For the first time in a couple months, the vibe among NBA observers is something other than near-total despair. The lockout persists and the season-preview mags we'd normally start seeing on newsstands in September remain on hold, but the league and the players' union have at least returned to the bargaining table. There were meetings this week on Wednesday and Thursday, each running longer than five hours, and another get-together is scheduled for next Tuesday. No more than a couple dozen people truly know how close the parties are getting to a new CBA, and none of them (with one possible exception, more about whom below) is really talking, but it's refreshing to see everyone behaving as if a season is something they want.
A common assumption has been that progress would come only when something happened to enhance the leverage enjoyed by one side or the other. A ruling by the National Labor Relations Board on the players' bad-faith complaint would do the trick, as would a judgment in the owners' federal-court lawsuit in New York (although that's on a much slower track). Neither of those things has happened. Likewise, neither the players nor the owners have started to bleed money from canceled games. So what's responsible for all these talks?
The ceaseless march of time, my friends. The start of training camps is (theoretically) less than a month away, so the parties apparently decided to find out whether there's a deal to be made to keep the league on schedule. On Wednesday David Stern said there were three weeks remaining to accomplish this. The end point of that three-week period will be September 28.
Where things stand on BRI splits, the hard cap, contract lengths and the like is impossible to say. That's because both sides are living up to their promise to keep discussions behind closed doors. The leaks have dried up. Nobody who's been in the room is letting us know what's been said. This is a good thing, as it suggests a commonality of purpose and willingness to abide by the rules of engagement.
The only departure from the code of silence has come from Roger Mason, Jr., the Knicks guard who's part of the union's negotiating team. After the meeting on Wednesday, Mason sent out a tweet that read, "Looking like a season. How u" It very much seemed like he intended to send a private, direct message to someone, even though he later played the well-worn "My Twitter account been hacked" card. Happens to the best of us, Rog.
Ken Berger of CBS Sports finds cause for optimism beyond Mason's Twitter-slip. Among the good points he makes is that the working groups on each side are expanding. The first couple negotiations after the lockout came down were small-group sessions involving Stern, Adam Silver and Spurs owner Peter Holt from the owners' camp and Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher from the players'. This past week, though, league attorney Dan Rube sat in on the meetings, as did an economist named Kevin Murphy who's been retained by the union. Rube is the league's chief expert on salary-cap minutia. His and Murphy's presence is being read as an indication that the sides might be moving past the headline issues and drilling down to details. The meeting next Tuesday will include the owners' full labor committee and the union's full executive committee.
The week to come is pretty important. On Thursday, negotiators on each side will update their constituents on the progress of talks. The league's Board of Governors is meeting that day in Dallas, while Fish and Hunter will speak with a group of players gathered in Vegas for the Impact league. The feedback they get will help determine whether a mutually palatable deal is getting close or whether we're really in this for the long haul. Fingers crossed, everyone.
Let's see, anything else? Nope, I guess that just about cov-... ohh right, you need your weekly cat video! Ha ha, like I would ever forget this part.
Today for your enjoyment is one beleaguered house cat meeting ten Golden Retriever puppies for the first time. Bawwwwww....
Stuff to Read
Timeline Tightens for NBA to Avoid Losing Games (John Lombardo, Sports Business Journal, 9/7)
Salary Cap Chat With Larry Coon (HOOPSWORLD, 9/7)
Hush-Hush Labor Meeting Means There Might Be Progress (Berger, CBS Sports, 9/7)
Neverending Story Dog Wins the Internet (FilmDrunk, 9/7)
Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.