If the owners and players can find a compromise position on the free-agency rules and a few others, a deal is in reach. If the latest talks collapsed and Stern pulled the offer from the table, the 2011-12 season would be in severe jeopardy.
NEW YORK — NBA owners and players are done talking — just for the night.
Both sides will be back bargaining at noon Thursday, after meeting for nearly 12 hours Wednesday in an attempt to end the 132-day lockout.
Commissioner David Stern said the league has "stopped the clock" and will continue to negotiate.
"I would not read into this optimism or pessimism," he said. "We're not failing. We're not succeeding. We're just there."
Union president Derek Fisher said both sides spent a lot of time covering the issues that continue to divide them.
"We can't say there was significant progress today," he said. "We'll be back tomorrow ... and we'll see if we can continue to make the efforts at least to finish this out."
Stern had sent a 5 p.m. ET deadline for players to accept the league's latest proposal or have it replaced by a much harsher one that would drive the sides even farther apart.
He said the offer was not pulled at that time because the league was "trying to demonstrate our good faith. Stern added that the understanding was the offer would potentially be pulled at the end of this series of negotiations, whenever that might be.
Failure to make a deal likely would increase the calls for the union to decertify so the players can file a lawsuit against the league in court, a risky and lengthy tactic that likely would doom the 2011-12 season. Union officials have downplayed the idea, but players might have no other leverage once the more severe proposal is put into play.
The current offer calls for players to receive between 49 percent and 51 percent of basketball-related income, though the union said it would be impossible to get above 50.2 percent. Players were guaranteed 57 percent of BRI under the previous collective bargaining agreement.
Though they called this deal unacceptable, they might not see another one nearly as favorable.
The next proposal would call for a 53-47 revenue split in the owners' favor, essentially a hard salary cap and salary rollbacks, which the league originally sought but had taken off the table. Both proposals were sent to union executive director Billy Hunter on Sunday.
Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver were joined by Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the labor relations committee, and lawyers Rick Buchanan and Dan Rube. Besides Hunter and president Derek Fisher, vice presidents Roger Mason Jr. and Maurice Evans, economist Kevin Murphy and attorney Jeffrey Kessler represented the union.
Kessler took part just hours after saying he regretted telling the Washington Post that owners are treating players like "plantation workers" during the ongoing lockout. He said he planned to call Stern and apologize.
Besides the revenue split, the sides still are divided on elements of the salary cap system, mostly relating to the spending rules for teams that are over the luxury tax level. Players want those teams to remain options for free agents, whereas the league thinks talent would be more evenly distributed throughout the league if payrolls were more balanced.
Players indicated after their meeting Tuesday that they would be open to reducing their BRI take if owners made some changes on the system issues. Players offered to go to about 51 percent Saturday, with 1 percent going into a fund for retired player benefits.
But the league has placed as much importance on the system as the split, making it difficult to find compromise on the handful of items that remain unsettled. Owners believe there won't be the competitive balance they desire until payrolls are more equally balanced.
A month of games already has been canceled. Hunter said Tuesday he had heard Stern also planned to cancel games through Christmas without a deal Wednesday, though Stern later told NBA TV that "we have made no such plans, and we have had no such discussions."