Friday could be the day.
But if not Friday it may be this weekend — the NBA season is close to being saved. Maybe not all of it, but most of it, enough to have an asterick-free, credible NBA season. Progress through two more days has everyone, even the participants, hopeful.
NBA Commissioner David Stern says it would be a failure if there is not a new NBA labor deal reached in the next few days.
“There’s no guarantee that we’re going to get a deal done but we’re going to give it a heck of a shot,” Stern said in a post-talks press conference (broadcast on NBA TV).
That statement was made after more than seven more hours of talks on Thursday. That followed a marathon 15-hour session Wednesday, and Friday morning the two sides will be back at it at 10:30 a.m.
There is a real sense of optimism that a deal is near, a framework that would start the clock toward the opening of training camps and the start of the NBA season around Dec. 1.
If you want a really good sign, Stern stood in the back of the players association press conference and laughed with union head Billy Hunter on issues. The two sides don’t go near each other’s press conferences when there is acrimony.
Reports are that progress was made on the luxury tax issue on Thursday, which had been one of the key sticking points of the talks so far. The owners had wanted a more punitive tax that kept big spending teams in line, the players wanted something more akin to the old system. We don’t know what that progress looks like but there are multiple reports of the gap on that issue being closed. We have heard that things such as the Bird rights (allowing teams to go over the cap to re-sign their own free agents) and allowing teams in the luxury tax to make trades will be part of the new deal, increasing player options on where to play and for how much.
“I think we’re within reach (on system issues), within striking distance of getting a deal,” Hunter said.
There are still big hurdles ahead, ones that could mean negotiations will need to go through the weekend or even into next week.
For one, the two sides have yet to talk about the split of basketball related income (BRI) — the revenue that comes into the league through ticket sales, television deals and just about everything else down to hot dog sales in the arenas. That has remained a key sticking point, the owners wanted a 50/50 split (which isn’t a true even divide, the owners take expenses off the top), while the players have not gone any lower than 52.5 percent. There had been a sense that if the “system” framework was in place BRI would be easier to divide, but that is not necessarily the case.
Stern said he expects everything to be discussed on Friday, and Hunter told Chris Sheridan BRI would be the first thing discussed Friday. (Which means a long meeting Friday is a good sign.)
One other challenge — once a deal is reached, Stern and Hunter need to sell the deal to their hardline constituencies. That has blown up previous progress in these talks (we’re looking at you, Kevin Garnett and Paul Allen).
But right now there is a real optimism around the league that a deal is close. Team general managers have cancelled scouting trips to be ready for a free agency period, team ticket sales offices have started making calls to renew seats and agents are starting to pitch teams about their clients (through back channels).
It feels like a deal is coming sooner rather than later. But after this long and bitter fight that has seen the first two weeks of the regular season cancelled, until Stern and Hunter are shaking hands on a podium nothing is certain.