Negotiators for NBA owners and players will likely meet again next week. And the league will have to offer something different to interest the players.
The union has been holding regional meetings, informing its members just how harsh it believes the owners' proposal is for a new collective bargaining agreement. The league is seeking significant changes to the salary structure as a way to eliminate its losses, which it says totalled $300 million last season.
Players have balked at the demands, and players' association vice president Maurice Evans of Washington said on Wednesday that when players are shown what the league wants, they are unified in their stance.
"When we're able to explain exactly what David Stern is asking for, it becomes so clear and evident that we cannot take this deal, and guys would be willing to not participate, to not play, if that's the offer to us," Evans said in a phone interview from Chicago, where the union was set to hold another meeting on Thursday.
After that, Evans said the players hope to have a bargaining session with the league's negotiators next week, but that a specific day hadn't been locked down yet.
There has been only session that included leadership from both sides since the league locked out the players on July 1 after the expiration of the old CBA. Stern said during a podcast with ESPN.com earlier this month that progress needed to be made by the end of Labour Day weekend or "we may be headed to a bad place."
Evans said one of the reasons for the regional meetings is to refute some of the things the commissioner said during that lengthy interview, which he called "very misleading." More than 100 players have attended the three gatherings, in Los Angeles and Las Vegas last week before New York on Wednesday. Evans added they hope to schedule more in Houston and Atlanta.
Stern blamed the players for an unwillingness to seriously bargain after a meeting on Aug. 1 and accused them of backing out of another meeting. Evans believes Stern has been more aggressive in his tone because the numbers don't support the position the league says it is in after a successful 2010-11 season on and off the court.
"He has to go to extremes to try to prove his case and normally he doesn't negotiate through the media," Evans said.
The league has backed off its demand for non-guaranteed contracts in a new CBA, but still wants salaries cut by more than a third among other changes. The league has proposed a flexible salary cap that the players contend is really a hard cap, which would replace the current system that allows teams to exceed the cap through the use of various exceptions. Evans called the elimination of the exceptions a "total slap in the face to Michael Jordan and all the great players that came before us."
Both sides have filed charges against the other with the National Labor Relations Board, and the league also filed a lawsuit seeking to block the union from decertifying - which it hasn't indicated publicly it's considering at this time.
After a flurry of meetings in June before the deadline, the sides have felt they had little to talk about since. Owners quickly shot down the players' final proposal, saying it would have significantly raised salaries in the sixth year of the deal, and the union has been hoping for another offer from the league that hasn't and may not come.
"We just want something that's fair," Evans said. "We don't feel like their proposals have been in good faith at all. That's why we filed the suit with the NLRB."
Despite the differences, there's still time to make a deal without losing any of the season. During the 1998-99 work stoppage that reduced the season to 50 games, the league didn't cancel the start of training camps in early October until Sept. 24. Camps are scheduled to open Oct. 1 this season, with the regular season set to begin on Nov. 1.
But with no progress made since the lockout began, Evans seems to agree with Stern that something has to happen quickly.
"If a deal's to be made," he said, "it's going to have to be very soon."