From Comcast SportsNetTORONTO (AP) -- Another NHL lockout is beginning look inevitable.Unable to move beyond the philosophical stage of talks, the owners and players have watched another week slip by without progress. They sat down together for a quick session Thursday morning before reporting the same significant gap that has existed all along.The main issue that divides them is far from complex."We believe we're paying out more than we should be," Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "It's as simple as that."Of course, the NHL Players' Association doesn't quite see it that way.Executive director Donald Fehr has acknowledged there's room for some flexibility in that area -- last week's proposal included three years with a slightly lower share in revenues for the players -- but he hasn't come to the table in a conciliatory mood after taking over a union that capitulated during the last round of negotiations."Everybody understands that employers would always like to pay less," Fehr said. "That's not a surprise to anybody -- it's disappointing sometimes -- but it's not a surprise."He went on to add that the services his constituents provide are irreplaceable."From the players' standpoint, they want a fair agreement, they want one that is equitable, they want one that recognizes their contribution," Fehr said.With both sides so entrenched, real negotiations have yet to begin even though the Sept. 15 deadline for a lockout is fast approaching.The parties attempted to make some progress Wednesday by clearing the meeting room of everyone but the key figures: Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly along with Fehr and his brother Steve Fehr, the union's No. 2 man. They soon discovered there was little common ground.Those same four men will reopen talks next Tuesday in New York during what promises to be a key negotiation session. The sides have tentatively blocked off the rest of the week for meetings as well, but they must first determine if there's anything worth talking about.That's far from guaranteed.A league that lost the entire 2004-05 season to a lockout is in real danger of having the start of another one disrupted for the same reason. The current CBA has seen the NHL grow from a 2.1 billion industry to one that pulls in 3.3 billion annually -- a fact that isn't lost on either side."We recovered well last time because we have the world's greatest fans," Bettman said.The essential difference between the offers put forward so far is perhaps best articulated in terms of their impact on the salary cap. Under the NHL's initial proposal, it would fall to 50.8 million for next season. The NHLPA's would see it set near 69 million.The league also is believed to have verbally raised the possibility of seeing the players' share in revenue drop incrementally rather than all at once. Theoretically, it could be done at a rate that is matched by an expected increase in revenues -- essentially keeping salaries constant over the duration of the agreement while owners take in more profit.So far, the union hasn't shown much interest in negotiating off of that kind of model.While it's natural to assume the parties might be more willing to make concessions as Sept. 15 nears, Fehr pointed out that they already know what's at stake."If there's going to be a lockout -- and that's something that the owners will choose or not choose -- then you would have missed games, you would have lost revenue, you would have lost paychecks," he said. "But that doesn't mean that the parties don't understand going into it that that would be the case."With the possibility of a lockout becoming more real, the posturing is starting to begin. Bettman lamented Thursday that the union wasn't ready to open talks a year ago -- the commissioner did say throughout the season there was more than enough time to make a deal -- while Fehr continues to point out that Sept. 15 is only a deadline because the NHL has made it one.The bottom line is that they need to make an agreement and there isn't one in sight.Seven years ago, the sides battled one another over the philosophical view of whether the sport needed a salary cap. With that out of the way, this fight is all about money, although Bettman declined to go into detail when asked why the owners were seeking such significant givebacks."I'm not going to get into a public debate on that," he said. "Obviously, if we didn't think that there were issues that needed to be addressed we wouldn't be in this type of negotiation."
Even though Paul George remains the longest of shots, the Wizards haven't given up pursuit, league sources tell CSNmidatlantic.com, though there's a prevailing feeling that nothing will happen before free agency opens July 1.
The Boston Celtics appear to be the favorite in working out a deal with the Indiana Pacers to land the All-Star small forward, who is guaranteed $19.5 million for 2017-18 but will opt out of his contract next summer to become an unrestricted free agent.
The Pacers haven't been able to get the deal that they want just yet, and they've called teams around the league to gauge interest in what they could get for George.
The Wizards appear content to stand pat until the Pacers decide what to do. Keeping George, who has made it known that he wants to play for the L.A. Lakers, isn't an option for Indiana. By dealing him now, they'll at least get something for him rather than letting him walk for nothing one year from now.
Wizards point guard John Wall, who is good friends with George, is doing his best to recruit him to play in Washington with Bradley Beal to establish their own Big 3.
There's no guarantee, however, that will sustain.
[RELATED: Why the Wizards make sense for Paul George]
The words of John Wall has resurrected the talk of Paul George playing for the Wizards in 2017-18, but nothing has changed to improve the prospects of that happening.
1) George is under contract for $19.5 million with the Indiana Pacers before he enters a player option for 2018-19 that he’ll surely exercise to become an unrestricted free agent. The Wizards have to make Indiana an offer that it’ll accept but with understanding there no promises beyond that one year of George’s services.
2) Let’s say the Wizards put forth enough in a salary match such as Marcin Gortat’s $12.8 million for this season, Tomas Satoransky ($3 million) and first-round picks, which would come with a projected cap hold to make a deal work, would the Pacers want it? This isn’t the same as Blake Griffin opting out of his deal with the Clippers to become a free agent. A team can deal directly with him in the open market (and no, the Wizards can’t afford him). With George, the Pacers are the third party and can pull the plug on anything.
3) Any deal that involves Bradley Beal, who is under contract for four more years, is a no-go. Can’t have a Big 3 without him coming off his best season as a pro. And it would probably include Otto Porter being put into the deal for George. Porter, of course, doesn’t have any incentive to do a sign-and-trade because he gets significantly less in such a deal under the new CBA rules. He’d either have to really want to do the Wizards a solid or really love the prospect of being in Indianapolis.
4) Assume that George were to end up here and wanted to stay despite all of those hurdles. The money alone makes it a salary cap nightmare with Beal’s $25.4 million, Wall’s $19.1 million and Ian Mahinmi’s $15.9 million on the books when George would command a max of his own in the summer of 2018. To keep George around beyond (and he has even made it clear to Wall he wants to be in L.A.) would require financial gymnastics that aren't plausible.
5) Having George linger all season long in Indiana knowing he’s on his way out can be toxic. It’s better for the Pacers and the player that they move and not allow this situation to drag out. Otherwise, every time George has a bad game or the team underperforms they’ll face questions. Teammates and coaches will be bombarded with a season full of inquiries about the topic. It’ll be a lost year instead of one where they hit the reset. There’s no point of delaying the inevitable. Of course, the Pacers have taken this long knowing it was in the offing and haven’t moved on George. Or they're simply waiting for the Boston Celitcs to put together a package. With their assets and plethora of picks, the Celtics can afford to take a gamble on George for a year.
As CSNmidatlantic.com reported a few weeks ago, Wall wants to see where the franchise heading before he signs an extension as early as this summer. While a player the caliber of George would wow him now, what would the Wizards look like in two years without George, Porter and a few first-round picks?