LOS ANGELES — NBA Commissioner David Stern has a message for the players association: The system's broken and needs to be fixed.
It was the most telling theme to come out of Stern's 30-minute session with reporters Saturday, an annual briefing dominated by questions about the looming lockout.
Stern said this season that owners were projecting losses of about $350million, and though he didn't provide updated figures Saturday, he said the losses are palpable.
"The numbers are real, the losses are real, and the need from our perspective for a different business model, that's what's governing our decision," Stern said.
The sides met amicably Friday in Beverly Hills, though they appear far apart as the collective bargaining agreement moves closer to its June 30 expiration.
Stern tried to sound optimistic.
"What gives me hope is the fact that a lockout would have huge negative consequences for everybody," Stern said. "That … and the belief we are going to knock ourselves out to get it done. At this point, the owners know what their numbers are and what they need to do, and I think the players are beginning to understand it."
Forbes recently reported 12 of the NBA's 30 teams lost money last season.
The NBA went through a similar situation in 1998, the players and owners taking several months before agreeing on a new CBA, leading to a 50-game season.
"We had a huge gap back then and we have a huge gap now," Stern said. "But you work hard to close it. Of course we are smarter now than we were then. We've already had a lockout. We know what it feels like."
What was learned?
"That we both have the capacity to shut down the league, that there's no magic that's going to keep the league operating if we don't make a deal," Stern said. "That's a very instructive lesson."
Stern declined to go into specifics about negotiations, which include the owners' demand for a hard salary cap, but he often came back to the importance of a revenue-sharing model.
"It would be a good thing if more teams could compete," he said. "We are very focused, through revenue sharing and this agreement that we're trying to get, on having small markets with the capacity to compete in this league."
•Stern demurred when asked if the Kings are talking to an Orange County entity about moving the franchise from Sacramento to Anaheim.
•The NBA might look into creating a "franchise tag" for a player on each team, similar to what the NFL has in place.