Conflicting reports on what owners want: Deal or ultimatum?

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Lots of rumors flying around about the NBA negotiations over the last 24 hours and what the owners exactly will push for — there has always been a divide among ownership on what exactly they want, and that gulf seems to be widening.

Whether that gulf is wide enough to kill efforts to get a deal this weekend and have NBA games on Christmas remains to be seen. The sides will resume talks Friday to resolve the lawsuit (which is akin to having a handshake deal in place).

On one hand, we have a report from Marc Stein of ESPN that some owners are pushing hard to get a deal done.

Sources identified Miami, Orlando, Phoenix, Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers as the teams pushing hardest behind the scenes for a deal in principle by the end of the weekend to ensure that a “representative” season can be staged. And at least three teams that requested anonymity, according to interviews conducted Wednesday by ESPN.com, are highly optimistic that the framework of a deal can be struck by Monday.

Phoenix is interesting — Robert Sarver was once seen as one of the real hardline owners. Boston’s Wyc Grousbeck also had been in the hardline camp before but seems to think the owners have gotten enough and need to make a deal now.

On the other end of the scale…

David Stern is going to improve the owners’ offer to players but is going to tell them “take this or I cancel the entire season,” ESPN’s Ric Bucher reported on SportsCenter Wednesday night.

Another ultimatum. Not again.

My guess is that Bucher’s source is from the camp of a hardline owner. Stern can’t really be thinking ultimatum again, that would be just the worst negotiating tactic ever — “Hey, this failed twice, but let’s do it again.” Stern is not going to do that and risk a court thinking he is not negotiating in good faith.

Plus, Stern is not about to be the bad guy who cancels the season — he has been the master in this negotiation of making the players the bad guy, he’s not about to slip up now. The season as a whole will not be canceled before Jan. 1, and I was told by one source it’s more like Jan. 20.

That said, Buchcer’s source shows that the hardline owners are not going to just roll over to have games on Christmas.

There seems to be a real momentum toward a deal right now — a handshake deal this weekend that lets us open the NBA season as a Christmas present. Let’s hope the hardline owners (and players) don’t screw that up.