Lakers point guard Derek Fisher, president of the NBA players union, speaks… (Patrick McDermott / Getty…)
It's dangerous to toss optimism around an NBA season that's already way behind schedule, but it's happening again.
Whispers began to circulate that the owners' 118-day lockout of players would end Wednesday. It didn't, but there reportedly was progress on smaller issues, lending hope to the possibility of a big-picture resolution in the near future after more than 14 hours of negotiations in New York that went into early Thursday.
On the bright side, nobody was called a liar.
On the negative end, the elephant in the room stood silently while negotiators tapped around it by attacking "system issues," specifically the NBA's luxury tax.
Light-spending owners want to impose heavier taxes on teams that exceed the luxury-tax threshold, while the players are against the concept because they think it will deter spending.
The NBA salary cap was $58 million last season, with a dollar-for-dollar tax kicking in when teams exceeded a $70.3-million payroll.
Other system issues include the maximum length of player contracts and the midlevel exception, which is expected to decrease steeply from the five-year, $30-million contract a midlevel free agent could have signed last season with a team over the salary cap.
Unfortunately for NBA fans, there was little to no movement on how to divide basketball-related income, the main point separating the sides.
Commissioner David Stern attended Wednesday's session after missing last week's fireworks because of flu symptoms. Stern did not attend last Thursday's somber ending in which union President Derek Fisher told reporters they had been lied to by NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver and San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt.
At the time, Fisher told reporters that the owners, not the players, wanted to halt negotiations.
Wednesday's session was scaled down into a smaller group without a federal mediator. The strategy was to discuss peripheral items while avoiding the dead end of last week, when talks were terminated abruptly after owners refused to move off a proposed 50-50 split of basketball-related income. Players were willing to accept 52.5% of BRI, but no lower.
The NBA has canceled two weeks of regular-season games and appeared poised to call off additional games this week until Wednesday's meeting was hurriedly put on the books. If nothing promising happens by the weekend, further cancellations are assured.
Optimism began to rise Wednesday when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul suddenly pulled out of a planned six-game tour that was supposed to start this weekend in Puerto Rico and then go international.
But that show went on with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Blake Griffin, Amare Stoudemire, a few other All-Stars and, oddly, Chris Kaman.
The "World All-Star Classic" tour was, however, apparently reduced to Sunday's game in San Juan, with dates in London, Macao and Australia to be added if the first stop went well.
The NBA's main stage, on the other hand, remained quiet.
Bresnahan reported from Los Angeles.