They're talking, but there's no reason to think a deal is imminent
Monday's meeting was aimed at setting the table for a larger meeting on Tuesday
But there is no evidence that the owners or players are ready to compromise
Neither side has made its final offer, and it appears a long negotiation remains
What more is left to say? Neither side has appeared willing to make the major concessions that its opponent has demanded during these heightened NBA labor talks.
The lockout was into its fourth month and the season-opening game stood 29 days away as union and owners met in New York in a small-group session Monday. The hours were invested in "setting the table" for a larger meeting Tuesday, amid stubborn hope that common ground can be reached.
"Setting the table means that each side understands exactly what's at stake and where, potentially, there is movement in order to try to get a deal done," said NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver. "We can only say we are running out of time so many times. We are now very close to the point where we are going to begin losing the rest of the regular season -- we are going to miss the rest of the preseason, and very shortly are going to have to cancel regular season games. They know that, and sometimes deadlines are constructive for both sides in making the final moves that are necessary to get to a deal.''
But there is no evidence to suggest either side is ready to compromise, even though the cancellation of regular-season games will surely mean loss of support from fans. They will show little patience or sympathy with owners and players who can't share $4 billion in annual revenues.
"A lot of signs point to tomorrow being a very huge day,"said union president Derek Fisher as he looked ahead to Tuesday's meeting. "There will be a lot of pressure on all of us in the room, and we'll accept that responsibility and go in and see what we can get worked out.''
They claim to understand each other's needs. Two main issues continue to haunt them: How to divvy up so much money, and how to prevent the richest franchises from outspending the less rich, which is important to a majority (but not all) of the owners. Last month the players were on the verge of surrendering money in exchange for a system that maintains guaranteed contracts and other benefits -- an understanding that emerged from small-group talks similar to the session held Monday. But the hope for a settlement fragmented during subsequent meetings of more owners and players and opinions -- which is the same troublesome dynamic that threatens the larger meeting Tuesday.
"Each side will come in, we believe, prepared to negotiate on everything,"said commissioner David Stern. "I think if there is a will, we will be able to deal with the splits and the system issues. It would be great to be able to make some real progress (Tuesday). Whether that's possible or not, I don't know, but we had a good meeting today, defining the issues and the positions. If it's a very short meeting that's bad, and if it's a very long meeting, it's not as bad.''
Neither side has made its final offer, acknowledged Silver. "We both understand that if we don't make our best offers in the next few days,"he said, "we are going to be at the point where we are going to be causing damage to the game, to ourselves, and they (players) are going to be out paychecks.''
Is that pressure enough to inspire each side to meet in the middle?
The big question is whether the owners' priority is to play a full (or almost full) season and ultimately compromise in order to make that happen -- or do the owners instead view this CBA as a watershed deal, making it worthwhile to lose games (and perhaps the season altogether) in order to completely overhaul the finances and operating structure of the NBA? The owners themselves may not yet know the final answer to that loaded question, because some of them who make money would naturally prefer to get on with the season, and many others whose teams lose money appear willing to hold out until their needs are met.
The question will answer itself after next week, because if they don't make a deal to start the season on time, and one week after another is lost to this lockout, there will be less reason for them to compromise.
There are a lot of moving parts. "Even if we begin to make progress, there are literally 100 other issues which haven't even been addressed yet, so called B-list issues," said Silver. "So there is a long negotiation ahead of us no matter what.''