This Week In The Lockout: Yay It's Over! Wait, Wrong Lockout

Welcome back, TWITL fans, to the weekly column I agreed to write because it counts toward my community service. As usual, I've been busy tracking the NBA's labor foolishness so you don't have to. And this time I've actually got some good news to pass along.

There's going to be a meeting. An honest-to-God meeting, with people in suits and water pitchers on the conference table, to be held in New York on Monday. This will be the first time the principal negotiators (Billy Hunter, Derek Fisher, David Stern and the hairless cat David Stern pets like the arch-villain he is) will have assembled in a room together since the lockout began. Why did it take so long to start talking again? No one seems to know. But talk they will, about a hard salary cap (boo! hiss! kill it with fire!), the length of guaranteed contracts and other topics that Fish characterizes as "system issues." That label is meant to separate out "economic issues" (code for revenue split and BRI formulae), which apparently aren't on the agenda for this session.

No one should expect meaningful progress to come out of Monday's get-together. Since the parties last spoke in late June, nothing has happened to give one side more leverage over the other so neither has an incentive to budge off its position. But the owners and players can't figure this mess out unless they actually speak with each other, so I choose to regard this as a positive development.

Also welcome was the news yesterday that FIBA has cleared NBA players to join overseas clubs. Those under contract to NBA teams, as opposed to unrestricted free agents, will need opt-out clauses that send them back to the U.S. and A. when the lockout's resolved. Deron Williams remains the only star to have signed on with a foreign team, though bit players continue to ink deals at a steady rate. (This past week saw, among other announced signings, Keyon Dooling to Efas Istanbul, Celtics rookie E'Twaun Moore to Benetton Treviso and DaJuan Summers to Montepaschi Siena.) ESPN has helpfully posted an "overseas player tracker" to help keep straight who's going where.

But I'm sure you're asking: where my Lakers at?? Fish is in NYC, of course, or will be soon. Pau Gasol is in Spain practicing with the Spanish national team. Matt Barnes is playing pro-am games in the Bay Area. Andrew Bynum is... come to think of it, I don't know where Andrew Bynum is, but hopefully he's staying out of trouble. Only Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest are even rumored to be in talks with Euro clubs.

Many, many outlets are semi-reporting that Kobe will meet with Besiktas reps in Washington, D.C. today. I say "semi-" because all the stories trace back to this one Reuters piece, which is based entirely on quotes from Besiktas officials. And if there's one thing we've learned over the past couple weeks, it's that Besiktas officials love... to... TALK, and somehow nothing they ever say can be corroborated by American media. So when Seref Yalchin, Besiktas president of basketball operations, tells Reuters "there's a 50 percent chance Kobe may come to Turkey," feel free to discount those odds as steeply as you like.

Meanwhile, the Chester Chronicle continues its breathless updates on Artest's possible jump to England. From Thursday's edition:

NBA superstar Ron Artest is heading to the UK for transfer talks after agreeing to play for Cheshire Jets.

The LA Lakers forward - one of the best players in world basketball (Ed. note: O RLY?) - has been in negotiations for weeks with directors of the Chester-based club over appearing for them during the ongoing NBA ‘lockout'.

In a moment of opportunism earlier this month, Jets made an enquiry about luring Artest to the UK - and, incredibly, he is willing to come over and play for them. . . .

Now the two parties have agreed to meet face-to-face to thrash out the finer details of what would surely be the biggest transfer coup in British basketball history.

Jets director Pete Hawkins said: "I spoke to Ron's representatives on Tuesday night. We have agreed the fundamentals of the deal and Ron is coming over (to England) in a few weeks."

That sounds pretty definite. The Cheshire Chronicle must have Ron's cell phone well and truly hacked. Haha that's a timely joke!

Finally, we return to the question of decertification. As mentioned in last week's installment, a group of agents is pressing Hunter and Fish to decertify the union as a way of going nuclear on the owners. For now, diplomacy is still the name of the game. Speaking to reporters yesterday, Fish had this to say:

It's still not something we're ramping up in discussion about. Decertification is just that final thing that when we all feel like we can't do anything else but throw our hands up, maybe we go there. But, right now, we're just not there.

Instead, the union will wait to see what happens to the complaint they filed in May with the National Labor Relations Board. The union is arguing that owners have failed to bargain in good faith. According to Ken Berger of CBS Sports, who's posted an impressively thorough discussion of the various legal strategies available to the union, the NLRB is thought to be 30 to 60 days away from ruling on the union's claims. If they rule in favor of the players, it could force the owners to start negotiating more seriously and perhaps carve out a path toward ending the lockout. The Board's decision is likely to be the next big curve in this dreary road.

Now who wants a cat video?!


Stuff To Read

NBA Stars Looking Abroad in Earnest (Sam Amick, Sports Illustrated, 7/24)
Why Have NBA's Biggest Stars Gone Quiet at Crucial Time? (Berger, CBS Sports, 7/26)
Larry Coon Chat Wrap (Hoops World, 7/27)
Billy Hunter: NBA On Track for Lost Season (Ben Golliver, CBS Sports, 7/27)
Al Qaeda's Latest Recruitment Tape Stars Katherine Heigl and Jon Bon Jovi (Vince Mancini, Film Drunk, 7/27)
The Star Wars R2-D2 Xbox 360 Has a Terrible Price (Rob Bricken, Topless Robot, 7/27)
10 Undeniably Nerdy Burger King Kids Meal Toy Sets (Adrian Beiting, Topless Robot, 7/28)
Nation Wants Some Fucking Football, Doesn't Give a Shit About Details of Collective Bargaining Agreement (The Onion, 7/29)

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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