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Jazz see little concern over lockout

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Karl Malone is holding true to his word. He said he didn't want to discuss basketball this summer. And not even the NBA lockout has changed his mind.

"No comment," are the only words the Mailman is currently delivering on the subject.Unable to successfully negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with its players, the NBA opted to lock its doors until a deal is reached. The lockout went into effect 12:01 a.m. EDT Wednesday.

"It's regrettable that the NBA owners have chosen to take the extreme measure of locking out the players and shutting down the industry," said Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association.

"The players have been, and will continue to be, extremely reasonable in addressing everyone's concerns in these negotiations. Unfortunately, the owners continue to demand unprecedented concessions. Until the owners abandon their posture of seeking one-sided concession bargaining and show some willingness to compromise, it's difficult to expect any progress."

In a press conference Monday, NBA commissioner David Stern said the league is prepared to lose part of the 1998-99 season, if necessary, to secure a new working agreement. Hunter said the dispute could last through December.

Two previous lockouts shut down the NBA for three months in 1995 and three hours in 1996. The league, however, has yet to lose a single regular-season game to labor strife. And several Utah Jazz players expect that distinction to continue - at least they hope so.

"I'm a pretty optimistic person," John Stockton said when the team met to divide its playoff money last month. "I'd be very disappointed (if games are can-celed)."

The Jazz point guard hoped calmer heads would prevail. After all, he said, there's plenty of money out there for everybody.

Backcourt mate Jeff Hornacek figures an agreement will be reached by October when training camps and exhibition games are scheduled to begin.

"Nobody can afford (to miss games)," he said. "The owners want to shore up some things and stop the escalating salaries, but on the other hand, they can't afford to have the same thing baseball went through. They don't want everyone to turn off basketball for a few years."

Antoine Carr believes the lockout will do nothing but hurt the fans. Like Hornacek, he compared the situation to baseball.

"I'm not one of the bigwigs in the players association, but I think they should take consideration of what is going on in this league and get things done as soon as possible," Carr said, while noting the high television ratings during the NBA Finals.

Carr has other reasons to hope for a quick settlement. The Big Dawg is one of just two free agents on Utah's roster. Jazz union representative Chris Morris is the other. New Jersey is the only other team in the league with 10 players under contract for next season. Atlanta and Orlando enter the lockout with just four signed players. Should the labor negotiations take months to complete, as expected, a mad scramble could ensue as roster spots are filled.

Teams are prohibited from negotiating with players until a new working agreement is reached.

Former union Vice President Mark Eaton told a Salt Lake television station Tuesday he thinks the owners are digging in for a long fight. No meeting between the parties is expected to take place for at least two weeks.

Morris has said the owners are trying to control the players like puppets. The association he represents agrees.

"NBA players want to play basketball and are committed to growing the league and the sport in general. In 1995, players made significant concessions at the bargaining table," Hunter said in a prepared statement. "This is the third time in four years that the NBA has locked out its players. Despite the aggressive tactics of NBA owners, the players will continue to work in an effort to achieve a fair and equitable deal for players and owners alike."

The NBA's demands, he adds, are unreasonable, considering the league's healthy bottom line.

Stern, however, contends that changes in the league's economic system must be made - and now.

"We can't afford to play next season under the current system. That's just the reality," Stern said. "That's why the owners elected to lockout."

Confusing? You bet.

No wonder the Mailman doesn't want to talk about it.