The NBA is headed to deadline day, with perhaps one last chance to avoid a lockout. Negotiators for owners and players will meet Thursday, about 12 hours before the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement and seemingly nowhere close to a deal.
The sides remain far apart on just about every major issue, from salaries to the salary cap, revenues to revenue sharing.
After meeting twice a week for most of the month, this is the only session scheduled this week. The two sides could continue bargaining past the deadline, but that probably requires owners to see evidence of the gap narrowing Thursday.
Otherwise, they could lock out the players for the first time since the 1998-99 season was reduced to 50 games, though Commissioner David Stern has refused to say what would happen if a deal is not done Thursday.
"We're not going to negotiate in the media," he said Tuesday after meeting with owners. "We haven't before, we're not going to do it now.
We're looking forward to having our discussion with the players." There may not be much to discuss. Players declined to offer a new economic proposal in the most recent meeting Friday, and they may still feel their previous offer to reduce their salaries by $500 million over five years is going far enough.
Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said the league didn't know if the players would make another proposal.
Both sides have moved, but not nearly far enough for the other. Players still consider the owners' proposal for a "flex" cap, where each team would be targeted to spend $62 million, a hard cap because there is an eventual unspecified level that can't be exceeded. And though the league said total player compensation would never dip below $2 billion over the life of its proposed 10-year deal, that would amount to a pay cut for the players, who were paid more than $2.1 billion this season in salaries and benefits.
Owners have dropped their insistence that no contracts could be fully guaranteed, an issue the players strongly opposed.
"In this league, teams can easily just say, `We don't want this guy on our team anymore.'" I think the security of having that contract goes a long way because you're taking care of your family, you've got a lot of things you're doing and this is your way of living," All-Star Kevin Durant said.
"I think that's the biggest thing with us, having that security as a player, knowing coming in that you're guaranteed and you're straight. Hopefully we keep that."
Owners still want a reduction in the players' guarantee of 57 percent of basketball revenues. Players said their latest proposal would have taken them down to 54.3, but say the league's offer would have them down to around 40 percent.
The meeting Thursday will include just small groups from each side, after many players attended the last session. Without a deal, there will be no free agency starting Friday, and the summer league in Las Vegas has already been canceled.
Real games could be next to go. Stern has said the offers only get worse once a lockout has started, though there is still plenty of time even if nothing gets done Thursday.
"I don't see us missing any games. But I see it coming down to the wire, though," Milwaukee's Stephen Jackson said.