a final offer then, please, give it to us. But there's not going to be a meeting until we see it and the committee evaluates it. For them to say we have to have a meeting, that's playing games."

The lockout moves into its seventh month today, with only one week before the league's Board of Governors meet. If no agreement is reached by then, Stern and deputy commissioner Russ Granik have said they will recommend canceling the season.

Three months have been lost as the sides fight over how to divide almost $2-billion in annual revenue. If an agreement is reached before Stern's deadline, a 45- to 50-game schedule likely would begin in early February.

The league, union and arbitrator John Feerick participated in a conference call to discuss the case of three players _ Nick Van Exel, Marcus Camby and Reggie Slater _ who want to play the rest of the season in Europe.

The three players want unconditional clearance to play overseas, even if the lockout ends, and want their case resolved by Monday _ the deadline for Euro League teams to submit playoff-eligible rosters.

Feerick, however, told the union it could submit a brief on behalf of the players by Jan. 15, and the league can submit a rebuttal by Jan. 29.

The lockout

Through Thursday, Day 185:

TOTAL DAYS OF SEASON MISSED: 59.

GAMES LOST THURSDAY: 1.

TOTAL GAMES MISSED: 402.

EARLIEST ESTIMATED DATE SEASON CAN START: Feb. 1.

NEGOTIATIONS: Nothing scheduled. The union has drawn up a "final" offer but has not given it to the owners.

PROJECTED PLAYER SALARY LOSSES (through Feb. 1): More than $500-million.

TODAY'S BEST CANCELED GAME: Seattle at Minnesota, 8 p.m. A rematch of one of last season's best first-round playoff matchups, which the Sonics won 3-2.

_ ASSOCIATED PRESS

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