David Stern smiled after Tuesday's brief NBA lockout talks. If you read body language and moods, that's something. But knowing Stern, it was more a response to last week's reports that he looked "dour" coming out of negotiations. "Oh, you want to infer progress or the lack thereof based on how sad I look? Cheese!" That seems to be the kind of humor the commissioner appreciates. He likes to mess with people, especially reporters. He finds it amusing that anyone thinks they can tell what he's thinking.
Or: that smile was sincere, and we're finally on the path to a deal. Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski, pretty much the lockout's Nouriel Roubini, reported that on Tuesday, the owners moved off of their insistence on a hard cap. They want a harder cap, with a more painful luxury tax and a limit to the use of the Larry Bird cap exception. Ric Bucher of ESPN also reports that the mid-level exception would be decreased in size and length. The players' union didn't have its economist at the hastily-called meeting on Tuesday, and said it needed to discuss the proposals internally. The sides will meet again Wednesday morning.
This is what a deal will look, folks. The only question is whether it happens now or in January.
In the grand scheme, the hard cap was a plate of beans next to the revenue split. I previously argued how stupid it was that the lockout could bleed on over something as misunderstood as the hard cap. The revenue split is the thing, the bid by owners to decouple salary from revenue is huge, and how salary is paid out to players at this point is largely irrelevant. Both sides have made compelling points regarding the cap structure, but being an interesting debate doesn't make something actually terribly important. I mean, folks are debating whether Antawn Jamison is the No. 107 player in the NBA. The presence of serious disagreements speak to relevance.
But the hard cap matters to these folks. As such, the union is going to act as if it is making huge concessions by letting the cap exceptions shrink and luxury tax rise. The league is certainly going to use its concession on the hard cap as a reason to hold firm on its proposed revenue split. The coordinates of the showdown have simply moved, from the cap structure back to the split and decoupling.
We aren't there yet. Things are going to look bleak for another couple days — at least — as the sides go to the brink. But the league has come off the hard cap. The blood issue is dead. We're going to make it. Maybe not soon ... maybe we'll still miss some games. But this is what a deal will look like. This is what it should have always looked like.
DERON IN SPACE
Deron Williams isn't playing basketball in outer space, but he might as well be. The buzz surrounding Deron's first meaningful game with Besiktas on Tuesday was so scarce that I had to double-check to ensure that the game actually happened. Besiktas beat Dexia Mons in a Eurocup qualifier with Williams scoring 15 points and racking up nine assists while, according to Jonathan Givony, looking "very out of shape."
This is what skeptics warned all along: once these players, even stars like D-Will, go to Europe, they become irrelevant at home. It's going to take a star on the level of Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant to move the needle. I was among those who bought into the hype; as it turns out, I'm not even sure the people in the lockout negotiating room know that D-Will played yesterday. The hype has fully subsided in the months since he signed in Turkey, and it looks like it's going to be slow to pick back up.
Maybe the buzz is big in Istanbul. Maybe Williams will make tons of loot through jersey sales and by opening the door to Turkish endorsements. If so, good for him. But that game didn't make one iota of impact here in the United States. So much for the revolution.
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