Panic time is still a week away

You know those oversized novelty buttons you can get for your desk with P-A-N-I-C stamped right on top?

You don’t need to rush out and buy one just yet.

You can hold off for at least one more week before the NBA labor mess gets really grim.

Daunting as it felt Friday morning to see an official announcement from the league office that the first two weeks of October business have been canceled, it’s a non-surprise and not as fatal as it sounds. The reality is that training camps couldn’t start as scheduled Oct. 3 even if the owners and players made a truly stunning U-turn and

hammered out a deal this afternoon, because NBA lawyers will need 10 to 14 days from the time both parties come to a handshake agreement to finalize all the rules -- big and small -- that would allow the 2011-12

season to start.

So …

It’s when the NBA announces the cancellation of the rest of its October schedule that panic time starts in earnest.

Talks have at last become an every-week thing in September, after mostly silence in July and August, but the best-case scenario really hasn’t changed all month. Even after the formal decree from the desk of David Stern that was dispatched Friday morning, confirming our own Ric Bucher’s Thursday report that the season’s first 43 exhibition games would be wiped away, those at negotiating table motivated to get a deal done as quickly as possible have long regarded Oct. 1 as the deadline that matters.

If a deal gets done by Oct. 1 or thereabouts, camps and an abbreviated exhibition schedule -- with a two-week frenzy of free-agent signings and trades wedged in -- could start Oct. 15 and still preserve the

entire regular season schedule.

The problem, of course, is that there’s dwindling evidence in circulation to suggest that a deal can get done by the end of next week. Or even the week after. Or even by the Oct. 13-14 deadline window that NBA labor maven Ken Berger of CBSSports.com has outlined in this column.

There still are plenty of optimists out there, such as the veteran front-office man who told me Friday morning that he remains convinced we’ll all be back to work in mid-October. But after two weeks of talks with essentially no progress, optimists are being drowned out by the clutch of league insiders (team execs, agents, etc.) convinced that too many owners have always wanted to wait until November, when most players start missing their first checks, before they agree to anything significant. The thinking is that waiting until financial pain is inflicted on the NBA workforce is their surest way to impose the more restrictive financial system, with a hard salary cap and shorter contracts, that so many teams crave.

“There are people who swear we’re not missing any [regular-season] time,” said one trusted colleague from the players’ side. “But [projections are] all over the map now.”

Yet wherever you stand on the prediction scale, know this: You have at least seven more days -- and probably a little longer -- before it’s time to start seriously fretting about a fall without NBA basketball. Those 43 exhibition games were realistically lost one or two Fridays ago.