By Chris Sheridan
NEW YORK — At the start of the day, the score was Players: 54; Owners 46.
At the end of the day, after a doomsday-like declaration from Billy Hunter that there might not be any more bargaining sessions or a month or two, then a pronouncement from David Stern that Monday was the deadline for making a deal or losing the start of the regular season, the score had changed.
It is now Players: 53, Owners 50, in terms of the split of revenues.
In other words, they were separated by eight percentage points at the beginning of the day; three percentage points by the end of the day (although the players argued that the proposed 50/50 split was a mischaracterization, something Stern vehemently disputed).
I’ll repeat that: From eight to three.
Are we really supposed to believe they won’t be able to find a way to meet in the middle on the financial issue — as well as the remaining systemic issues — between now and the end of the weekend? C’mon.
If there was a tactical error made Tuesday, it was Stern’s decision of increase his formal offer from 46 percent to 47 percent. After that offer was made, the players went into a separate conference room to vent their displeasure, and they were still foaming at the mouths 90 minutes later when a knock came on the door and Derek Fisher and Hunter were summoned next door and told something completely different by Stern, Silver and Spurs owner Peter Holt.
“We asked the players: Would either side entertain the notion of a 50-50 deal? While in the process of discussing that with the owners, we were advised by the players that they would not do that,” Stern said. “It’s fair to say we were making good progress with the owners, but is was disrupted by the players saying no.”
No new talks are scheduled, but there is a lot of time between now and Monday.
The union is going to try to maintain its ground now — “The union told us there was no reason to schedule another meeting,” Silver said — but there will certainly come a point between now and Sunday when it behooves everyone to try to make the closing push.
“We’re ready to meet and discuss anything anyone wants to talk about,” Stern said.
And when those talks come, which they will, somewhere in between 50 and 53 will be the magic number that settles this lockout. The sides are simply too close to throw in the towel now — especially with the true 11th hour now known.
Moreover, the 50-50 concept (Stern made sure everyone understood the distinction that the owners are officially offering 47 percent, but conceptually are willing to go to 50-50. They also made it known that owners last weekend backed off their demand for rollbacks or givebacks from players’ current contracts) does not constitute the owners’ final offer.
“It demonstrates the potential for more movement on our part,” Silver said.
So if you read between the lines and cut through the bullshit, the end game became clear.
There is a deal to be done at 51/49 or 52/48, and there are five days to get there.
To me, that’s a layup.