After a lockout that has lasted more than three months, whether the NBA season starts on time could come down to one "very huge day" in labour talks.
Owners and players will be back on Tuesday for a full bargaining session, knowing if they fail to produce results, there may not be enough time left to avoid cancelling regular-season games.
"A lot of signs point to tomorrow being a very huge day," players' association president Derek Fisher of the Lakers said. "There will be a lot of pressure on all of us in the room, and we'll accept that responsibility and go in and see what we can get worked out."
The sides met in small groups on Monday for about five hours, a session that Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said was mainly about "setting the table" for Tuesday. While careful not to put too much pressure on Tuesday's talks, he and Commissioner David Stern made clear there had to be signs of compromise.
"Each side understands exactly what's at stake and where potentially there is movement in order to try to get a deal done," Silver said. "I mean, we can only say we're running out of time so many times.
"We both understand that if we don't make our best offers in the next few days, we're going to be at the point where we're going to be causing damage to the game, to ourselves, and they're going to be out paychecks," he added.
The regular season is scheduled to open November 1. Players would have reported to training camps on Monday, but those were postponed and 43 preseason games scheduled for October 9-15 were cancelled last month.
"We still are in the same position that we all wish we were starting training camp today and we know a lot of our fans in respective markets feel the same way," Fisher said. "So we're going to continue to work at this until we can either figure it out in a way that will spare us all a lot of collateral damage and games missed, or not, but we're going to put the effort and the time in as we have been doing and see if we can come to a resolution."
The league locked out players on July 1 after the expiration of the old collective bargaining agreement. Seeking significant changes after saying they lost $300 million last season, owners want a new salary cap structure and are seeking to reduce the players' guarantee of basketball revenues from 57 percent, to perhaps 50 percent or below.
Fisher, who didn't take questions, said the sides still weren't close enough to be able to talk about major progress, but were aware of the calendar.
"We know that our backs are against the wall in terms of regular-season games and what those consequences will be," he added, "but we still have to be respectful to the process, not rush through this, realizing that there are great deal of ramifications for years to come. So we have to be responsible in that regard."
ESPN.com reported Monday that six powerful agents had sent a letter to their clients warning them of the financial damage the current proposals would cause them, and urging them to demand a full vote on any proposed deal.
Fisher later sent a letter to players, obtained by The Associated Press, in which he said the agents' letter "includes misinformation and unsupported theories."
"One issue I need to again be very clear on...nothing can be accepted without a vote by the players," Fisher wrote. "If and when there is a proposal that we feel is in the best interests of us as players, each of you WILL have the opportunity to vote in person. It's in the union bylaws, it's not up for negotiation. You will have the opportunity to see the full proposal before you agree, you will be able to challenge it, question it, anything you feel appropriate in order to know that this is the best deal for you and your fellow players."
Fisher later added: "We go into tomorrow's meeting strong, remaining steadfast on the issues we will not be able to move away from. Anyone saying different is not privy to the meetings and is uninformed."
Celtics All-Star Paul Pierce was the only other player to take part. Though not a member of the union executive committee, he participated in meetings over the weekend and Silver had singled him out as a player who had said meaningful things.
Fisher said he didn't know which players would come Tuesday. The sides will meet among themselves in the morning before the bargaining session follows in the afternoon.
"If it's a very short meeting, that's bad," Stern said. "And if it's a very long meeting, that's not as bad."
Stern had warned last week there would be "enormous consequences" to not making progress over the weekend, but he's since been cautious not to overstate anything.
"It would be great to be able to make some real progress tomorrow," he said. "Whether that's possible or not, I don't know, but we had a good meeting today defining the issues and the positions and we'll see how that works."
Stern said it would be difficult to have an 82-game regular season and not start on November 1, noting that arenas are already pressuring the league to see if they can schedule events later this year. Yet as much as the league wants the work stoppage to end, there still may be too many differences to make it happen quickly enough.
The revenue split and the cap structure have been such obstacles that the sides have hardly touched anything else that would go in the CBA. Perhaps that's why Stern and Silver referred to Tuesday being more a beginning than an end to the process.
"It can't end no matter what tomorrow, because even if we begin to make progress, I mean there are literally a hundred other issues that haven't even been addressed yet, so-called 'B-List' issues," Silver said. "So there's a long negotiation ahead of us no matter what."