The commish has three groups of owners: the ones who want to play; the ones in the middle, including Tampa and Nashville, who want a better collective bargaining agreement but recognize not playing is worse; and the hardliners. It would be a mistake to underestimate the last group. There are several who would rather cancel the season than accept a bad deal because they are hemorrhaging money and need immediate satisfaction.

While the players believe Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs is calling the shots, an educated guess at the final group includes but may not be limited to Anaheim, Columbus, Florida, the Islanders, Phoenix, St. Louis, Washington and Dallas -- enough to block any agreement from getting done (It's tough to lock it down because owners are forbidden to discuss this stuff. Attempts to talk to a couple were politely shot down).

This group is the biggest challenge for both the commissioner and the players.

But one year ago, Berger reported that the NBA's "Hard-Line Nine" -- Atlanta, Charlotte, Indiana, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Portland and Washington -- wanted much tougher concessions than Stern proposed. Three weeks later, there was a new CBA. If you believe this entire play is scripted, and some people really do, here's hoping no one changes the ending.