NEW YORK -- In a somewhat conciliatory gesture, NBA owners relaxed their stance on guaranteed contracts Friday during the latest round of collective bargaining negotiations to replace the labor agreement that expires at the end of this month.
The players welcomed the move but cautioned there was still a wide gulf to be bridged. The sides are still hundreds of millions of dollars apart on how to split revenues, and the owners are still asking for a hard salary cap system.
Another labor meeting is set for next Tuesday, and commissioner David Stern said the onus will be on the players to make a new economic proposal.
"The time to have an optimistic or pessimistic view is at the close of the day Tuesday. That's an important day," Stern said after the sides met for nearly five hours. "Time is running out, but both parties seem, at least to me, intent to make a deal by June 30."
The question of guaranteed contracts has been called a "blood issue" in the past by union director Billy Hunter, and the owners had earlier proposed a new system in which all contracts would contain only partial guarantees.
But that proposal was taken off the table Tuesday, with the owners agreeing to continue with the current system in which guarantees on individual contracts are a negotiable issue on a case-by-case basis.
"Every move is important, but if there is still a hard cap, it is not as significant," union attorney Jeffrey Kessler said.
Still, the day began with the sides far apart on three issues -- the split of revenues, the type of salary-cap system the league will operate under and the question of contract guarantees -- and ended with one of those items crossed off the list.
How to resolve the sides' remaining differences remains a puzzle, and the key will be the almighty dollar -- or, more specifically, the split of those dollars.
"One piece controls several hundred thousand pieces, so essentially we could put together a million-piece puzzle in a very short time if we can get two or three pieces in the right place, and that's what we're focused on doing," union president Derek Fisher said.
Owners are seeking to redefine the calculation of basketball-related income, the pile of net revenues of which the players, under the current system, are guaranteed 57 percent.
The union has offered to drop that guarantee, but it has been unable to agree with the owners on either a formula for a recalculated BRI or the percentage of those revenues that each side would get under the terms of a new deal.
"Everyone is a little frustrated," said Maurice Evans of the Washington Wizards, a member of the union's executive council. "We feel like they're trying to give us things that we already have.
"But are we committed to trying to hammer out a deal and see their perspective? Yes, we are," Evans said.
Stern said each side has presented three formal proposals plus one informal proposal, and he said the owners decided to yield on the issue of guaranteed contracts because of the significance several players placed on that issue during the course of negotiations over the past 18 months.
"I would say we're not on the same page right now, but there's some good conversations going on, and both sides are trying to come to an agreement. We'll see what happens," said Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, who is not a member of the union's negotiating committee. "It was a must that I came to this meeting, just for me to sit in there in the position I'm in and with the stature I have."
Prior to the meeting, which began at noon ET at a hotel across the street from league headquarters, Hunter said the players wanted to see a more reasonable split of revenues put forth by the owners, who are proposing a 10-year agreement in which certain changes would be phased in.
The sides ended Friday's meeting still in disagreement on exactly how much of a financial sacrifice the players are being asked to make. In their early proposals, owners demanded a reduction of some $750 million to $800 million in player salaries from the $2.1 billion that players earned in the 2010-11 season. The union maintains that is still the case, whereas Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver contend the owners have scaled back those demands considerably.
Absent more tangible signs of progress Tuesday, the sides are expected to dig in their heels for what would be the league's first work stoppage since the summer of 1998 -- a lockout that lasted into February of 1999 before a truncated 50-game season was played.
"Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to," Stern said. "The clock is ticking and the runway is shortening."
Hunter indicated there is a growing belief that a group of hard-line owners are dictating the pace and tone of the negotiating process.
"The owners appear to be pretty unified in their position," Hunter told ESPN.com. "If I had to say who, I'd probably say the small markets are driving. Because if you look at the big markets -- Chicago, L.A., New York -- they're making tons of money. So it's not an issue with them, it's an issue of the smaller markets. I think that David (Stern), if he feels the climate is right within the room and there is a deal to be made, then David still has enough sway to make the deal. But I'm not sure that's an easy move on their part."
Also Friday, the league told the players that this weekend it would be canceling its Las Vegas Summer League, which would have started in early July. Silver stressed that was simply a function of the calendar, not a threat to the players.
Senior writer Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.