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Lengthy NBA lockout looms, with owners and players deeply divided

Just weeks after the conclusion of a season that featured riveting story lines and soaring interest, the NBA is about to become the second professional sports league since March to shut down operations because its players and owners can’t agree on how to divide league revenue.

If a deal isn’t reached during an 11th-hour negotiating session Thursday, the NBA is expected to lock players out of team facilities in an attempt to force their hand in collective bargaining negotiations, following the lead of NFL owners who imposed a lockout 15 weeks ago.

<:article>But unlike with the NFL’s players and owners, who most experts project will resolve their differences before the start of the upcoming season, the NBA could face a much longer and more painful work stoppage. The two sides remain deeply divided over what percentage of revenue the players should receive, whether teams should have a hard cap on payrolls, and how owners should share their money.

“We may not see movement until it gets close to the end of the year,” said Marc Ganis, president and founder of the Chicago-based sports consulting firm SportsCorp. “Players have been so well paid for so long, they can hold out for longer than most of the other sports. NBA players don’t have the same [financial] issues as NFL players, who are very eager to get back on the field.

“This one is likely to be a long lockout. It could be half a season; it potentially could be a whole season.”

The last NBA lockout, which began in July 1998, did not end until January 1999, and the season was shortened to 50 games.

NBA Commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt and New York Knicks owner James Dolan are scheduled to meet with NBA Players Association chief Billy Hunter, player representative Derek Fisher and two other NBA players Thursday afternoon in New York. The collective bargaining agreement is set to expire at midnight. Neither side is expected to make major concessions at the meeting.

“Our expectation is go in and move closer to a deal. And, if not get a deal, at least find out where everybody’s position really is,” said Maurice Evans, vice president of the players’ union and Washington Wizards free agent, who will attend Thursday’s meeting. “It really hasn’t been a lot of posturing. They firmly believe what they want to believe, and I feel like we firmly believe what it is we believe — that the system isn’t broken and if we are going to negotiate, we need to negotiate from the current system.”

Though NBA owners turned over their books to the players, the union has disputed the league’s claims that 22 of its 30 teams are losing money. Owners want a new system that includes a hard cap on team payroll — NBA officials have used the term “flex cap” because it would allow for latitude within a prescribed range — and a larger share of the league’s $4 billion in annual revenue.

Ted Leonsis, who just completed his first season as owner of the Washington Wizards, said Monday his team was among those that lost money last year.