On Sports • Blazers veteran frustrated with pace of complex NBA labor talks
by: Christopher Onstott Trail Blazers center Marcus Camby, beating Dallas’ Tyson Chandler for a rebound, says he hopes that younger NBA players will get involved in the league’s collective-bargaining issues.

Marcus Camby knows the score. The veteran center of the Trail Blazers sees the 11th-hour efforts at successfully negotiating a new collective-bargaining agreement as encouraging, but not overly so.

'Right now, it's a little frustrating,' says Portland's representative to the NBA Players Association. 'It's a long process, and we all know that. But we're kind of begging and thinking and hoping we don't have a long lockout like we did in 1998-99.'

That one lasted until Jan. 20, 1999, forcing the league to shorten the regular season to 50 games.

I'm hoping history doesn't repeat itself, but I'm not holding my breath.

Camby called me this week from his home in Pearland, Texas, knowing that the impending July 1 lockout would be the major topic of conversation.

He has not been personally involved in any of the negotiation sessions, though union Executive Director Billy Hunter has kept him appraised of the issues through e-mails.

'The big one (negotiating session) is Thursday,' Camby says. 'But I don't think a lot of progress has been made on the two biggest issues - a hard salary cap and the guaranteed contract. The owners are trying to make the maximum (length of guaranteed money) a couple of years instead of five or six.'

Camby, 37, is one of the few NBA players still around from the 1998-99 lockout. He was a kid then, in his third season. With 15 years under his belt now, he hopes today's young players don't have to go through what he did.

'I hope we're a united front,' he says. 'I hope the younger guys come out and voice their opinions. This is their league. Whatever we come up with is going to be their future.

'I don't want to see (an extended lockout) happen again. When you're not getting a paycheck, that's when it really hits the players. We're trying to avoid that. I'm not going to be around much longer. I want to see the younger guys benefit as much as possible.

'Hopefully, something can get done soon. But right now, the reports I've been getting are about how far we're apart.'

Camby says it's a double dose of bad news for sports fans, with the NFL's upcoming season on uncertain grounds because of CBA negotiations.

'There's a lot of uncertainty with both sports, and it would be devastating for the fans,' he says. 'The (league) and players lose, but the fans are going to lose the most.'

Camby loses an awful lot, too, if the length of the season is affected. A player in the early stages of his career can recoup time lost. Veterans such as Andre Miller and Jason Kidd and Steve Nash don't have a lot of mileage left. If they have two or three seasons remaining in their tank, missing a half-season or more is a big deal.

The Dallas Mavericks' ride to the NBA championship was 'frustrating' to Camby.

'I mean, kudos to those guys,' he says, 'but it was real hard to see the team that put you out win it all. We had our chances against them, gave them a good run, but it's all about winning.

'In 15 years, I've gotten to the finals one time. I know how tough it is. As each year's playoff run goes by, I think about it as a wasted season.'

Camby thinks the Blazers can be a contender again next season, especially if Greg Oden can return healthy.

'That's the biggest key,' Camby says. 'The acquisition of Gerald Wallace was great for the franchise. He sparked us. He's a big piece of what we're trying to do in Portland.'

Camby is still dealing with the effects of a right shoulder injury suffered late in the regular season.

'It's not as sore as it was then, but it's coming on two months and it's still not healed,' he says. 'The doctor thinks I may have a tear in my labrum. We did an MRI, but I haven't gotten the results. Hopefully, I'll get some good news.'

He's looking for some good news, too, with negotiations for a new CBA.

Eight days from now, I think the news will begin with the dreaded 'L' word. And a long period of waiting.

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