Delegates from the NBA and the Players' Association are meeting Wednesday and Thursday in New York, as the clock ticks on the NBA season.
But exactly how is the clock ticking? When do they have to make a deal to get the season started on time? How long after they make a deal can training camp start? When can free agents be signed?
Nov. 1 is in the cross hairs. That's when the Bulls are scheduled to kick off the regular season with a game in Dallas against the champion Mavericks. If we want to see Derrick Rose and Dirk Nowitzki battling it out on the court that night, when do we need to see David Stern and Billy Hunter smiling and shaking hands?
They have about a week and a half to work it out. The key date is right around Sunday, Oct. 2.
Based on conversations with both sides, and the historical precedent of the lockout-shortened 1999 season, we would need a handshake agreement by Oct. 2 or thereabouts, or else the regular season would be unlikely to start on time.
By the way, the preseason schedule, due to kick off Oct. 9, is likely already shot. Not that there won't be any preseason ... but there won't be one that starts that soon.
You can expect the most compressed possible start of the NBA season to look roughly like this:
Day 0: A handshake deal. This is when the two sides announce that they have agreed on the big issues, such as revenue sharing and cap structure, which will then have to be ratified by players and owners. The handshake watch begins Thursday, and could continue into January. By mid-January, no deal would almost certainly mean no season.
Day 5: Unlocking the practice courts. Players can begin to use team facilities, although they would not be paid without a collective bargaining agreement in effect.
Day 14: A signed CBA. This date really matters. Remember, it's a league run by lawyers. Nothing important (free-agent signings, training camps, games, paychecks) will ever happen without the rules being clear and official. Negotiators and lawyers will still have to agree on language on all kinds of secondary issues. The CBA is about 300 pages long, and they'll have to deal with tricky things, such as updating the drug program and raising, lowering or leaving the age limit.
Day 15: Free agency begins and training camps open. Every July there is a massive free-agent frenzy. This year, of course, that hasn't happened yet. It will happen the instant the ink is dry on the new CBA. In a perfect world, this happens before training camp, so that rosters can be somewhat stable, but this is not a perfect world.
Day 18+: First preseason games. Preseason games have little economic impact, which means they could be canceled without ruffling a lot of feathers. As for the idea of preseason games starting three days into camp ... it happened in 1999. Naturally, if a handshake deal comes soon, there could be more camp.
Day 30+: Opening night. Coaches would presumably like more time for training camp. But in 1999, the regular season began Feb. 5, 30 days after the handshake deal, and just 15 days after players reported for camp. Most years training camps start with media day, 29 days before opening night.