Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBA players association, says… (Mary Altaffer / Associated…)
No need for a 15-hour session this time.
Optimism flooded the room in a comparatively short seven-hour meeting between NBA players and owners Thursday in New York.
No less an authority than Billy Hunter, the executive director of the players' union, sounded the most hopeful that the 119-day lockout could end soon.
"I think we're within striking distance of getting a deal," Hunter said at a news conference Thursday night. "It's just a question of how receptive the NBA is and whether or not they want to do a deal."
Friday is shaping up as make-or-break time. The two sides will reconvene at 10:30 a.m. EDT, continuing to meet in a relatively small group.
Negotiators have continued to peck away at peripheral items such as the midlevel exception and the length of player contracts. They have also tackled the luxury tax, with an eye toward striking a balance between the wishes of the owners (higher tax rates to deter spending) and players (lower tax rates to encourage spending).
The big talking point, the split of basketball-related income, will be discussed Friday for the first time since it drove a wedge between the parties last week.
Owners have wanted a 50-50 split while players have come down to 52.5% after receiving 57% last season. Players might be willing to go a tad lower if they receive favorable treatment in a majority of the peripheral issues.
NBA Commissioner David Stern was caught smiling in the back of an interview room after Thursday's meeting. He was also upbeat when he sat down at the dais to talk with reporters, saying there were elements of "continuity, familiarity and, I would hope, trust," between the negotiating entities.
Is there a deal in sight?
"There are no guarantees that we'll get it done, but we're going to give it one heck of a shot" Friday, Stern said.
He then agreed it would be a failure if something wasn't struck in the next couple of days.
Union economist Kevin Murphy was not at Thursday's meeting but was expected to be there Friday.
Other items of interest are an age limit for the NBA draft (currently 19) and the so-called amnesty clause, which would allow teams over the salary cap a one-time chance to waive a player without having to pay luxury taxes on his salary. The team would still have to pay the player his full salary.
Optimistic or not, there are still issues to work out.
"It's a tough process," union President Derek Fisher said. "As we move through and try and close the gap in as many places as we can, it gets tougher in the end. We're trying to be respectful to the process and not rush through it."
Bresnahan reported from Los Angeles.