Count on 50/50, despite talk

For a period during these NBA collective bargaining talks, the players built a lot of strong rhetoric around the idea of needing 53 percent of basketball related income.

That was about five weeks ago.

Since then, there have been mediators, ultimatums, deadlines and more ... and nonetheless, we are back in the throes of the conversation the negotiators were in before the players found religion at 53 percent.

We are back at 50/50.

Sources inside these talks have long insisted that both sides know the final agreement will be at 50/50. Any suggestion otherwise is rhetoric.

Fifty percent is as high as David Stern can convince the owners to go, and it's just enough to get the players to agree. It's also a number both sides have suggested to each other for weeks, if not months. It makes sense.

Last weekend, the NBA sent the union a letter swearing that at the stroke of 5 p.m. ET Wednesday, the owners' offer would revert to 47 percent and a hard cap. To the extent that was sincere, it was unlikely to be permanent. And, of course, the NBA has entirely abandoned that promise, even on a day when, in Stern's words, "Nothing was worked out."

Makes you wonder how serious that threat ever was.

"It was our understanding going in," the commissioner said by way of explanation, "that at the end of the negotiating session, whether it ends today or it ends tomorrow, that's when our offer reverts [to 47 percent]."

The NBA's commitment to 47, however, is much like the players' commitment to 53. Temporary, political, a delusion. Even if there is no deal Thursday or Friday, there will be more bargaining so long as a shortened season is possible. The two sides are too close to a deal, and a lost season is too costly. It makes no sense to mess things up like that at this point.

And despite yet another deflated set of news conferences, there's plenty of reason for hope, which Stern knows.

As he left the news conference early Thursday morning, after 12 hours of bargaining, Stern stopped in the crowded hallway to converse with union economist Kevin Murphy, who says he is trying to arrange his schedule to be here for the next session to start at noon.

Stern encouraged Murphy to show up, saying, "It will be a good day to be here."

It was late. Stern was tired. The comment was vague. It didn't sound like a real promise of a deal. But it certainly didn't sound like a guy preparing to blow apart the talks with a dramatically lower offer, either.