by Marcel Mutoni@marcel_mutoni

Despite the bad news last night that the remaining preseason games would be axed, and the threat that the first two weeks of the regular season could also be on the chopping block, there remains a glimmer of hope in the NBA labor impasse.

According to CBS Sports and Sheridan Hoops, the gloomy public statements from both sides are nothing more than well-crafted spin — the players and owners are closer to reaching a deal than it would otherwise seem:

Despite the intransigence of the owners in their goal of achieving profitability and a level playing field … despite the players’ almost religious zeal for guaranteed contracts and other perks achieved over the years … and despite formidable external forces that threatened to implode the negotiations … the NBA and the players association are only about $80 million a year apart on the economics of a new collective bargaining agreement, multiple people with knowledge of the deal told CBSSports.com. So even though all parties left a Times Square hotel looking grim-faced and feeling disappointed, the two sides in theory have moved so close to a deal that it is almost incomprehensible they would choose hundreds of millions in losses — or billions from a completely lost season — instead.

According to sources, here is how the two sides closed the gap, which stood at about $320 million in the first year of a new deal — the difference between the players’ standing offer that they get 54 percent of revenues and the owners’ 46 percent offer — when they walked into the room Tuesday. After the owners offered the players a 50-50 split of revenues that effectively was a 47-percent share with about $350 million in expenses deducted first, the two sides met in small groups in the hallway while each side’s larger group caucused in separate rooms. As the hour grew late, the tension was rising and becoming palpable. Both sides recognized it was time to try everything possible to make a deal.

In the group for the league side were commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the labor relations committee. For the players, it was union president Derek Fisher, outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler and two of the brightest stars who attended Tuesday’s crucial bargaining session — Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, according to one of the people with knowledge of the side meeting.

$80 million dollars is the amount of loose change that the average NBA team owner can find between the cushions of his couch. So, no big deal, right? Well, it’s not that simple.

Billy Hunter told reporters last night that there aren’t any additional meetings scheduled — Hunter even said the two sides might not see one another for months — and the players’ union is reportedly upset with David Stern for publicly floating the idea of a so-called 50/50 split of the BRI proposal from the owners (the math on that offer is more than a little fuzzy, mind you.)

We’re not out of the woods yet with this NBA lockout, but for the time being, there’s a very (very) cautious sense of optimism.