Nobody can predict a deal this weekend, even if it might be needed to start the NBA season on time.
"There are a lot of issues on the table. I think just even in question of the number of hours in a day, I'm not sure we could complete a deal this weekend," Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said. "The question is how much progress can we make on the significant issues."
Owners and players made some on one of them during their meeting on Friday, but two big obstacles remain.
All-Stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant joined the players' association executive committee for what union president Derek Fisher called an "engaging" meeting with the owners' labour relations committee.
Afterwards, Commissioner David Stern indicated that the union will OK the owners' plan for enhanced revenue sharing. However, the salary cap structure and division of revenues between the sides remain obstacles.
A person familiar with what happened during the meeting said the normally mild-mannered Wade angrily expressed frustrations with the process on Friday, directing most of his comments toward Stern and saying he felt disrespected by the commissioner at one point during the meeting. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the sides agreed to keep details of the day's dialogue private.
Players and owners will return on Saturday morning and are committed to talk through the weekend, knowing additional cancellations are likely necessary next week if they aren't close to a deal. A week of pre-season games have already been lost, and the November 1 regular-season opener would be in jeopardy without progress this weekend.
Some was apparently made in regards to the league's plan for enhanced revenue sharing among owners - which players had long argued as a way for the league to address its losses.
Stern emphatically denied that he would threaten to cancel the entire season this early even if things don't go well this weekend. Still, he repeated that there would be danger in not making progress soon.
"Both sides agreed that the consequences of not making a deal lead us to the prospect of possibly at some point in the not distant future losing regular-season games," Stern said. "And we agreed that once you start to lose them and the players lose paychecks and the owners lose money, then positions on both sides will harden and those are the enormous consequences that I referred to in terms of trying to make a deal."
There were 21 players and 10 owners in the meeting. Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Elton Brand, Baron Davis and Andre Iguodala were among the other players who stood behind Fisher at his news conference after the session.
"We feel it helps the process for our teams to hear directly from a lot of times their star players, their franchise players, the guys who mean the most to our game," Fisher said.
Players have been frustrated that owners have shut them out of their plans for expanded revenue sharing. Stern had said the plan couldn't be finalised until the collective bargaining agreement was done, so the league would first know how much it would be paying out to the players.
But Stern said the players know everything the league knows and insisted "that will not be the issue that separates us." He has said the plan is for the revenue sharing pot to triple next season from this year's $54 million and added on Friday that the goal was to quadruple it by year three.
The salary cap remains an obstacle. Players have stressed they will fight any attempt to impose a hard cap system instead of the current soft cap that allows teams to exceed it through the use of certain exceptions.
Owners this week relaxed their insistence on the hard cap, instead proposing a system where there would be four levels of the luxury tax, and the more a team spent, the higher that tax. (There is currently a $1 for every $1 over the tax threshold.) But Fisher, without getting into specifics, said that system still wouldn't work for the players.
"I think the idea was if you removed the name 'hard cap,' that that would be good enough in itself. But we still believe the mechanisms ... still in just about every sense would be a hard cap for teams," he said. "There would be very few, if any, teams that would be in a position to spend over that particular number, so that's how we feel about it at this point. It doesn't mean that the negotiation is over, but it's definitely not anywhere close to where we'd be able to agree to it."
The division of revenues is the last of what Stern called the "Big Three" items. Owners are seeking to reduce the players' guarantee from 57 percent in the previous deal.