Dan Gilbert softens position

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has been one of the faces of the so-called “hardline” owners during the protracted and emotional NBA labor talks. He’s long been one of the certified “hawks,” the aggressive and hungry faction who were known to be seeking radical change.

With the process at a crucial tipping point, he may end up being emblematic of something different. Multiple sources have confirmed to ESPN.com that Gilbert has adapted his position in recent days and has moved into a more moderate mode, voting with fellow owners who are willing to accept a 50-50 share of basketball-related revenue with the players.

With deadlines looming and the stakes enormous, that position is believed to have a tenuous majority among the ownership ranks. Gilbert’s vote helped get it there as NBA commissioner David Stern tries to squeeze a deal into place.

ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard reported on Monday that a group of 11 owners, who favor a more restrictive offer in the event a deal isn’t reached by this afternoon, held a conference call without Stern to discuss options. Gilbert was not part of that call, sources confirmed.

Ever since his outlandish public letter to fans after LeBron James left in free agency, Gilbert has been a target for players and some frustrated fans. As the owner of a smaller market team that had lost its superstar in free agency and was facing a long rebuilding process, it made common and business sense that Gilbert was among the owners looking for reforms on luxury tax, player movement and revenue sharing. He is a newer, younger owner who paid a premium for his team in 2005, and a member of the labor relations committee. He is outspoken and aggressive. He is, in many ways, the composite of the ideas that have driven the lockout. He was, to use Micky Arison’s parlance, the owner fans should bark at.

But as the talks have matured and the players union has continued to make concessions, the line on where the hardliners fall has moved too. It has moved, it seems, past even a polarizing figure like Gilbert. All signs point to him being ready to make a deal and get back to playing basketball. Perhaps that is an indication that is where the process is finally headed.