Ready to negotiate that hard cap: David Stern

This lockout stuff is moving fast. Where we are today is not where we were the day before, nor the day before that.

It can be hard to know what to think.

What's clear, however, is that the pieces are beginning to fall into place. Billy Hunter's line about good news in the next couple of weeks strikes a tone not that dissimilar from David Stern's. Signs are new talks, with the league's labor committee newly empowered to negotiate the remaining issues, are imminent.

The last time the two sides met, on Tuesday, the reporting was generally dour. It was an end of talks, because they could not agree about a hard cap.

Not to be overlooked out of that meeting, however, was the union's indication that they have financial concessions waiting in the wings, and the league's suggestion that agreeing on the economics seemed doable.

They're close on money? That's huge. The assessment has long been that if they agree on money, nothing else could stop the season starting on time. Maybe the headlines after Tuesday's meeting should have more along the lines of "just one more issue to go."

The problem on Tuesday was that neither side was willing to dig deep to resolve a divide between the league's urge for a team-by-team hard cap, or the union's desire to keep the same kind of soft cap (with bird rights, trade exceptions, mid-level exceptions etc.) the league has long had.

Of course, there's plenty of middle ground there. What if contracts were shorter? What if the mid-level got smaller? What if some of the exceptions went away?

On Tuesday nobody wanted to explore it, in particular because the owners had many different opinions about how to proceed.

But now let's look at what David Stern said on Thursday after meeting with his owners to get them all on the same page about this hard cap issue. Stern could not have been more clear that he's ready to talk, and that his stance on a hard cap is softening:

  • "It is the view of the board and the committee that an individual team salary cap, as opposed to a league-wide salary cap, is preferred and the better way to go. But as we told the union, and will continue to tell them, everything is negotiable."

  • "The vast majority of owners are in favor of a hard cap system. Having said that, they have authorized the committee to be willing to negotiate on all points, and the committee is."

  • "I get reports that the union is coming out of their meeting today unified. We think that's a good thing. We would like to negotiate with a strong union capable of delivering a deal."

  • "The clock is ticking, but it hasn't struck midnight yet. We've got time to do what needs to be done, and we'd like to do it, actually."

  • "There's nothing scheduled right this minute because we're traveling back to New York and I assume the union is traveling back to New York. But we'll both be in New York starting [Friday] and it wouldn't surprise me if there was some conversation that was going on."

No word yet on when the next round of talks will be, but it's a good bet it will be very soon. And with the money issue apparently close, and the league ready to think creatively on the only other "blood" issue, there is the chance things could progress quickly.