It might be too much for tormented fans to hope the NBA lockout will end this week.
But something is going to happen. NBA commissioner David Stern announced a Wednesday deadline to accept the league's latest labor proposal. The National Basketball Players Association officials have summoned player representatives from all 30 teams to New York for a mandatory meeting Tuesday.
Toss into the mix the fact that some owners are objecting to Stern's 50/50 split. Plus, players and agents are threatening to play the decertification card.
Our 5-on-5 panelists take an updated look at who will win, who will lose, and when we might actually expect to see games again.
1. Fact or Fiction: The players should take the latest offer.
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: Fiction. They should offer to trade another point of BRI for concessions on the systems issues that matter most to them. As an aside, I love their idea of funding benefits for retired players -- it's an idea that may come with tax benefits to owners, which may add a little wiggle room to the conversation. But I think Stern's ultimatum is essentially false, and the union is right to assume there will continue to be the ability to negotiate soon enough.
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Fact, if the players' primary goal is to avoid a "winner's curse," whereby they secure a better deal but one that falls short of making up for all those lost paychecks. Fiction, if the goal is to reverse the strong tide that threatens to wash away decades of progress, even if that effort comes at a premium short-term cost.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Fiction. Instinct tells me that the sides will ultimately agree to meet one more time before Wednesday's deadline. And that's where David Stern will make one to three small (and as yet unspecified) system concessions to give Billy Hunter and his constituents something to feel faintly decent about.
David Thorpe, ESPN.com: Fiction, but only slightly. It seems likely that the players can make some progress on how they can earn closer to 51 percent in the proposed band. But it's not a deal-breaker, either.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Fact. The demands are extreme and the players, it would seem, are giving up a lot. It does not seem fair. But this, I believe, is the best deal the players are going to get. Ultimately they have felt this way on CBAs they've made in the past, yet have continued to profit over the long haul. This will be the case with this deal, too, even if it doesn't seem that way at the moment.
2. Fact or Fiction: The players should decertify the union.
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: Fiction. I have yet to find a lawyer expert in this process, or anyone on the league/ownership side, who thinks the players are likely to put much of a scare into owners. So the threat is unlikely to work by itself. Following through on the threat will take so long as to cost players more in lost income than they could ever make back. And while there's some small chance of treble damages a year or more from now, there's a bigger chance that a judge will rule in favor of the league. After that the players are really out of all options, and the owners can write their own CBA.
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: It's a question of pain threshold. Fact, if the players believe that there's no other feasible scenario in which the owners present a better proposal than the one the players currently consider unacceptable. Fiction, if the players aren't fully prepared to lose a full season of income.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Fiction for now. If Wednesday's deadline comes and goes without a deal and the league is serious about enforcing this deadline for a change -- unlike the last few times they tried to make us believe it was the 11th hour -- then there's no choice but to get serious about decertification. Let's be clear, though, that decertification is months overdue and really should have happened in July. Response is based on the here and now.
David Thorpe, ESPN.com: Fiction brought from the mind of Stephen King. I may not know much, but I know players. And players live to play and play to live. Sucking even one year off their career is negligent, and decertifying could cost them even more than that. It's too great a risk for too small a reward, and not a single legal mind I've spoken to thinks they can win anything in court.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Fiction. I completely understand the rationale behind it and agree that there are times when standing up to management is vital. We have to be honest: This is not one of those times. There comes a point when the cure is worse than the disease. I believe we're there now.
3. Fact or Fiction: The players should have faith in Fisher and Hunter.
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: Fact. If nothing else because now is simply not the time to switch horses. This is like impeaching your president during war. All these people distraught at the union leadership now where were they when the executive committee was formed, when Hunter's contract was up for renewal, and when Fisher was elected?
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Fact. Fisher and Hunter haven't played their cards flawlessly, but it's been a lousy hand from the get-go. If Hunter and Fisher can ultimately secure a 50-50 deal, some meaningful wins on systems issues and limit the number of missed paychecks, they'll have done B-plus work. Will it be enough to save Hunter's job? Who knows?
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Fiction. Focusing almost exclusively on Hunter -- since he's supposed to be the true leader of this operation -- I'd have lost all faith as a player when he didn't step aside in July to let the union decertify. I'm sticking to my long-held belief that decertification is by no means a slam-dunk path to success for the players and can be both risky and messy but that it's also the only available mechanism to a group of players with virtually no leverage to potentially shift some of the control away from the owners and, in the best-case scenario, create a fear of the unknown that changes the tone of bargaining.
Hunter has publicly made the claim several times during this 130-day lockout that he saw this exact script playing out this way as early as two or three years ago. So I ask again: Why, Mr. Hunter, didn't you try something radically different rather than sitting back and employing the exact same strategy seen when the NBA locked its players out in 1999?
David Thorpe, ESPN.com: Fact. Mostly because those two gentlemen have been involved in almost every meeting, almost every call, and have read probably every document possible. Who else from the players' side can say that, except for the people working directly with those two men? They are not the reason that we are where we are.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Fact. No one can understand how difficult this process is except for those people in the room. The agents aren't allowed in the room and feel they could do a better job, I'm sure. I'm sure they don't have faith. But as for the players, I can't imagine anyone being able to handle this better than Fisher with his level-headedness and Hunter with his experience in these matters.
4. Fact or Fiction: The owners will win the lockout.
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: Fiction. The owners will win all of the concessions, but many of them will still be cranky that profits are so hard to come by. The owners' $2 billion or so in revenues is plenty in some markets, and just barely enough in others. Meanwhile the players have little expenses against their $2 billion in income, and the league is poised for growth. It's possible that at some point in this deal players will be getting 50 percent of $6 billion, which is more than players have ever made and could well feel at least like a tie.
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Fact. No matter what the next collective bargaining agreement looks like, ownership has recovered hundreds of millions of dollars relative to the last CBA. For players, the entire game now is about damage control.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Fact. Yup. And when the owners are done squeezing, they'll turn to all these stars they've pulverized to handle cleanup on all the fallout with the fans.
David Thorpe, ESPN.com: Fact, obviously. They are the ones locking players out! So it was always going to be a win for the owners. They have won even more with rollbacks disguised as missed games.
However, the only chance of a season relies on the owners deciding on a fair revenue share for all, which means some owners will lose on that round. And their ability to partner with players has certainly been hurt going forward -- I feel badly for the PR staffs who ask players to volunteer to make appearances on behalf of their team. Players for a long while will act like highly paid but disgruntled employees. They'll play their hearts out for their coaches, but won't lift a finger for many of these owners.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Fact. They have already won. The players have been in concessionary bargaining for months and months. The owners have the majority of the financial leverage and they have applied it.
5. When will the next NBA game be?
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: I wish you'd stop asking me that! No good way to know. But I'll stick with Christmas. My best guess is that, despite all the rhetoric, the two sides will continue to inch closer to a compromise. And once players have missed paychecks on Nov. 16, the owners will begin to be satisfied that they are hearing the players' best offer.
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Feb. 5, 2012. As intransigent as both sides have been lately, significant progress has been made since the outset of negotiations. The outstanding issues will be resolved at the 11th-and-a-half hour because, with the exception of a few nihilist owners, the majority of participants on either side can't afford a missed season.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: No later than Christmas. That timetable requires a deal in the next week or so, but that's still what I envision. I know, I know: Next time I change my Twitter handle, as I just did over the weekend, I'll be sure to insert gullible in there somewhere.
David Thorpe, ESPN.com: I'm coming up with Jan. 2, 2012.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Still holding out hope for Christmas.