NEW YORK — Progress is being made, an 82-game schedule remains achievable, but there could still be several more days of talks before the NBA lockout is settled.
After 15 hours and 20 minutes spent bargaining behind closed doors, those three items were the sum product of the messages delivered by NBA commissioner David Stern and the leaders of the NBA Players Association early this morning following what was clearly and unquestionably a productive collective bargaining session.
Are they closer to a deal? Yes.
Is a deal within reach in the next 24-48 hours? It’d probably be a stretch to go that far.
“There is no deal on anything until there is a deal on everything,” Stern said in his closing statement as the clock read 3:58 a.m. after the sides spent half of Wednesday and part of Thursday discussing salary cap system issues, never once broaching the subject of the split of revenues on which the owners and players are currently $100 million per season apart.
Stern described the talks as “arduous, difficult and productive,” and deputy commissioner Adam Silver said there was “no question we did make progress on significant issues. There are still significant issues left, but we have crystalized what those issues are.”
All in all, there was a measured-but-positive spin coming from both sides, although union director Billy Hunter said the resumption of talks at 2 p.m. and whatever transpires in the hours afterward will go a long way toward determining whether a suitable middle ground on the system issues can be found.
Hunter also said a deal needs to be made by “Sunday or Monday” in order to preserve an 82-game season that would inevitably include a heftier dose of back-to-back games than teams are accustomed to.
Neither side revealed specifics of the system issues that were discussed, but it is well known that the sides have been trying to reach compromises on how punitive the new luxury tax system will be, what changes will be made regarding restricted and unrestricted free agency, along with various other tweaks to the current salary cap system that would keep it a “soft” enough system for the players to find palatable.
“I have a pretty good idea of what they’d like, and we’re trying very hard to get them what they’d like,” Stern said. “We’re trying to apply a tourniquet and move forward. That has always been our goal.”
Stern said there will be issues related to arena availability, travel schedules and having to compress a full slate of games into a tighter time frame. He also used the phrase “this week” in describing the time frame for getting a deal done in order to save an 82-game schedule.
One could fairly ascertain after hearing from both sides that the discussions are somewhat plodding, and union president Derek Fisher cautioned that “Now is too early to gauge what progress is being made.”
Asked if there was at least a meeting of the minds, Fisher said: “I think that’s a little bit of a reach.”
So the lockout lives on, but there is clearly more than a glimmer of hope that a mutually agreeable resolution can come within reach over the next few days.
And once it is within reach, it’ll come down to a question of whether both sides are willing to make a leap to the middle on the split of revenues in order to close the deal.