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New York • Doomsday for the NBA was postponed again Tuesday.

Commissioner David Stern said that the league's cupboard is almost bare after trading new collective bargaining agreement proposals with the Players Association, while NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter acknowledged that owners and athletes are a "long, long way away from a deal" with just nine days remaining before a widely predicted lockout.

Hunter compared the state of discussions to being in a dark room, seeing a door briefly crack open, and a small ray of light pouring in.

"You'd like to see all the light. You'd like to be able to open the door," said Hunter, after a four-hour meeting at the Omni Berkshire hotel. "But, right now, at least you can see. You're not blind anymore."

Those were some of the most encouraging words used by Hunter, though, while NBPA President Derek Fisher and New Orleans guard Chris Paul expressed frustration at the league's insistence on inserting a hard salary cap into a new CBA.

"We're still very far apart," said Fisher, who acknowledged that there will not be an agreement as long as a hard cap is on the table.

There was some positive movement during a meeting that started under the shadow of an ultimatum from Stern. The commissioner challenged the NBPA last week by asserting that the union had to enter Tuesday's session prepared to make a significant compromise for there to be any hope of preventing a July 1 lockout. The NBPA answered Stern's call and responded with a new proposal, which was then countered by the league. Now, union leaders will reconvene Thursday before meeting with the NBA on Friday for another bargaining session.

Stern said that the NBA's proposal was its best to date, though, leaving the league little breathing room as it attempts to ensure that all 30 teams are legitimately able to compete for a championship.

Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver appeared visibly frustrated while revealing details about Tuesday's proposals.

"This is virtually the best shot we think we have to … demonstrate to the players our good faith, our desire to go as far as we can to avoid a lockout," Stern said. "This now makes 10 proposals that have gone back and forth, at least. … And we think we've demonstrated that we're here to try to make a deal. The players' response was, 'We'll see you on Friday.' "

The NBA is pushing for a flexible salary cap, which would be set at a median of $62 million — $4 million above the current soft-cap limit — allow for exceptions, and share similarities with the NHL's economic system. NBA teams could have payrolls that fall below or exceed the proposed flexible cap, based on the competitiveness of their roster.

"It's all out there," Stern said. "The owners, to a person, feel that this is what we have to give."

He added: "[Players] have rejected everything we've done thus far."

Among other items proposed Tuesday: Player compensation would never fall below $2 billion during a new 10-year CBA, and basketball-related income would be evened so that players share a 50-50 split with owners.

To the NBPA, though, everything starts and ends with the league's cap proposal. What the NBA sees as being flexible, the union views as unforgivably and unacceptably stern. And as the commissioner and Silver emphasized the merits of their desired changes, players said it was just more of the same.

"We talked for a while. Both sides made moves," Paul said. "But we're still very, very far apart on what we're trying to get done."

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