NBA Labor Pact seems closer

Union president optimistic agreement can be reached before end of season.
DENVER (AP) -- The president of the NBA players' union emerged from a collective bargaining session Friday and said he's optimistic a new labor agreement will be reached by the end of the regular season.
"It's almost impossible to get one done come playoff time, so I'm optimistic that it's going to get done before the end of the [season]," union president Michael Curry said.
The 90-minute meeting included eight players and six owners, along with commissioner David Stern, union director Billy Hunter and attorneys for both sides.
New meetings pledged
Stern and Hunter pledged to meet several times during March to try to narrow their remaining differences. Among the items the league is seeking are a reduction in the maximum length of long-term contracts, a minimum age of 20 and a reduction in the annual pay increases allowed in long-term deals.
The union is seeking reductions in the so-called escrow and luxury taxes designed to place a drag on the growth of player salaries.
The current seven-year agreement expires at the end of June.
"I know how important it is, and the benefit the league would experience, if we were able to get a quick deal or something well in advance of June 30," Hunter said. "But that doesn't make it an easier to get there.
"We know where the deal can be made. The question is are we both willing to give up something to get there, or do we end up in some lockout."
The NBA went through a seven-month lockout in 1998 and 1999 before agreeing to the current deal, which will serve as the framework for the next agreement.
Historic difficulties
The sides, however, have historically had difficulty reaching a middle ground in their negotiations. Not since 1988 has a new agreement been reached before the old one expired.
"We have a chance to get something done," Curry said. "We're not in the same situation that we were in back in '98 when we had no structure to lean on. We do have a structure, but we have some tweaking to do to get a deal that's satisfying for both parties."
Curry was joined by players Theo Ratliff of Portland, Eric Snow of Cleveland, Pat Garrity of Orlando, Ervin Johnson of Minnesota, Damon Jones of Miami, P.J. Brown of New Orleans and Malik Rose of San Antonio.
The owners were represented by Jerry Colangelo of Phoenix, Steve Mills of New York, Wyc Grousbeck of Boston, Micky Arison of Miami, Larry Tanenbaum of Toronto and Stan Kroenke of Denver.
Neither Stern nor Hunter spoke as optimistically as Curry, but Stern said the recent cancellation of the NHL season served as a lesson.
Sooner than later
"What we learned from hockey, at least what I learned, is that if you think a move at the last second can do the deal, you may be raising the stakes too much and eliminating the flexibility that might come from making your move earlier," Stern said.
Curry said the meeting was less heated than past bargaining sessions involving large groups of owners and players.
"It was a very calm meeting today," Curry said. "The best thing that was said was: 'Let's get a deal sooner rather than later.' "