The good news is that they will meet again tomorrow and Tuesday in an effort to secure the scheduled Nov. 1
start of the regular season. But neither side came away brimming with optimism in this critical weekend of discussions.
A day after talks became heated when Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade snapped at commissioner David Stern for what he viewed as disrespectful finger pointing, the sides began talking yesterday morning and negotiations carried into the evening.
It was the longest meeting the owners and players have had since the lockout began July 1.
With the sides millions of dollars apart on basketball-related income, that topic was not discussed yesterday. Instead they exchanged proposals on other key issues, particularly salary cap, but made no significant strides. When asked whether the beginning of the regular season could be secured, Players Association executive director Billy Hunter said, ''Sure, if we come up with a deal next week.''
But he added, ''It's a pretty wide gulf that we're dealing with. We're not quite comfortable with where they are right now. They put some concepts up. We put some concepts up and we're still miles apart.''
Several players in the meeting and some NBA officials described the discussions as amicable and the process incremental, but also indicated that it's highly unlikely such a methodic pace would produce a deal to save all 82 games in the season.
Stern exited the meeting and said he would not announce any cancellation of games tomorrow, despite reports that he was ready to make a major decision on the season if major progress was not made this weekend.
''We spent the last two days talking about the system and we agreed to convene on Monday in smaller groups,'' he said. ''We're not near anything but, wherever that is, we're closer than we were before.''
According to Hunter, the league stuck with their request of the players' split of the BRI of 46 percent, down from 57 percent from the last collective bargaining agreement. Both sides acknowledged that the larger group meeting Friday was helpful with discussions, and deputy commissioner Adam Silver said Celtics forward Paul Pierce sparked discussion by pointing out that small-market teams such as Oklahoma City and San Antonio thrived in past years.
Stern acknowledged yesterday that his heated exchange with Wade nearly caused a premature ending to Friday's negotiations.
''We essentially exchanged system proposals, concepts, ideas and went back and forth for quite some time,'' said union president Derek Fisher. ''We're going to continue to push through as hard as we can.
''I can't necessarily characterize things as progress and that I am more optimistic than I was yesterday. The reality is we still have an extremely long way to go. Even with the exchanges we made today, there are still huge gaps. There's a lot of work left to do.''