That deadline has created a sense of urgency because the Dec. 25 schedule is traditionally a showcase for the league. This season's three-game slate was to include Miami at Dallas in an NBA finals rematch, plus MVP Derrick Rose leading Chicago into Los Angeles to face Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
After a secret meeting earlier this week, the sides returned to the table to try to hash out a deal. Commissioner David Stern has said the league needs about 30 days from an agreement to when games could be played.
Participating in the talks for the league were Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the labour relations committee, and lawyers Rick Buchanan and Dan Rube. The players were represented by executive director Billy Hunter, president Derek Fisher, vice-president Maurice Evans, attorney Ron Klempner and economist Kevin Murphy.
The discussions between representatives of the owners and players are now centred on settling their lawsuits: The players filed an antitrust lawsuit against the league in Minnesota, and the league filed a pre-emptive suit in New York, seeking to prove the lockout was legal.
Because the union disbanded, it cannot negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, but the settlement talks could lead to that. The CBA can only be completed once the union has reformed.
There are still a handful of issues relating to spending rules for teams that must be worked out — issues that have been an obstacle to a new deal since the lockout began July 1. Players fear that owners' desires to curb spending by the big-market teams would limit their options as free agents.
Talks last broke down Nov. 14 when players rejected the owners' proposal that included opening a 72-game schedule on Dec. 15, instead announcing instead they were disbanding the union, giving them a chance to win several billion dollars in triple damages in an antitrust lawsuit.
On Monday, a group of named plaintiffs including Carmelo Anthony, Steve Nash and Kevin Durant filed an amended federal lawsuit against the league in Minnesota, hoping the courts there will be as favourable to them as they have been to NFL players in the past.
The NFL players enjoyed several victories over the owners in federal court in Minnesota, most recently when U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson issued a temporary injunction this summer that lifted the NFL's owner-imposed lockout. That decision was stayed and eventually overturned on appeal by the 8th Circuit in St. Louis.
The legal system could take months to resolve, so both sides repeatedly have said the only way to reach a deal that would save the season is through bargaining. The 1998-99 lockout reduced that season to 50 games. It was settled shortly after the new year and play started in February.
This season games have been cancelled through Dec. 15, but in reality another week probably already has been lost, given the time needed to write and approve a new collective bargaining agreement, have a free agency period, hold training camps and play exhibition games.