Today's follow-up meeting between the NBA and the NBPA could set the foundation for a deal to end the lockout. Or it could set the process back once again, with just over two weeks before a decision must be made to postpone the start of the regular season.
When reports started to surface last night about the league's movement off insisting a hard cap system be part of the new collective bargaining agreement, there was a wave of optimism that spread across the basketball landscape.
But wait . . . the same kind of optimism surfaced two weeks ago, only to result in a meeting that produced downcast expressions from the NBPA's executive committee and grumbling comments of frustration.
As has been reported, the league's suggestion on Tuesday that it could move away from a hard cap doesn't necessarily put to bed the undisputed main contention of these talks. What we -- and the players -- still need to learn is what type of "soft" cap the league would agree to install. Would it be something that removes, or, at the very least, puts strict limits on, the mid-level exception? Would it be something that comes with such a harsh luxury tax formula -- let's say something extreme, such as $3 of tax for every $1 spent over the tax threshold -- that would act as a hard cap?
As we've reported here before, I've heard from a few players that the union might accept a 48-52 split of the BRI (Basketball Related Income) if it didn't come tethered to a hard cap system. But will they accept a soft cap that essentially acts as a hard cap?
Conversely, can David Stern get some of his hardline owners to agree to even a heavily-restricted soft cap? Sure, a hefty tax would deter poor owners from making poor contract decisions, but no one believes it will stop big revenue teams and billionaire owners from eclipsing the threshold, especially if it means building or maintaining a superteam. [For you Fixers, this is a critical point. The Knicks stand a better chance of keeping Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony together and potentially adding a star point guard such as Chris Paul next summer if they have the flexibility to spend.]
That's why both sides go into today's meeting with great trepidation. You get the sense that both sides want to get something done now, but they're walking on eggshells. Which side will get greedy? Which side will try to use the ticking clock as leverage and push a hot button agenda?
One false step will make a mess of things again.