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NBA season of 70 games? Possible, if players take what owners have offered

Time is of the essence if a labor agreement is to be struck that could save a major portion of the 2011-12 NBA season.

No further meetings are set for another session at the bargaining table between the owners and players sides. It had better happen quickly.

'If something doesn't break within the next few days, or the week at the latest, I'm afraid we will lose the (entire) season,' one source from the league side says.

If a deal were reached within the next week, the source says he believes we could salvage a 68-to-70 game regular season.

I was encouraged by a Monday New York Times report by Howard Beck - a veteran scribe I've known for many years and trust as a reliable news man.

Beck says negotiations are '95 percent complete,' with systemic issues all but decided.

Among them:

• Maximum contract lengths would be shortened to four years, or five years with Larry Bird rights (to re-sign a team's player).

• Increased luxury-tax rates. A team would be assessed $1.50 per dollar for the first $5 million over the salary cap, $1.75 per dollar for the next $5 million, $2.50 per dollar after $10 million and $3.50 per dollar after $15 million.

• Maximum raises would shrink to 3.5 percent to 5.5 percent instead of 8 percent to 10.5 percent.

• The mid-level exception would drop from $5.8 million to $5 million for the first year.

• An amnesty clause would allow each team to waive one player with pay any time during the life of the collective-bargaining agreement, and have his salary exempted from the cap and luxury tax.

• There would be implemention of a 'stretch exception' that would permit a team to spread payments (in relation to the salary-cap hit) to waived players over several seasons. A team waiving a player with two years left on his contract could pay him over five years.

Beck adds that the league wants to further punish tax-paying teams by denying them the mid-level exception and sign-and-trade deals. The union is resisting those ideas.

Sources tell me Beck's information is solid.

Of course, that leaves the biggest issue - the division of basketball-related income - still to negotiate. Unless the players quickly decide to give in and accept the league's offer to go 50-50, I think we'll lose the entire season.

On a related subject ...

After talking to a couple of sources I trust, I'm convinced the report of Paul Allen's role as 'Grim Reaper' in negotiations a couple of weeks ago were far-fetched at best.

The owner of the Trail Blazers was in New York on his own behest to attend the NBA's regular Board of Governors meeting, held the morning of one of the afternoon bargaining sessions. Allen doesn't often attend the Board of Governors meetings - normally sending President Larry Miller to represent the club.

But since revenue-sharing and other issues were on the agenda, Allen decided to attend along with Miller - the only non-owner sitting as a member of the league's negotiating committee.

Because he was already at the scene, Allen was invited to attend the negotiating session. During that meeting, Miami owner Mickey Arison expressed the opinion that there are some owners who think they would be giving up too much with an offer to split basketball-related income 50-50 with the players.

As Arison - later fined $500,000 by the league for a comment he made on Twitter about negotiations - was making the statement, he looked at Allen, who made no response.

Billy Hunter, the Players Association executive director, then took the floor, suggesting the sides set aside the revenue-split discussion to turn to the system issues. While making his remarks, Hunter looked at Allen, who responded with silence.

Those on the players' end took Allen's presence - and his 'blank stare' - as an attempt at intimidation of their side. I don't think that's the case at all.

Allen has made some major mistakes in recent years. I still don't understand the firings of general managers Kevin Pritchard and Rich Cho, and by now the Blazers should have a GM in place who can handle basketball operations if and when the league gets back up and running. If nothing else, it gives the appearance of a rudderless ship.

And yes, Allen has been among the most free-spending of owners, once paying out a record $108 million in salaries and putting up $3 million to buy late-first-round draft picks that reaped the likes of Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez.

The rules allow that, by the way.

I find it wrong to suggest Allen no longer has the passion to own the Blazers because he wants to alter the financial landscape and provide the opportunity for owners around the NBA to make a profit in the future.

Revenue-sharing is a good thing for the game, and especially for small-market franchises such as Portland, even those with owners with the wherewithall of Allen.

Some day, Allen will sell the Blazers. The new owner, or ownership group, may not have his deep pockets. Revenue-sharing will help ensure that teams such as New York or the Los Angeles Lakers won't have an inherent advantage in buying talent.