NEW YORK — They are closer.
Yet the sides in the NBA lockout are still far apart in many, many ways, and the players are especially irate because they believe the owners are trying to force a bad deal down their throats.
That was the upshot of Saturday night’s 8 1/2 hour negotiating session, which ended with the owners telling the players they had accepted five of six suggestions made by arbitrator George Cohen and had adopted them into a formal proposal that will expire at the close of business on Wednesday, after which the owners will revert to offering 47 percent of revenues.
On the financial split, the owners are proposing a band that would give the players between 49 and 51 percent of revenues. The players dropped from asking for 52.5 percent to 51 percent — with 1 percent of that money set aside for increased retirement benefits for both current and former players.
But the players’ financial proposal was contingent on the owners dropping many of their system change demands, which the owners refused to do.
“They came in here tonight with a pre-arranged plan to strong-arm the players,” union attorney Jeffrey Kessler said. “They said ‘my way or the 47 percent highway. How do you think the best players in the world feel about threats? That was not an offer that was made in good faith to the fans, or in good faith to the players, and the players will not be intimidated.”
The union claimed the owners’ proposal would effectively give the players 50.2 percent of revenues under the likeliest best-case economic scenarios, and it would take something approaching 20 percent annual growth to get the players’ share to 51 percent.
“The story here is they want it all,” Kessler bellowed. “They want a win, win, win, win. We wanted a compromise. Our 51 percent offer was based on a fair system. They would have to come to us on the system, but they did not.”
So now the clock starts ticking toward Wednesday, with the union insisting it will not put the owners’ current offer up for a ratification vote because it is not yet acceptable to the executive committee. The union remains opposed to system changes that would prevent luxury tax-paying teams from executing sign-and-trade deals or signing mid-level free agents — although the league did move its stance on the latter matter by proposing a mini mid-level exception for taxpaying teams that would allow them to sign a free agent to a two-year, $5 million dollar contract once every other season.
The sides also remain part on the maximum money that would be available to mid-level free agents from non-taxpaying teams, and the tax rate that so-called repeat offenders would pay if they exceeded the luxury tax threshold three times within five years.
“There is not a deal present that we can take a vote on,” union president Derek Fisher said. “Right now we’ve been given an ultimatum, and that’s not acceptable to us. We didn’t get the sense that they came here to get a deal done. We were prepared to stay until the sun came up.
“We made the moves we needed to make on the economics, and we were given an ultimatum on the economics with a system that is not a fair system, and that is frustrating for us,” Fisher said.
And that was where things stood as Day 128 of the lockout turned into Day 129.
Wednesday will be Day 132, and it is looking more than ever like it’ll also end up being one of two things: Doomsday or Dealday.
“Hope springs eternal, and we would love to see the union accept the proposal that is on the table,” said Stern, who has yet to utter the words “best and final offer.”
The best guess here is that he does that Wednesday afternoon.