NEW YORK — We still don't have a resolution to the NBA's ongoing labor dispute, and we still won't have a full NBA season. But on Thursday night, the NBA presented the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) with a "revised proposal" that could represent the warring factions' best chance of ending the league's 134-day lockout and open the door to fans seeing pro basketball by Christmas.
"A couple of hours ago or so ... [we] made a revised proposal to the union, which attempted to meet their concerns as best as we and the labor relations committee could," NBA Commissioner David Stern told reporters at a Manhattan hotel. "We did that in the context of the possibility that we could have a 72-game season starting on December 15."
Having already canceled all games originally scheduled for November, the NBA would massage the calendar a bit to facilitate a 72-game slate, moving the NBA Playoffs "back roughly a week [and] moving the Finals back roughly a week," NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said.
The pushed-back start date would also afford the league and players time to reach accord on a variety of issues, from what Silver called the "principal, so-called 'A-list' issues" that have dominated the debate over the league's economic system thus far to as-yet-unresolved matters like the age limit at which players can enter the NBA, how the league disciplines players, and the number and frequency of off-days in an adjusted calendar.
"There's still a lot of negotiating left to be done, and there needs to be a free-agency period, a training-camp period, possibly a short preseason, and then we play, and so it takes us to December 15," Silver added.
Despite the prospect of getting back to work, NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter didn't seem thrilled with the league's new offer.
"It's not the greatest proposal in the world, but I have an obligation to at least present it to our membership," Hunter said.
NBPA President Derek Fisher said the union didn't see quite as much compromise from ownership as it would like.
"On a couple of the issues, there was some revision, some change since the last proposal that we saw," Fisher said. "But at this time, it's not enough to entice us to try to finish this out tonight."
Stern acknowledged the union's reservations with the proposal and noted that, on that score, the two sides have some common ground.
"We don't expect them to like every aspect of our revised proposal; I would say that there are many teams that don't like every aspect of our revised proposal," Stern said. "But I did tell Billy that that proposal has the support of the chairman of the labor relations committee, Adam, me and the labor relations committee itself."
"We await the response from the union," Stern added.
Hunter and Fisher were joined in the negotiating session by members of the NBPA's executive committee, including Keyon Dooling of the Milwaukee Bucks, Matt Bonner of the San Antonio Spurs, Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets, Etan Thomas of the Atlanta Hawks, and free agents Maurice Evans, Roger Mason and Theo Ratliff. On the NBA's side, Stern and Silver were joined by league legal counsel and San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the owners' labor relations committee.
After two long days of meetings yielded the league's revised offer, Fisher said the union's leadership "decided to end things for now [and] take a step back" to consider the new landscape.
"We'll go back as an executive committee, as a board, and confer with our player [representatives] and additional players over the next few days, and then we'll make decisions about what our next steps will be at that point," Fisher said. "Obviously, we still would like to continue negotiating and find a way to get a deal done, but right now is not that time."
The player pow-wow could include flying union representatives from the 30 NBA teams into New York for meetings, which could delay the resumption of full-fledged negotiations. Stern said it is the league's understanding that "the revised proposal will be presented to the board of the union on Monday or, if travel is difficult, no later than Tuesday."
The revised proposal, first reported by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, was announced after the second consecutive marathon negotiating session between the two sides. On Wednesday, the league and players talked for more than 12 hours; on Thursday, they met for nearly 11 hours. According to Howard Beck of The New York Times, the total running time of lockout negotiations to date now stands at nearly 160 hours.
The lion's share of the last two negotiating sessions came after a Wednesday afternoon bargaining deadline that Stern and the owners had given the union for considering what had been characterized as a take-it-or-leave-it offer.
That proposal included a division of basketball-related income (BRI) that would reportedly allow the players to take home between 49 percent and 51 percent of BRI, depending on how league revenues compare to projections. It also featured multiple changes to the economic system underpinning the league, including alterations of rules pertaining to how teams may use the mid-level exception, the elimination of sign-and-trade contracts for teams that pay the luxury tax, and the prohibition of "extend-and-trade" deals like the one that facilitated Carmelo Anthony's move to the New York Knicks, among other items.
If the NBPA failed to agree to those terms by close-of-business Wednesday, Stern said, the league would rescind its offer and "reset" negotiations by tendering a far harsher proposal. That deal, detailed in a letter obtained by The New York Times, would offer players only 47 percent of BRI and would include a hard salary cap, reduced contract lengths and a rollback of players' existing contracts.
After meeting with 29 of 30 player reps on Tuesday, the NBPA rejected Stern's offer, electing to pursue further negotiations in advance of the drop-dead date. With discussions in progress as 5 p.m. Wednesday came and went, Stern "stopped the clock" and the two sides kept talking, setting the stage for Thursday's continuation.
"I think the events of the week and the offer that we presented had the desired impact of causing us both to focus intensely on whether there was a deal here to be done," Stern said.
As of early Friday morning, in the world of the NBA, time continues to stand still.
"I met with Billy and said that just as the clock had stopped at 5 p.m. on Wednesday as we negotiated through to today, it would remain stopped through his meeting with his board," Stern said.
But eventually, inevitably, time must march on.
"At that time, if we don't get a positive response, the revised offer, starting at 47 percent and based upon a flex cap, would be our revised negotiating position," he added.
Stern wouldn't call Thursday night's offering the league's best and final proposal — "You know, we took pains, out of respect to the efforts of everybody, not to characterize it precisely that way," he said — but he made it clear that the NBA is standing pat.
"There comes a time when you have to be through negotiating, and we are," Stern said.