NEW YORK – No deal was done, but both sides in the NBA labor dispute hailed an advance in bargaining following a marathon negotiating session in New York that began Wednesday afternoon and ended in the early hours of Thursday morning.
The owners and players steered clear of discussions over revenue splits that ended last week's talks on a bitter note and focused solely on system issues for more than 15 hours in Manhattan.
Neither group would specify where progress was made, but the impending resumption of talks at 2:00 pm local time Thursday, and the refusal to rule out preserving an 82-game season, suggested the negotiations had gained a momentum.
"We were able to work through a number of different issues regarding our system," union president Derek Fisher said during the first of the two early morning news conferences. "No major progress, but some progress. We'll continue to work as long as we possibly can and as hard as we possibly can to try to get a deal done.
"We're not going to get ahead of ourselves at this point," he added. "We'll stay focused on key principle items in our system. Obviously progress has been made; we're coming back [Thursday]. It's premature in gauging what kind of progress was made."
Fisher was joined by NBPA executive director Billy Hunter, vice president Maurice Evans, attorney Ron Klempner and economist Kevin Murphy.
From the other side of the table, NBA commissioner David Stern said he had emerged from a "solid day of negotiations." He was joined by his deputy Adam Silver, owners James Dolan, Peter Holt and Glen Taylor, and economist Dan Rube.
While describing the session as "arduous, difficult and productive," Stern added, "The energy in the room has been good. The back and forth has been good and we're looking forward to [Thursday's session]."
Asked what had been achieved, Stern said, "It was what we could bang out in 15 hours ... I can't describe it other than it's better than not making any progress."
Stern, who missed last Thursday's acrimonious fallout with flu, joked of last week's session, "I leave these guys alone for a little bit of time and all hell breaks loose."
Hunter said the decision to ditch Basketball Related Income (BRI) as a topic opened the possibility for more talks on system issues, such as the salary cap, luxury tax and length of contracts.
Negotiations broke down last week when players said owners insisted they agree to a 50-50 split of revenues as a condition to further discuss the salary cap system.
Hunter said the players may accept a lower revenue split if the system rules prove more palatable.
"If there was any hope of trying to capture lost games, we had to get back in and talk," he said. "So we parked BRI and talked system."
"There's no question that today was a better day than last Thursday," deputy commissioner Silver said.
Stern said the sides would return to BRI issues once "we finish with the system. Right now it has been profitable to return to the system."
While the first two weeks of the season were canceled already, Hunter said an 82-game schedule could be salvaged "if a deal can be achieved by Sunday [or] Monday."
Stern added, "We're obviously partnered with the union in an effort to have as many games as we can."
But amid hopes the progress on system issues could soon lead to settlement in the four-month old lockout, the route to a truce must still confront and pass the BRI roadblock.
Silver said while there was "no question we made progress on significant issues ... there are very significant issues left."
As Stern warned, "Both sides have agreed that until we have an overall deal we don't have a deal on anything."