The upbeat mood among NBA types early last week lasted about 72 hours, or until league and union executives resumed negotiations and realized they weren't close to reaching an agreement after all.
The salary cap debate -- soft vs. hard -- remains the most contentious issue.
While monitoring this week's developments, bear in mind that training camps are scheduled to open Oct. 3.
If the impasse persists, camps will be delayed, and at least some preseason games will be canceled.
Here is a closer look at some of the issues, recent developments and back-room maneuverings, and what lies ahead:
-- Who are the key players?
Commissioner David Stern, a formidable litigator in his day, choreographs the show, with deputy commissioner Adam Silver providing the details and spinning the situation in the league's favor. Billy Hunter, who represented the players in the 1998 collective bargaining talks, steers the union's efforts. The players also are represented by their association president, Derek Fisher, whose firm but thoughtful demeanor is a huge upgrade over his predecessor, Patrick Ewing. The former Knicks star was seen as the mouthpiece for his agent, David Falk, a polarizing figure among the players and the league.
-- Several NBA teams either have been sold recently or remain on the market. Why the sudden exodus?
The league contends that 22 of the 30 franchises are hemorrhaging money, which seems like plenty of reason for veteran owners to bail, even in NBA cities such as Detroit and Philadelphia.
-- Is the infusion of new ownership groups affecting the negotiations?
Interestingly, two of the league's newer executives -- Dan Gilbert in Cleveland and Robert Sarver in Phoenix -- have been identified as two of the most hawkish small-market owners, said to be far less amenable to compromise than most of their peers.
Hence, the recent speculation about a possible breach in ownership unity.
That said, it's hard to imagine that the second-year owners at Golden State and the incoming ownership groups in Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta aren't frustrated with the pace of events and itching for the season to start.
-- How does the NBA's revenue-sharing system compare with those of the NFL and Major League Baseball?
Let's just say it doesn't. NBA revenue sharing is minimal. Most revenue-sharing funds come from national and regional television contracts. Now, consider that the Sacramento Kings' deal with Comcast generates $11 million per year. Now, also consider that the Lakers' new deal with Time Warner is expected to infuse the franchise with $3 billion to $5 billion over the next two decades. Doesn't seem fair, does it? In the NFL, earnings from nationally televised games are split evenly among franchises, hence, the viability of the tiny-market Green Bay Packers. Major League Baseball requires each team to contribute 31 percent of its local/regional television earnings into a fund, then distributes the money accordingly.
-- In terms of total annual revenue, how does the NBA compare with the NFL and Major League Baseball?
Do you have a laugh track handy? The NFL functions in another universe, with annual revenues approaching $9 billion. MLB is second at an estimated $7 billion, followed by the NBA at approximately $4 billion.
Why are the owners -- particularly the small- to mid-market owners -- so committed to a hard cap instead of a flexible system?
The soft cap offers loopholes and exceptions that are exploited by the wealthiest teams.
In recent agreements, for instance, these exceptions allowed teams to exceed the team payroll maximum, provided they paid a luxury tax penalty of $1 for every dollar spent above the league maximum.
But because small- and mid-market teams lack the corporate opportunities and large local/regional television revenue available in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, they can't compete financially.
-- What are the practical implications of the lockout?
Players are barred from team facilities, can't consult the team's medical staff and can't speak with coaches or anyone in the front office. Owners, team executives and coaches similarly are prohibited from contacting players, and, as Michael Jordan learned recently, from even mentioning names publicly.
-- How do these negotiations compare with those in 1998-99, when a deal wasn't reached until January and the regular season was reduced to 50 games?
These talks are very different, in a number of ways. Last time, the owners wanted to tweak the system. This time, they want to torch it. They're pushing for a new business model, with a hard salary cap as the anchor tenant, so to speak. Revenue sharing also has emerged as a major element.
-- What about the tenor of the talks?
If there is a reason to be optimistic, this is it. The parties continue to talk and meet in small groups, which is how the framework of most deals occurs. Also, with an exception here and there, the occasional incendiary remark now and then, the tone throughout the negotiations has been respectful, which suggests that both parties really want to get a deal done soon. And for the most part, Hunter has kept the power agents at a distance, at least for now.
Some of the more powerful agents -- among them Arn Tellem, Bill Duffy, Mark Bartlestein, Dan Fegan and Jeff Schwarz -- are pressuring their players to push for decertification.
-- What would decertification accomplish? And would it expedite a deal or prolong the agony?
Decertification would dissolve the union and allow players -- as individuals -- to file antitrust lawsuits against the league. The agents pressing for decertification argue that it would force the league to accelerate talks and finalize a deal or risk losing the suit and having to pay huge sums in damages. If a judge ruled in favor of the league, however, the players wouldn't receive damages and, because their bargaining unit would have been dissolved, would incur health care and insurance costs, among other things. Additionally, some legal experts argue that decertification would slow, rather than accelerate, a resolution.
-- Is there any good news?
Yes. The parties are very close on the basketball-related income figure (players offering to keep 53 or 52 percent, the league probably willing to go 50-50). And in comments clearly intended to send a message, Stern recently offered some wiggle room on the salary cap issue. "Virtually unanimous," the commissioner told reporters after the owners' meeting in Dallas, "because some owners might say they want a hard cap with this wrinkle and some people might say they want a hard cap with that wrinkle. But I would say there's unanimity in favoring a hard cap, period. That said, the committee has been authorized to negotiate on all subjects."
Silver then quickly added: "From the beginning, we were never caught up with the label of a hard cap. What we've said from Day One is we need a system where all 30 teams can compete for a championship, and we have absolute unanimity among our owners on that principle."
-- Will there be a season?
There will be a season, and I might be crazy, but I don't think the lockout will last beyond the opening weeks of the preseason.