The only conclusion to be drawn from the NBA players' latest proposal is that a lockout is practically inevitable.
Commissioner David Stern and his owners insist the system is broken and nothing less than an overhaul can fix it. The players, as suggested by reports of their counterproposal posted Wednesday by the AP and The New York Times, retort things can't be so bad if revenues are rising every year.
There exists from the ownership side a simmering confidence that a lockout will enable them to dictate the terms eventually and absolutely. One of their talking points is that many owners will lose less money during a lockout of next season than if their teams collected on ticket sales and TV income for 82 games. So, if no agreement can be reached in advance, then there appears to be a readiness by owners to accept the harsh negatives of a lockout with confidence the league's popularity will recover over the years ahead, much as it did following the lockout that shortened the 1998-99 season to 50 games.
The players have put together a proposal that suggests a need for fine-tuning of the current system. While they are willing to negotiate a reduction in their current guarantee of 57 percent of league revenues, the players are in no way prepared to accept the 38 percent reduction in salaries -- worth $800 million annually -- called for by Stern.
Instead, they want to adapt rules that enable a team to take on more salary than it yields in a trade and, in exchange for a shortening of midlevel exception contracts (from five years to four), they want the league to add a second midlevel exception that would enable each capped-out team to spend an additional $6 million per year on players.
The players want to see more room made for them to seek out opportunities in the current system, while the owners want shorter contracts for less money under a hard-cap ceiling that provides for no exceptions.
Only something drastic and unpredictable is capable of marrying their dueling perspectives into one view of how best to grow the NBA. So enjoy the games while you can.