Will it be a serious negotiating session or another day of public posturing?
That was the big question Thursday as owners and players prepared to resume collective bargaining talks Friday at a Manhattan hotel.
It will be the first time in more than three weeks that each side's full negotiating committee will be present.
"My hope is that the owners will be inclined to move off their number and to really talk seriously about trying to reach some accord," union director Billy Hunter said. "And if they demonstrate a willingness to talk about a compromise and reach an agreement, then I think we might be similarly situated."
Deputy commissioner Russ Granik did not give a rosy forecast.
"There will be no new proposal," he said, responding to a rumor the owners would put something new on the table. "That rumor has been out there for a few days, but it's not true."
"But that's not to say something won't come out of the meeting, because we're going in prepared to negotiate."
After talking to players on conference calls for the past two weeks, union officials said their marching orders were to withhold any more concessions until the owners showed an inclination to compromise.
With that mindset, Hunter sent a letter to every owner, team president and general manager outlining the offers each side has put on the table and warning that it would be "an enormous miscalculation to further test the players' resolve."
The letters were received at team offices Thursday.
"I agree with none of his characterizations," Granik said. "But that's his privilege to send it out."
Friday's bargaining session will be the outgrowth of a telephone call NBA commissioner David Stern placed to Dikembe Mutombo of the Atlanta Hawks earlier this week which led to a two-hour meeting Tuesday that included Hunter, union president Patrick Ewing, Stern and Granik.
"They were cocerned that if we weren't soon able to reach some agreement, things might be in the dump," Hunter said. "I don't think they want to see that, and I don't want to see it."
"I guess the issue would be whether they would be compelled after a period of time to cancel the season. I don't really feel they're suicidal and inclined or willing to do it, but that's what they're talking about."
League officials had no comment on that.
So far, the first month and a half of the season has been canceled. An agreement would need to be reached in the next week or so in order to start the season before Christmas.
The amount of money being lost, and the duration of the impasse, has led some players to start speaking out, and Tim Legler of the Washington Wizards made some of the most critical comments to date.
"What this whole thing boils down to is the superstar players don't want to be maxed out on what they get paid individually. ... We're fighting for stuff only a few guys are going to benefit from," Legler told the Washington Post.
Explaining his comments Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press, Legler said he was eager to see someone start throwing out some new ideas.
"I'm certainly not the first guy (to speak out). Steve Kerr and Darvin Ham had some pretty strong comments a couple weeks ago," Legler said. "If you want to honestly look at it and ask why the lockout exists, it's because of the salaries at the high end of the pay scale."
"I guess what I'm asking for is for some more creative thinking on both ends to try to figure it out."
When the opposing sides made some progress three weeks ago on the framework for a new deal, they talked about implementing many of the union's concessions in the first two or three years of the new agreement in order to halt salary growth from outpacing revenue growth.
If the percentage of revenues devoted to salaries failed to drop below an agreed-upon level -- and what that level would be is one of the biggest points of contention -- most players would contribute up to 10 percent of their salaries into an escrow fund, with the money going back to the owners if the designated percentage was exceeded.
"You may be scratching your heads as to why a deal has not been done," Hunter said in his letter, a copy of which was read to the AP.
A big hangup, however, is that players received 57 percent of revenues last season, and their most recent proposal would not put some of their concessions into effect unless the percentage rose to 60 percent.
Owners want the new system to reduce the percentage to 50 percent.
"They have offered nothing of any meaning," Granik said.
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