By Chris Sheridan
NEW YORK — They spent seven hours in the room together Saturday, and they didn’t even talk about the split of revenues. Instead, owners and players trying to negotiate an end to the NBA lockout discussed aspects of the soft cap system they will operate under once they get a deal done.
And when might that be?
It is now looking like the latter part of next week is the drop dead date for saving the scheduled Nov. 1 start of the regular season.
“I don’t know whether the 11th hour is Tuesday or not,” Hunter said. “Clearly they decided the had to cancel some of the preseason, and the question is going to be one of whether they’re going to be compelled to actually begin to start canceling games. We haven’t quite gotten there yet, but time is moving in that direction. And its a question of whether or not that has the kind of impact one would hope it would have to bridge the gap, but it’s a pretty wide gulf.”
No talks will be held Sunday (at least that was what David Stern and Billy Hunter said publicly. I would not put it past them to meet privately Sunday night. They had one or two super-secret private meetings in 1998 when the start of that season was in jeopardy).
There will be a small negotiating session Monday with Stern, Hunter and their top advisors, and the owners’ and players’ full bargaining committees will reconvene on Tuesday.
Both Stern and Hunter said Friday’ session, in which Stern and Dwyane Wade had a verbal confrontation, was healthy for the process. But they would not say whether it led to any tangible progress in their negotiations on system issues.
“It was mellow,” Hunter said of Saturday’s seven-hour session — the longest session, time-wise, that the sides have spent together since the lockout was imposed the night of June 30. “From my perspective, the owners had to come to some understanding as to where the union and the players are, and to see the resolve that players have, and I think that was conveyed yesterday when we had all the marquee players come in. They’re anxious to get a deal, but our mantra hadn’t changed in that it’s got to be a fair and equitable deal.”
Said Stern: “It was very helpful to have a large group of players in, and to have the owners here. If was a healthy exchange, and that’s a good thing.”
I still believe they are going to find a way to get this deal done in the next several days, but my optimism is now slightly beginning to wane. One thing that is propping it up: Both Stern and Hunter seemed unusually perky after Saturday’s talks. They wouldn’t be that way if things were utterly hopeless. So stay tuned.