Not even the NBA's biggest stars know when professional basketball will be back.
Their uncertainty mirrors that of fans, arena employees, agents and league executives throughout the country.
The prevailing belief is that the league's labor dispute, which has led to a 4 1/2-month-long lockout, could linger and keep the NBA closed for business for quite sometime.
“I'm definitely confident we're going to have a season,” said Thunder guard James Harden. “I just don't know when.”
Players like Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Rudy Gay shared Harden's sentiments following the US Fleet Tracking Basketball invitational Sunday night, an All-Star game of sorts hosted by Durant.
“We like playing these games for the fans, but we'd rather be doing our jobs,” said Gay, the Memphis Grizzlies star. “This is fun, but of course we want to get back to work. We're sorry to the fans for the long wait, but we're looking for a fair deal and that'll happen soon enough.”
But how soon is soon enough? How much longer must venues like the renovated Chesapeake Energy Arena sit idle on fall nights?
“I don't know,” said Anthony, the New York Knicks All-Star. “You're asking the wrong person.”
In this case, the powers that be are NBA commissioner David Stern and his 30 owners who have imposed this lockout and player union director Billy Hunter. Talks between the two sides broke off last week following 30 hours of negotiations over three days when the union refused to accept a 50-50 split in the league's gross basketball-related income.
Under the old collective bargaining agreement, players were guaranteed to receive 57 percent of the league's revenues. After holding firm at a concession of 53 percent for weeks, the union last Thursday reduced that number to 52.5 percent but had it rejected by owners.
Paul said the union isn't prepared to accept a 50-50 share not because it isn't fair, but because there are several sticking points in the details of a salary cap structure that must go hand in hand with any agreed split of revenue.
“It's more than that. It's also about the system,” said Paul, who attended the most recent session last Thursday. “People that came before us fought hard for guaranteed contracts, (Larry) Bird rights and a lot of other things. A lot of people think it's just about the economics, but the economics is something we're willing to talk about. But at the same time, the system and the economics have to go together.”
Even after attending several meetings in recent weeks, Paul could only say he was hopeful that a deal would be reached soon.
Durant echoed Paul when asked if there would be NBA ball at all this season. Durant said, “I wish,” when asked if games would be played by Christmas.
“I really can't say right now,” Durant said. “We're just trying to work to get a deal done. We're going to continue to play in these games and show the fans that we love the game and we want to play.”
Paul stressed his sympathy to the fans and said he understood the frustration that some feel during this lockout.
“We try to explain (the situation) as much as we can, but it's really hard to understand unless you're in the situation,” Paul said. “But I just want the fans to trust us and know that we're far from greedy. We just want a fair deal. We want to get out there and play more than anybody. But we understand that at the end of the day, we're the product. We're the reason the fans come and we just want a fair deal.”