MIAMI -- Who says the lockout gap isn't being bridged between the NBA's frustrated owners and the league's furious players?
Oh, there's a potential pathway between the sides.
It's just difficult to see it through the construction -- or, better yet, destruction -- zone lined with pettiness and filled with landmines detonated by deceit, lies, underwhelming arguments and over-the-top egos.
And that only sums up one side of the room.
If you listen to the players' union after the latest round of negotiations with a federal mediator broke off Thursday, it sounds as if the owners' position had inched from outrageous to outlandish to simply out of the question in a span of 30 hours of talks.
And to hear the owners and NBA commissioner David Stern's office spin it, the players have progressed in basketball-related income concessions from ranges of never again (57 percent in previous deal) to non-starter (proposed 53 percent) to still not caved enough (52.5 percent offered before talks broke off Thursday).
So to reassess where things stand in the aftermath of this latest breakdown that threatens to nix a few more weeks of regular-season games, the sides are stuck between unreasonable and unrelenting. More comfort could be found nestled somewhere between a rock and a hard place. We've moved from LeBron James' "Decision" galvanizing the league last year to Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert's "Disruption" helping to hijack labor progress this time around.
How do you know when bad has dipped to worse in this labor dispute? It's when the finger-pointing, mud-slinging and name-dropping are no longer reserved to back-room dealings leaked by anonymous sources in the negotiating room.
Allowing this owners-players brawl to spill onto Broad Street doesn't make things easier to understand. It just makes the nonsense and noise much louder and more voluminous to dissect.
Union executive director Billy Hunter and players' president Derek Fisher resorted to blasting, ranting and railing publicly after talks broke off Thursday because it's the only defense they have against owners picking them apart behind closed doors.
"We weren't helping each other," San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt said in Thursday's post-meeting press conference of negotiations with the players' union. "We were going farther apart."
Among the more interesting figures hunkered in the gap and caught yet again in the crossfire is Miami Heat owner Micky Arison. For the second time this month, Arison found himself in the middle of a verbal slugfest between the league and players. On Thursday, Hunter mentioned Arison among a group of large-market owners willing to strike a labor deal but being overpowered by Gilbert, Holt and their band of smaller-market NBA brethren.
Earlier this month, Arison was in the vicinity when Heat star Dwyane Wade had a tense exchange with Stern after the commissioner allegedly pointed in Wade's direction to forcefully deliver a statement.
Arison tweeted -- and later removed -- a message the other day that suggested he'd much rather be on one of his Carnival Cruise ships downing a burger than sitting in the middle of a conference room having to digest the dysfunction he's exposed to in labor talks. Clearly, the main event here is the fight between the NBA and players' union. But don't dismiss or overlook the animosity driving a wedge between the owners in their battle on this stacked undercard.
This was supposed to be about negotiating in good faith. The owners don't appear to be doing that. It's turned into ruthless neglect. It's nearly an impossible task when folks on that side of the room aren't even speaking the same language among themselves. They want their way and are dead-set on getting a system that snatches back seemingly every advantage players had in the previous labor deal that expired June 30 and set off the lockout.
I've heard the owners' side. I've listened to the players and read many of their tweets. I'm still not sure what to believe. There's plenty that still doesn't make a lot of sense. I'm waiting for The Truth to hold a press conference, but it's apparently the only side still under mediator George Cohen's gag order. There's too many semantics and stubborn antics.
"You know it's sad when people don't even try and hide their greed," Wade tweeted Thursday night.
Players want to remind us that this is a lockout and not a strike. That they're the ones being denied, as if they don't have a choice in the process. But how quickly would the arenas open up if they took the deal the owners are proposing? On the other hand, how can owners pretend to act as if they're working in good faith if there are preconditions set in place?
I'll leave it to you to take sides. I'm taking Advil. My head's spinning. The league and players are supposed to be focused on working toward a new CBA, as in collective bargaining agreement. All they're accomplishing is a cold-blooded assassination of the 2011-12 season. And it's a shame because there seems to be a deal there to be made. One idea would be to settle on a 49-51 BRI split the first two years, a 50-50 split the next two, 51-49 the following two and 52-48 divide for another two seasons as part of an eight-year deal. The owners get what they want the first four years, the players benefit from the BRI split the next four.
Seems simple enough. But the problem is you've got billionaire owners and millionaire players refusing to deal in a currency of common sense.
I get why a segment of the owners are determined to change the system. But the pettiness is transparent. Don't think for one second their disdain and lack of compassion in these negotiations isn't partially rooted in LeBron's decision as a free agent last season to spurn Cleveland for Miami. Or in Carmelo Anthony holding the Denver Nuggets hostage until he was dealt to the New York Knicks.
Marquee players made their power plays last summer. Loyalty and compassion never slowed them down on their way out of town. But now, the system's contract has expired. And it's the scorned and torn owners who are essentially free agents. They have their make-or-break number in mind, a number void of the same compassion or loyalty.
Doesn't make it right. Simply makes it reality.
Obviously, the players' concessions mean little to the owners. They want no part of a percentage split that favors the players. They don't want a less-bad system for them. They're gunning for a brand new one, consequences be damned.
This is no longer about the ideal of bargaining in good faith. It's about the logistics of disguising the lies. It's a test of wills. It's a question of who's willing to lose the most? And billionaire owners are always in a better position to lose millions than millionaire players are from a year of lost revenues.
By now, there should be major strides made toward striking a deal to salvage the season. Instead, both sides are stuck in the blame game. There's an awful lot of ground to cover in a gap that stretches from LeBron's decision to Gilbert's derailment.
There's only one thing holding up progress.
Foolish, suicidal pride from both sides.