NEW YORK - With a day of progress behind them and the hope of a full 82-game season still ahead, NBA players and owners resumed talks toward ending the lockout Thursday.
Small groups from both sides returned to a hotel less than 12 hours after finishing a 15-hour meeting that went until past 3 a.m. Both sides acknowledged there was progress on issues related to the salary cap system, though they didn’t offer any specifics.
Commissioner David Stern said he expected to continue discussing the system Thursday. And union executive director Billy Hunter said they might be in a better position to quantify the progress on specific issues following those talks.
Though the first two weeks of the season have been canceled because of the lockout, Hunter said he believed 82 games were still possible with a deal by Sunday or Monday.
“We’re not putting a specific date on it,” Stern said. “We just think we’ve got to do it soon, and if we could make a deal obviously we’re partnered with the union in an effort to have as many games as we can.”
A full season might be difficult even with a deal this week. It takes roughly 30 days from agreement to games being played, so it’s uncertain if there’s still time for any basketball in November even before examining arena availability. But 82 games would be a boost for the players, meaning they wouldn’t miss the paycheck that seemed lost when the first two weeks were scrapped.
“We haven’t been promised or guaranteed that if we get a deal done by a certain date, that we’ll get a full 82-game schedule,” union president Derek Fisher said.
“But I think to Billy’s point, the likelihood or at least the chance of that happening, although it may be slim, is still possible if a deal is reached within the next four or five days.”
It was widely expected Stern would announce further cancellations this week after talks broke down a week ago. Instead, the sides were in communication the next day, staffs met Monday, and they were back at the bargaining table Wednesday, acting on Hunter’s recommendation to “park” the revenue split and focus first on the system issues.
“I think that everybody realizes that the first two weeks of the season had been cancelled, and I think the NBA was approaching the point whereby it would feel compelled to make another announcement with regard to when they were going to cancel additional games,” Hunter said, “and if there was any hope of trying to recapture the lost games and be able to complete a full season of 82 games, then there had to be a way to get back and talk.”
Both sides were cautious not to get too excited about Wednesday’s talks. The revenue split emerged last week as the bigger obstacle to a new collective bargaining agreement, and they will have to revisit the issue soon.
Players were guaranteed 57 percent of basketball revenues under the last CBA and have proposed a reduction to about 52.5.
Owners have repeatedly said they won’t go beyond a 50-50 split, which would leave the sides about $100 million apart annually based on last season’s revenues.
And there’s no indication owners will relax their demand.
“They know where we stand,” deputy commissioner Adam Silver said.
The players might be more open to a 50-50 split if they get to keep some of the system issues they desire. Fisher said after Wednesday’s talks there were some “key principal items in our system that have to remain there” for them to consider a further reduction of income.
Stern said owners had a pretty good idea of what those items were. Whether they were doable could determine if they would keep talking into the weekend.
“We’ve been trying very hard to reach for them,” Stern said. “We are united on the NBA side in wanting a system that makes all teams competitive. We have some strong views on what the best way to do that is, and we’re trying to unify those views.”
The owners themselves are all of a mind that we have some overarching goals, and it’s our job to give a voice to those and to see whether we can make the best possible arrangement for them.”