How far are the NBA and players, really? Well, it depends…

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This much is clear — the NBA and its players union are much closer to a deal today than they were a week ago.

Tuesday’s intense negotiations may have ended with threats of the first weeks of the season being canceled, but it also saw real progress. First, they are finally talking about the real issue at the heart of these talks, the split of “basketball related income.” (BRI is made up of all the money that comes into the league — national television contracts, ticket sales, etc.) In the just expired labor deal, the players got 57 percent of BRI.

In terms of formal offers on the table, the two sides remain divided on the BRI split of with the players staying at 53 percent and the owners offering the players 47 percent. But in reported “informal concepts” discussed the owners offered closer to 50 percent while the players (who have already surrendered $160 million a year in these talks) held firm at 53 percent.

What does that really mean? ESPN’s Larry Coon — the best writer on NBA collective bargaining agreements out there — breaks down the numbers.

Three percent. It’s the difference between an opening tipoff and an empty arena. For both sides, the negotiating process boils down to a simple question — should we accept the offer on the table, or can we do better if we say “no” and wait?

For the players, the cost of saying “no” can be easily quantified. The owners have offered the players 50 percent of BRI. This season’s BRI is expected to be around $4 billion, so the owners are offering the players a $2 billion slice of the pie. The players are holding out for a 53 percent share, so they’re looking for $2.12 billion.

That’s $120 million that separates them. Of course, that’s just in year one. Over the course of a six-year agreement, assuming four percent growth per year, the total is closer to $796 million.

Now, nearly $800 million apart is a lot closer than they were, but it is still serious bank.

Coon’s assuming something there I’m not willing to easily concede — how the two sides define BRI. There was the definition of BRI that was in the old labor deal (which Stern said the owners 50 percent offer was based on). But the owners have made previous proposals that would take $350 million a year off the top of BRI for expenses such as NBA building renovations or the NBA’s international outreach efforts. How many of those expenses work their way back into the proposal will define how big the total pie will be, and that impacts how the sides want to define it.

Coon also makes this point with his numbers — by mid-December both the owners and players will have cost themselves all the money they stand to gain from holding a hard line on this deal.

The players are holding out for an additional $120 million in 2011-12, but holding out costs them $82.4 million per week. They would lose everything they stand to gain this season in less than two weeks. On Monday the league is expected to announce the cancellation of the first two weeks of the season, which will cost the players $164.8 million. Over a six-year agreement, the players would burn through the $796 million in a little under 10 weeks.

Then there’s the fan anger impact on money — if the NBA misses games, will fans come back? Some will be offended and walk away from the sport, the die hards will return no matter what. The real question is this: If the league is playing regular season games by Dec. 1, in time for the Christmas showcase day and the All-Star Game, will fans even notice they were gone? Will there be a significant ratings dip, or with the fans focused on the NFL and college football will they not care until later?

There are a lot of questions out there and no easy answers. Which makes it hard to see why talks on Sunday — if the two sides even have them — could lead to a deal on Monday. There is still a gap between the sides that is not easy to bridge.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.