by Marcel Mutoni @marcel_mutoni

If NBA players accept to swallow their bitterness with the League’s offer by next week — a very big if at this point — the lockout would end, and we’d have basketball tipping off just before Christmas.

It will take a lot for the above to happen.

Following yet another marathon labor meeting yesterday in New York City, David Stern announced that the time for negotiation had come to an end, and delivered what is basically the latest take-it-or-leave-it deal to the players’ union.

From the NY Times:

With one final proposal and one last ultimatum, the N.B.A. put the wheels in motion Thursday for a delayed season that could begin Dec. 15, or perhaps not at all … If the players approve the offer, a 72-game season could commence in mid-December. If they reject the deal, the N.B.A. will replace it with a significantly worse proposal, one that virtually guarantees cancellation of the 2011-12 season and a legal battle. Commissioner David Stern specifically avoided terming this the N.B.A.’s last, best offer, although that was clearly what it was. “We have made our revised proposal, and we’re not planning to make another one,” Stern said late Thursday night, adding, “There’s really nothing left to negotiate about.”

The offer is based on a 50-50 split of league revenues, which the union is resigned to accepting. But it also contains an array of new restrictions on player movement and team payrolls, all of which the union opposes, and which still threaten the approval of any deal. Those so-called system issues were the primary focus of the last two days of talks. The league moved slightly on one issue – the use of the midlevel exception by luxury tax-paying teams – and made other adjustments to its offer. Union officials were clearly disenchanted with the final version, however, and are reluctantly taking it to their members. “It’s not the greatest proposal in the world,” said Billy Hunter, the union’s executive director. “But I have an obligation to at least present it to our membership. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

The deal is crummy from the players’ point of view, and they’re right to feel this way. But they have few options at this point. After all, does anyone truly believe their collective anger (and, critically, that of their powerful agents) will be enough to reject the offer and effectively cancel the season?

Should the deal get accepted, the League will move on with figuring out just what exactly a 72-game season would look like. So far, all we know is that the start of the Playoffs and NBA Finals would each be moved back about a week.