NEW YORK After meeting for about 10 hours on Thursday, the NBA Players Association came away with a revised offer from the NBA that -- despite warnings from the owners that everything from here on in would get worse -- was actually better than the previous one.
Union officials acknowledge the new proposal does show the owners making strides towards meeting their concerns.
However, it wasn't enough to get a deal done.
"It does not meet us entirely on the system issues that we felt were extremely important to try and close this deal out," said NBAPA president Derek Fisher. "And so at this point, we've decided to end things for now, take a step back."
The union will review the offer for the next couple days and gather its player representatives in New York on either Monday or Tuesday. Depending on how that goes, the proposal may be put to a vote among the membership. If a majority of players support it and the owners ratify it - which NBA commissioner David Stern is confident will happen if the players agree to its terms - we will indeed have a 72-game season, beginning on Dec. 15.
But before you dust off your Kevin Garnett jerseys and whip out your 'you Got Rondo'd' t-shirt, there's a lot - a lot - that can still go wrong and prevent the 2011-12 season from being delayed even more than it has already.
For starters, the growing faction of union players who want to decertify is growing.
It'll be interesting to see how player representatives respond to this latest offer, and what effect it will have on those - Celtics forward Paul Pierce is among the leaders of the movement to decertify - who are considering dissolving the union.
So for now, the pressure to get a deal done has quickly shifted back to the union.
While Fisher declined to reveal any specifics about the new plan, a league source said that it's still essentially a deal with a 50-50 split of the basketball-related income and an increased amount for the mid-level exception for tax-paying teams.
"I'm not sure if we can say on any one of the system issues that the NBA came all the way to where we wanted the NBA to come to," Fisher said. "All I can say is, on a couple of the issues, there was some revision, there was some change in their position from the last proposal that we saw. At this time, it's not enough to necessarily entice us to try and finish this out Thursday night."
While neither side would classify it as the best offer, Stern made it clear the time for negotiating with this revised proposal, is done.
Stern delivered a similar message earlier this week, only to have union chief Billy Hunter ignore his deadline and continue negotiating.
But this threat from Stern, more than any previously, seems legit.
Stern has put off all deadlines until Hunter has a chance to meet with the union's player representatives and potentially their membership, to vote on whether to accept this revised proposal.
"I met with Billy and said that, just as the clock had stopped at 5 o'clock on Wednesday, as we negotiated through to today, it would remain stopped through his meeting with his board," Stern said. "Then at that time if we don't get a positive response, the revised offer, starting at 47 percent, based on upon a flex cap, would be our revised negotiating position."
Stern had similar words earlier, and ultimately relented and continued to negotiate through the deadline and beyond.
"There's really nothing left to negotiate about," Stern said. "This is the best attempt by the Labor Relations Committee for the NBA to address the concerns that the players expressed coming out of their meeting of the player representatives."
Hunter agreed that there's very little for both sides to negotiate over at this point.
"We feel as though there's nothing else for us to talk about, short of our willingness to move off of where we are," Hunter said. "We don't feel we got very much more to move off. So that's why we need to go and confer with the player reps to see what their preference is and flesh this thing out a bit."
Even though neither side is overly thrilled with this offer, there has been enough of an improvement in it by which the NBAPA is at least open to the idea of presenting it to their full membership.
"It's not the greatest proposal in the world," Hunter said. "But I have an obligation to at least present it to our membership. So that's what we're going to do. We have the members of our executive board, and they all agree we need to sit down and discuss it with our reps and collectively decide what we should do."
While Stern hasn't given them a deadline to get back to him, it's clear he expects to hear back from Hunter by the middle of next week.
The league has already looked into having games begin Dec. 15, provided the union agrees to the revised proposal which Stern acknowledges hasn't exactly gone over well with every NBA team.
"We don't expect the union to like every aspect of our revised proposal," Stern said. "I would say that there are many teams that don't like every aspect of our revised proposal."
Which probably means this is the best deal for all involved.