By John Schmeelk
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As doom and gloom as it was last Thursday when NBA labor talks broke down, I never thought there was a chance the season would be missed and what’s happening this week has confirmed those suspicions.

Last week the player and owner meetings broke up over the owners’ insistence of a 50-50 BRI split as a pre-condition of further talks. It was the owners playing hard ball with a Player’s Association they thought would fold over the fear of losing regular season games. When the players didn’t blink there was talk of cancelling the first two months of the season. It never happened. It wasn’t because the players blinked. The owners did.

This week both sides met to discuss system issues when the owners gave up on their 50-50 ultimatum after less than a week. If the owners were truly trying to break the union by missing a full season, they would have sat on that 50-50 number for far longer, forcing the players to sweat it out and miss checks. There was never any doubt that of the two sides it was the owners that would be more willing to miss a season. The fact they moved so quickly over what they claimed was a drop dead number is indicative of the fact they want to play basketball.

That fact, combined with the raw numbers that prove the two sides aren’t that far apart, tells me we are going to have basketball in 2011. I’m not going to go out there and say there’s going to be a deal by the end of the weekend, but if the two sides can figure something in the next two weeks it would be easy to fit in a full 82 game season starting on December 1st. That’s an optimistic projection. A far more likely one has the season starting on Christmas (quite a present for NBA fans out there) and playing closer to 65 games. In order to accommodate squeezing extra games in, the playoffs could be pushed back a couple weeks, adding more regular season games in the last two weeks of April.

In a process where there has been such a lack of rational thought and logic, it is nice to see the two sides meeting this week and bridging what can only be described as a relatively small gap. It’s my guess that after last week, the big market owners got in the ears of the small market counterparts and talked some sense into them. Likewise, the rank and file players got in Derek Fischer’s ear, showing him the power of the silent majority. Right now, this fight has been between the superstar players and the small market owners and it was only a matter of time before the other factions decided to get loud and inject some sanity into the negotiations.

The last hurdle here is going to be the issue of competitive balance. While a larger payroll guarantees nothing, it certainly does give big market teams an advantage over small market counterparts. Combine those extra financial resources with the lure of the big city and the advantage grows larger. The final agreement will probably look something like a punitive luxury tax, but how harsh will the penalties be for going over the threshold. My guess is that a much high salary floor will be installed to force small market teams to spend more of the cap. That will be the final hurdle and turning point for these negotiations.

Stay tuned this weekend. It could be a very good one for NBA fans. You can follow me on twitter at!/Schmeelk for all the latest on the Knicks, Giants, NBA, and even some MLB.

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