THERE IS NO escaping now.
After months of optimism, lighthearted interplay between commissioner David Stern and union chief Bill Hunter, we're about to head into weeks, and perhaps months, of spin regarding the NBA's expiring collective-bargaining agreement.
Frankly, we couldn't care less about whether the rich or the richer gets richest.
But with a lockout looming (although we sense no games to be lost), perhaps it's time to look at the issue from the standpoint of those who actually matter -- the fans.
Maximum contract length: The current agreement allows for a maximum of seven years on new contracts. Caught in a cycle of dead money weighing down salary caps, management had been looking at three- and four-year maximums but seems willing to settle at five.
From a fan perspective, the shorter, the better. Nothing is as frustrating as listening to a general manager explain that he can't upgrade a roster because of money being paid to players who: A) Are already off the team; B) Are stashed on the injured list; C) Are rotting at the end of the bench.
The downside is shorter maximums would allow players to change teams more frequently, but it's not like free agency doesn't change the face of the league on an annual basis, anyway.
Age limit: The league currently allows anyone whose high school class has graduated to enter the draft, as well as international players 18 or older. The league favors a 20-year-old minimum.
From a fan standpoint, an age limit is a good thing. It keeps roster spots from being taken by unprepared talent at the expense of a veteran specialist who could make an impact and enhance the viewing experience.
The LeBrons, Kobes and T-Macs will get their eventual chances anyway, perhaps as more complete presences from the start.
Mid-level exception: Currently, teams over the salary cap get an additional slot every year worth the average salary, which should be about $5.5 million next season.
The league is considering a system that would require teams to break that exception into multiple salaries. The union would prefer the current system, where it could be used on a single player.
From a fan standpoint, the current system gives a team an annual opportunity to land another featured attraction. It's how Detroit landed Chauncey Billups and how Washington got Larry Hughes.
Larger salary cap: As part of gaining concessions on high-end salaries, the league appears willing to raise the salary cap from this season's $44 million to something close to $50 million.
For fans, any loosening of the cap is a good thing, sharply muting the front-office mantra of "we're capped and can't make any moves."
Luxury tax: The current system forces a dollar-for-dollar tax on payrolls that significantly exceed the salary cap. The union wants it abolished; the league wants an even more punitive higher tier.
In general, luxury taxes are good for fans, help keep somewhat of a competitive balance, prevent a New York Yankees-type situation.
If teams such as the Knicks want to paralyze themselves with high salaries, then at least only New Yorkers suffer (this is known as win-win).
Trade rules: There seems to be a movement from both sides about an easing of the league's highly restrictive trade rules.
For fans, that is a good thing, reducing the convenience of teams saying they're hamstrung by trade prohibitions.
In coming weeks, you'll also be hearing about other issues, such as escrow payments, rookie scale, minimum salaries and percentage of annual raises.
In those cases, don't listen. Enough already. Only imbeciles would lose a single regular-season game when so much is going so right.
A lockout on July 1? No problem. A lockout on Nov. 1? Insanity.
Ira Winderman covers the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.