Players, owners to meet again Thursday

DALLAS -- Amid mounting labor gloom, NBA commissioner David Stern tried Tuesday to muster a hopeful tone heading into the last scheduled negotiation with the players union before the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement.

Following a five-hour Board of Governors meeting at the same hotel that the league used as its Dallas headquarters during the NBA Finals earlier this month, Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver said that the league's owners have not formally voted to authorize a lockout to start immediately if there is no new labor agreement before Thursday's midnight deadline.

"There's always time to make a deal," Stern insisted.

Yet one source close to the negotiations told ESPN.com that "it's a sign" indicative of the wide gap between the sides that no talks were scheduled for Wednesday, leaving only Thursday's deadline-day bargaining session in New York as the last hope to strike an agreement before the deadline.

Union head Billy Hunter told the Sports Business Journal on Tuesday that the deadline can be extended "if both sides demonstrate a willingness," but Hunter expects the worst if the divide between the parties doesn't get any narrower during their Thursday sitdown at the bargaining table in Manhattan.

"If no progress is being made by the two sides," Hunter told the Sports Business Journal, "then the NBA will impose a lockout."

Meeting with reporters in Dallas, Stern declined to speculate on the likelihood of a lockout or a bargaining extension. He also asserted that it was the union's choice to wait until Thursday before resuming negotiations after last week's rocky talks, which featured two days of loud dismay from the union after Stern publicly revealed details of the league's latest proposal and labeled the union's offer of a $500 million giveback as "modest."

"We were prepared to (meet) over the weekend," Stern said Tuesday. "They said they knew we were meeting (in Dallas), (so) can we meet Wednesday or Thursday? We said, 'Fine, we can meet either or both.' And they said Thursday. We said, 'Great.' "

Among the owners attending Tuesday's session were Dallas' Mark Cuban, New York's Jim Dolan, Boston's Wyc Grousbeck, San Antonio's Peter Holt, Golden State's Joe Lacob, Washington's Ted Leonsis, Chicago's Jerry Reinsdorf, Sacramento's Gavin Maloof, Phoenix's Robert Sarver, Donald Sterling of the Los Angeles Clippers and new Detroit owner Tom Gores.

This Board of Governors session typically takes place in July as part of the NBA's annual summer league in Las Vegas, but the recent cancellation of summer play led to the meeting's relocation.

Silver said that the owners primarily focused on the status of labor negotiations as well as various options under consideration to revamp the level of revenue sharing among the league's 30 teams.

Instead of a binding vote to impose a lockout Friday, Silver said that team owners gave the go-ahead to the league's Labor Relations Committee to do "whatever that committee believes is necessary in order to ultimately get a successful new collective bargaining agreement for the teams and the players."

"That committee has the full authority of all 30 teams to act in whatever way they deem appropriate," Silver said.

If that means a lockout starting Friday at 12:01 a.m., it would be the NBA's first work stoppage since the 1998-99 season was infamously shortened to 50 games. The sides remain far apart on agreeing to an annual split of revenues, which the league wants to reduce drastically from the players' current share of 57 percent, while also shortening the length of guaranteed contracts.

"I sure would like to see us make a deal," Stern said. "And not making a deal should give everybody apprehension, because the way to continue our growth is to come up with a deal that ... keeps our union as the highest-paid union in the world, gives all of our teams the opportunity to make a profit and makes us a more competitive league.

"It sounds like the tripod for a win-win-win, and we'll have to see whether that's a possibility when we meet again with the players on Thursday."

Thursday's meeting is expected to feature just a handful of negotiators on each side, most notably Stern and Silver representing the NBA and Hunter and union president Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers representing the players.

Marc Stein covers the NBA for ESPN.com.