For the past two weeks, NBA lockout news has been colored by a surprising amount of optimism. First, there was a six-hour meeting after which no one engaged in silly media posturing about lost money or bargaining in bad faith. Then, the next week, both sides kept quiet and only said that they would keep meeting regularly. To make things even more positive, several reports and wayward tweets suggested that players were preparing to play this season.
Guess what? It turns out that was all a bunch of wishful thinking. Because, if the participant reactions to Tuesday's lockout meeting are any indication, we can all expect to miss most, if not all, of the 2011-12 NBA season.
Let's go to the tweets from the scene. Take it away, CBSSports.com's Ken Berger:
[Billy] Hunter says two sides remain at odds on two key isssues: economics and the system. No future meetings scheduled.
Hunter: Owners did not make a formal proposal and remain in the same place they were June 30 before lockout began.
[Derek] Fisher: "We're not marching towards a deal at this time or at any time we an predict." That's a killer quote.
Hunter bombshell: "We've advised (players) they may have to sit out half the season before we get a deal."
Hunter remains hopeful NLRB decision will move process forward. Not revisiting decision not to disclaim interest or decertify.
Hunter says there's a "division of interest" within ownership. Owners spent three of 5 1-2 hours meeting amongst themselves.
Hunter: Hard cap would mean "at any whim," players on non-guaranteed deals would be "out the door. And we're saying, 'No way.'"
Oh, terrific. Not only does there appear to be little progress relative to the positions held at the end of the season, but Hunter is also unwilling to decertify the union and force movement from the owners on negotiations. So we can expect to remain in this state of limbo for quite a while. Oh, and the owners can't even agree on what they're willing to concede because they all have separate interests.
Don't worry, though, it gets even worse. Let's hear what top NBA execs David Stern and Adam Silver, representatives of the owners, had to say. Also via Berger's Twitter:
Stern said concern came from players stating the cap system had to remain exactly as it is today for them to accept economic concept.
Stern: Owners huddled and were not unanimous on concepts. But all owners unified they need system allowing 30 teams to compete.
Stern says not accurate that owners are still sitting on same proposal from June.
Silver: "You don't hear us using terms like 'blood issue' and 'non-negotiable.' Frankly, we don't understand."
Stern says players' stance against hard cap is "an emotional attachment."
That's just the tip of the gigantic cruiseship-sinking iceberg. So not only are players and owners at an impasse, but they can't even characterize their discussions in similar terms to the media. The public relations situation has returned to its rest state, and we can expect to hear a lot of arguments about mischaracterizations of positions instead of the positions themselves. The lockout battle may as well be a political campaign right now.
If I seem overly pessimistic right now, it's primarily because the optimism of the past few weeks was so attractive, if maybe not so convincing in retrospective. No one ever said emphatically that a deal was certain, but the circumstantial sure did convince. So while this messy state of affairs has been predictable since the lockout became a likelihood many months (or even years) ago, it's still depressing and unfortunate. We could have had something better, and both sides gave us hope that it was a possibility.
Now it's time to retreat to the bomb shelters and wait this thing out until the players and owners reach their breaking points. For the owners -- all of whom are obscenely wealthy -- that might be quite some time. For the players -- many of whom have the opportunity to play overseas -- the NBA may not be as necessary to their chosen careers as previously indicated. It's entirely possible that we won't see either side budge for several months.
In the meantime, let's celebrate basketball in any way we can. Because, as fans, our best course of action is to convince everyone involved that we can't live without it.
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