Even if Billy Hunter says he doesn't take David Stern's 5 p.m. deadline seriously, it has undeniably added excitement to today's talks. Today, everything happens to a steady stream of chatter behind the scenes ... players, team personnel, anyone and everyone involved in the NBA wants to know: Could today be the day?
My hunch is that the deadline will prove to have been useful -- there is a helpful sense of urgency -- but essentially false. If 5 p.m. comes and goes without a deal, or even if this day or this week passes without a deal, the two sides will keep talking. Despite the severe talk, they have been moving closer and closer to each other for weeks and are now incredibly close. Whether or not that means systems issues can be resolved in a matter of hours is anybody's guess. But they can be worked out in time to salvage a shortened season, and it's only reasonable to assume that's what will happen.
Today there is plenty of fodder for optimists:
Sources say the league has made significant progress, in a series of conference calls in recent days, on the huge issue of revenue sharing. These talks concern some $150 million a year -- more than enough to make many money-losing teams profitable. As those talks near completion, revenue projections become much simpler for owners. For many, knowing they can address losses this way could help them warm to a new CBA.
Possibly related: Sources tell ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert -- long painted as among the hardest of the hardliners -- has switched camps and is now in favor of the 50/50 deal the league recently offered.
It is getting much easier to find players openly advocating to just get a deal done. Not long ago, almost all players stuck to the "get a good deal or no deal" mantra.
Only four days ago the union's tenacious lead negotiator, Jeffrey Kessler, let fly with a spirited, anti-league tirade. The next evening he even brought race into the conversation, which prompted an angry rebuke from David Stern. Among Kessler's more recent commentary, however, is this note to Ken Berger of CBS: "Anybody who actually knows what my role has been in these and other negotiations, it has been to work and strive towards a deal. That’s what I’ve always done and that’s what I’ll continue to do.” Even if it's empty rhetoric it's nonetheless the kind of shift in tone that can help foster a deal.