Talks will resume Friday, as key player and owner representatives attempt to reach a settlement and agree on a handshake deal to start a 66-game NBA season beginning Christmas Day.
And all the major players are back in New York City to bring this five-month-long lockout to an end.
Derek Fisher will be at the negotiating table, despite concerns that his presence – after announcing that his union was disclaiming – would prove the legal move was nothing more than a negotiating tactic.
Spurs owner Peter Holt, chairman of the NBA labour relations committee, is also there.
One notable absence is Jeffery Kessler, the player’s lawyer and mortal enemy of David Stern. He remains “very much involved,” according to Ken Berger, but it’s also believed that Kessler’s presence has hindered progress.
He has been replaced at the table by Jim Quinn, the former lead counsel for the NBPA and a key player in brokering the 1998-99 lockout. Quinn has the respect of both sides and has taken a prominent role since the sides began meeting secretly Tuesday.
The issues up for discussion remain the same. The hope is that the ominous threat of court battles and the realisation of lost revenue have softened up hardliners on both sides.
As Chris Sheridan makes clear, both sides are still arguing about system issues concerning free agent flexibility for teams over the luxury tax threshold.
The most contentious concern is the escrow system. Funds are withheld from player’s checks to ensure their salaries don’t exceed the agreed-upon revenue split. Players are willing to have 10 per cent withheld, but there are still questions concerning what happens if revenue still exceeds 50 per cent.
Both sides find themselves in the same place they’ve been for weeks.
So close. Yet, unfathomably, so far.
Given history, we usually wouldn’t recommend any feelings for optimism. But the addition of Quinn and the secrecy of initial negotiations this week give reason for hope.
This latest round of negotiations almost assuredly acts as the final opportunity to recover an NBA season.
Failure this weekend would push the dispute to the court room and guarantee months of legal drama.
Nothing is for certain. And nothing will be until Stern and Billy Hunter appear in front of weary stakeout reporters with an agreement.
That could be today. That could be this weekend. Or it could be five months from now.
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