An ultimatum with questionable sting

Three times now the commissioner has promised the NBA's next offer would be worse.

He did it for the first time on October 4, when he said the losses from cancelling the preseason would have to be accounted for.

He did it again on October 28th, saying that exactly the same thing.

And yet the first two threats were followed by ... improvements in the league's offer.

The third scary threat has been delivered, with a Wednesday deadline, after which Stern says the league's offer will revert to 47 percent of BRI and a hard cap, which most expect would result in a lost season.

Howard Beck's New York Times story today ends with this line: "The union regards the deadline as artificial and believes the N.B.A. will return to the table."

Some may laugh at the players' shrugging off the threat. Many of Stern's owners really are anxious to take a far tougher stance than Stern has to date. At some point those Hawks may dictate the process.

But if you ignore the rhetoric and look at the dealing, there's plenty of evidence both sides really want to get this done, and the remaining issues are tiny compared to what has already been accomplished.

Also, players are little more than a week from their first missed paychecks. Missed paychecks are the source of any lockout's leverage. It hardly makes sense from the owners' side for the league to effectively cancel the season before players have even felt the heat.

It's easy to imagine that with or without an ultimatum, the two sides will be negotiating again within the next few weeks.