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This Week In The Lockout: Gotta Get Down On Friday

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OMG OMG OMG. It's almost over, right? RIGHT?!? Answer me, damn it!!

Last night, after two long days' worth of negotiations, David Stern and Billy Hunter sent a pulse of giggly excitement through the NBA world with statements suggesting the lockout may soon be at an end. Hunter said the two sides are "within striking distance" of a deal. Stern said he'd consider it a failure if one isn't reached in the next few days. Union and league negotiators are meeting in New York even as you're reading this (unless you're reading this, like, next week) in an effort to ride the forward momentum over the finish line. Is this really happening? Brothers and sisters, do we dare believe?

Faithful TWITL readers know I've been resisting the temptations of optimism. And God knows, this could still come unglued all too easily. The last couple days have been spent making progress on system issues - meaning the structure of the luxury tax, the salary cap and the like - while discussion of the revenue split has sat on the shelf. That's the biggie and only today are the two sides taking it up. As you might recall, a shitstorm broke last week out when the owners refused to discuss anything until the players agreed to a 50-50 division of basketball-related income. What vague indications we've been given hint that there's been enough convergence on the system to make possible an interlocking compromise on BRI. That's what at stake today. It could all come together, or reptiles like Dan Gilbert or Paul Allen could slither into the room and send everyone scattering.

We don't yet know what the parties have agreed to on the luxury tax and salary cap. What seems to have emerged, however, is a system with cap exceptions substantially similar to those that existed under the old collective-bargaining agreement but with a far more punitive luxury tax. Though teams over the cap could still sign players using the Bird or mid-level exceptions, nastier penalties would apply as a team's payroll rises. A team like the Lakers, who paid about $20 million in luxury taxes last year, could see its tax bill double or triple.

Without knowing the details, it's tough to say how much the new system will force the Lakers to change how they do business. That by all indications the hard salary cap has been ditched is certainly good news, although a super-confiscatory luxury tax would serve pretty much the same function. Just have to wait and see. There is, however, one open issue that's especially critical to the Lakers and other high-payroll teams. Hit it, Woj:

Before tackling the revenue split, the biggest hurdle left to solving the system issues appears to be with the use of midlevel and bi-annual exceptions for tax-paying teams.

While details were still unclear how a punitive luxury tax system would work for teams exceeding the salary cap, one league source involved in the talks told Y! Sports on Thursday night: "The tax is not the issue. The exceptions are where the fight is." . . . [T]he owners don't want to permit teams paying luxury tax to be able to sign players to the midlevel and bi-annual exceptions, a source said.

The Lakers will be a taxpayer for the next few years, if not longer. If they're foreclosed from using the MLE or bi-annual exception, their ability to acquire useful role players will suffer hugely. Instead of dipping into the free-agent buffet for guys like Steve Blake and Matt Barnes, they'd have to rely more heavily on the draft (not a bad idea, in any case) and work the trade market. At one point the owners were pushing for a rule that would limit taxpayers' ability to use the Bird exception to re-sign their own players, which down the line could've forced the Lakers to break up their Kobe-Pau-Bynum core, but Woj suggests the union has won out on that point. Phew.

Somewhat to my surprise, people seem to think an 82-game season is still in play. The whole schedule would have to be reworked from scratch and the playoffs and Finals would need to be pushed back, but apparently it's doable. Personally, I wouldn't mind chopping it down to 75 games or so. Eighty-two would probably entail the dreaded back-to-back-to-back, which makes for terrible ball, doubly so for old-ass teams like the purp and yellow. That said, I get why they need to push for 82. It's in everyone's interests, if at all possible, to get a full season's worth of revenues flowing into the system.

And with that I'm gonna wrap up so I don't jinx anything. Please send prayers/good vibes/positive thoughts in the direction of Midtown Manhattan today. And thanks for reading another edition of TWITL. Here's hoping it's the last.

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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