The sides met for 12 hours Wednesday, passing Commissioner David Stern's deadline for players to accept the league's current proposal or face one that would be much worse. He said he "stopped the clock" while this round of negotiations continues but warned the harsher proposal will be put into play if talks break down.
The two sides are meeting again in small groups, working to try to find a way to save the season.
On Wednesday, they talked mostly about the salary cap system issues that divide them and did not even discuss the division of basketball-related income, which is the other major obstacle. Owners are calling for a 50-50 split, which the players would consider if they get the concessions they seek on the system.
The league, however, repeatedly has said it must have both in the next collective bargaining agreement.
"The competitive issues are independent of the economic issues. Our goal is to have a system in which all 30 teams are competing for championships and if well managed, they have an opportunity to break even or make a profit," Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said. "So we don't see the ability to break even or make a profit as a trade-off for the ability to field a competitive team. So all those issues are still in play."
Those issues largely relate to the spending rules for teams over the luxury tax threshold. The NBA has sought to ban or reduce their ability to use the midlevel exception or participate in sign-and-trade deals, as well as impose a more punitive tax that players fear would deter teams from spending so much that it would act like a hard salary cap.
Union president Derek Fisher said after Wednesday's talks that he couldn't "characterize whether (owners) showed flexibility or not in certain system issues."
"Obviously, we'd have a deal done if the right flexibility was being shown," he said. "The fact that we don't have a deal lets you know that there's still a lot of work to be done on the system."
Failure to make a deal Thursday would increase the calls for the union to decertify so the players can file a lawsuit against the league in court, a risky and lengthy tactic that likely would doom the 2011-12 season. Union officials have downplayed the idea, but players might have no other leverage once the more severe proposal is put into play.
The current offer calls for players to receive between 49 percent and 51 percent of basketball-related income, though the union said it would be impossible to get above 50.2 percent. Players were guaranteed 57 percent of BRI under the previous collective bargaining agreement.
Though they called this deal unacceptable, they might not see another one nearly as favorable.
The next proposal would call for a 53-47 revenue split in the owners' favor, essentially a hard salary cap and salary rollbacks, which the league originally sought but had taken off the table. Both proposals were sent to Hunter on Sunday.
Players indicated after a player representative meeting Tuesday that they would be open to reducing their BRI take if owners made some changes on the system issues. Players offered to go to about 51 percent Saturday, with 1 percent going into a fund for retired player benefits, though their last formal proposal on paper called for a 52.5 split in their favor.
But the league has placed as much importance on the system as the split, making it difficult to find compromise on the handful of items that remain unsettled.