NEW YORK - David Stern is ready to start a 72-game season on Dec. 15.
Players, however, aren't prepared to make that happen just yet.
If they choose to reject the league's latest ultimatum, they will get a far harsher offer, one that could put the entire NBA season in jeopardy.
The answer should come early next week -- and Stern made it clear: Yes or no, no more negotiating.
"I would not presume to project or predict what the union would do," the NBA commissioner said. "I can hope, and my hope is that the events of next week will lead us to a 72-game schedule starting on Dec. 15."
The league presented the players' association with the new offer Thursday after nearly 11 hours of bargaining, hoping it would be enough to end the lockout. Stern had previously said the original proposal needed to be accepted by the close of business Wednesday to avoid the less favourable proposal, but had "stopped the clock" while the sides were bargaining.
The clock starts again once the union has had time to meet and plot its strategy.
Union president Derek Fisher said the revised proposal doesn't address all the necessary system issues that players are seeking before they would agree to the economic concessions owners are demanding.
"It does not meet us entirely on the system issues that we felt were extremely important to try and close this thing out, and so at this point we've decided to end things for now, take a step back," Fisher said. "We'll go back as an executive committee, as a board, confer with our player reps and additional players over the next few days. Then we'll make decisions about what our next steps will be at that point."
And that could include disbanding the union, too.
Union executive director Billy Hunter said the hope was to get the player reps to New York for a meeting by Monday or Tuesday, then discuss whether the new proposal was good enough to present to the full membership for a vote.
Stern made it clear that whatever they say, they shouldn't bother to ask to meet again about this proposal.
"There comes a time when you have to be through negotiating, and we are," Stern said.
He added if there's another bargaining meeting, it would be off the proposal in waiting: a 53-47 split of revenues in the owners' favour, a flex cap with a hard ceiling and salary rollbacks.
That leaves the union to decide if it can persuade its members to accept the revised offer. The league has been willing to offer a 50-50 split of basketball-related income, and Stern said the proposal put in play Thursday night attempted to meet the union on its system issues.
Hunter provided only one specific change, allowing the "mini" midlevel exception for teams over the luxury tax to be for three years at US$3 million a year, as opposed to two years at $2.5 annually. The league has been trying to curb spending by the big-market teams to create more competitive balance, but players want a system like the current one that leaves them with the most free agent options.
"It's not the greatest proposal in the world, but I have an obligation to at least present it to our membership and so that's what we're going to do," Hunter said.
Stern said he didn't expect the players to like every aspect of the revised proposal, saying there were many teams, too, that didn't like aspects of the revised offer.
But he said he can get it passed, even with some hardline owners preferring to go to the 53-47 deal already.
"This is the best attempt by the labour relations committee and therefore the NBA to address the concerns that the players expressed coming out of their meeting of the player representatives," Stern said.
The union had nearly its entire executive committee in attendance, with Fisher and Hunter joined by players Chris Paul, Maurice Evans, Roger Mason Jr., Keyon Dooling, Theo Ratliff, Etan Thomas, Matt Bonner; lawyers Jeffrey Kessler and Ron Klempner, and economist Kevin Murphy. Management stuck with the same small group as Wednesday: Stern, Silver, Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the labour relations committee, and lawyers Rick Buchanan and Dan Rube.
A 72-game season would mean a loss of only 10 games, despite starting 1 1/2 months after the original Nov. 1 opening night. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver said that would require moving the playoffs and NBA finals back roughly a week. Game 7 of the NBA finals would have been scheduled for June 21.
A Dec. 15 opening night schedule would include Miami at New York, according to a person who is aware of the plans.
Beyond the system issues that divide the sides, Hunter said there were six pages of what he called ancillary items, such as the draft age and the commissioner's disciplinary rights, that still must be addressed before a deal.
"There's not enough progress to get a deal done," Fisher said. "That's the disappointing part. We want to get back on the court."
But if they decline the offer, it could be a while before that happens. Some agents have long pushed for decertification and a fight against the league in court, and Hunter said this week he was aware players were already collecting signatures to go that lengthy and risky route.
Even so, there still would be time for bargaining, though there would be no need if players decide this deal is good enough.
That didn't seem to be the case Thursday night.
"As Derek has alluded, there has been some movement by the NBA, obviously not enough," Hunter said. "The question now is, how will those reps respond when we sit down with them early next week and disclose to them the revised proposal that the NBA has presented to us this evening."