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Stern and Hunter need last-second heroics

FILE - This Feb. 27, 2008, file photo

FILE - This Feb. 27, 2008, file photo shows National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter, left, and National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern appearing before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on drug use in sports, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Hunter said Monday, Nov. 22, 2010, he is "99 percent sure" there will be a lockout next summer. Photo Credit: AP

 After taking a day to recharge and, probably, review the accomplishments of the past two meetings, the NBA and its players union will return to the negotiating table on Monday in Manhattan for yet another round of collective bargaining talks. The session will return to the small group setting from early last week, with commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and general counsel Dan Rube representing the owners and executive director Billy Hunter, president Derek Fisher and associate counsel Ron Klempner on the union side.

Consider this the ultimate basketball three-on-three, with both teams fighting for the same cause -- saving the season -- though with much different agendas. Today is where a deal either finally comes to fruition or falls completely apart, because the plan for tomorrow is to return to the larger group setting, with the league's labor relations committee and the union's executive committee joining the fray. One would be led to believe that the strategy here would be to come to some kind of non-binding compromise in the small group on Monday and then present it to the large group on Tuesday with the understanding that Wednesday is when the final buzzer sounds on starting the regular season on time.

There were hints of progress being made during Saturday's seven-hour meeting, though Hunter carefully downplayed the optimism that flowed out of the board room like a gentle breeze throughout the day. Hunter knows, however, that while the players are good about putting up a united front for the cameras and the media, it's abundantly clear the majority of them want to be in an NBA uniform come November. And the pressure is on his shoulders to make that happen.

"They're anxious to get a deal," Hunter acknowledged on Saturday. "But our mantra hasn’t changed, in that its gotta be a fair and equitable deal."

Though they're still far apart on one of the major issues -- the economic split of league revenues -- the sides do agree on one critical point that may help ultimately reach an accord: that to have this go past Wednesday and risk the cancellation of regular season games would be detrimental to all.

Stern, careful not to say anything that would be viewed as a threat, wouldn't say when that call will be made, but there's little doubt it's on the horizon.

"Well, you know, we’ll see," he said. "Stay tuned . . . Our desire would be to not cancel and we had been hopeful that this [past] weekend would be a broader marker, but for reasons which we understand the players suggested that we resume on Monday and so we said, ‘Fine.’ So our owners are returning to their homes and those that can make it Tuesday will be back and I think the same is true on the players’ side. And so we’ll just keep moving on."

With a need for a quick turnaround once a deal is struck, you can expect that much of the other parts of the deal, matters that both sides were comfortable with carrying over from the previous CBA or new parts that have already been approved, have already been written in. At this point, what is left are the major points -- economic split, cap system -- to be authored and approved at the end.

Picture a handful of exhausted young attorneys in a law office pounding away at keyboards writing this deal, page-by-page, and sending it for approval before it is added to the master document. Once the pressure is off Stern and Hunter, the pressure is on these nameless, faceless sports law apprentices to plow through the legal jargon quickly and, most importantly, accurately.

Once a document is completed, it would be recommended by the league's LRC to the Board of Governors, who would put it to a vote. It takes a majority, or 16 out of 30 owners to approve a new CBA. One question that needs to be answered is if the New Orleans Hornets, currently run by the NBA, would get a vote.

Once approved, the league could lift the lockout and open training camps immediately.

That's when the executive committee would recommend the CBA to its members for ratification. The players would vote and, again, it takes a majority to pass the deal.

But if Wednesday morning arrives and the sides still can't agree and Stern starts erasing games from the schedule, then it could be a while before the league and union return to the negotiating table.

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