The AP reports:

“It’s an odd position, when the game is the best it’s ever been, when the ratings are the highest they’ve ever been, when the excitement is the greatest it’s ever (been),” Players Association attorney Jeffrey Kessler said last week. “It’s sort of odd to see the owners say we’re going to destroy this game unless you change this whole system. Players just want to play.”

Nobody can predict when they’ll get that chance again. When the Dallas Mavericks finished off the Miami Heat on Sunday night in Game 6, it sent the NBA into a most uncertain offseason.

Owners and players are nowhere close on a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expires June 30. Without a new deal, players say they have been told by the owners they will be locked out.

The NBA was reduced to a 50-game season by a work stoppage in 1998-99, and the loss of games is a threat now. Citing leaguewide losses of about $300 million this season, the league hasn’t budged on its desire for significant changes to the financial structure, ranging from reductions in the length of contracts and the amount of guarantees, to an overhaul of the salary cap system that would prevent teams from being able to exceed it, as they can now under certain exceptions.

And Stern said the record TV ratings and all the other positive attention the league has received doesn’t make him any more motivated to get this settled, since he’d want to do it anyway.

“I don’t need any external prod to want to be able to make a deal,” he said…

The sides are scheduled to meet twice this week and say they hope for frequent discussions before the end of the month. Should those fail, the NBA could follow the NFL’s labor situation right into the court system, which both sides say they want to avoid. So although a work stoppage in July wouldn’t seem to have much effect since games aren’t going on, Stern insists “we very much feel the weight of the deadline.”