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Players want a system that looks a lot like the old one, where teams have the ability to exceed the salary cap and where contracts and their raises are guaranteed. Owners are seeking changes that they believe would create more competitive balance by removing the big market teams’ ability to spend freely beyond the cap.

They have attempted to do that by increasing the penalties teams would have to pay for exceeding the tax level. Players argue the taxes are too punitive and would scare teams from spending, thereby creating a hard cap.

“Our position hasn’t changed much,” union president Derek Fisher of the Lakers said. “We’re just trying to make sure that players have an opportunity to have a market for themselves and for their services, the same way we’re trying to meet the league and our teams on all 30 teams being competitive.”

Players have said the issues of the system and split are largely tied together, though Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver have said they believe they are separate.

The key question is whether owners will insist on having both _ and it sounds like they might.

“We need to resolve both issues and both issues are critical,” Silver said. “One is not dependent on the other.”

The sides again met in the small-group format that has been most successful in the lockout, with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and union vice president of the Knicks Roger Mason Jr. also joining the talks.

The sides have seemed close before, only for the talks to break down. It was the system issues earlier this month, followed by the split last week after three days of mediation.

They are hoping a deal can be completed by early next week, with the union believing if so there would still be enough time to reschedule the canceled games. But they’ve now arrived at what might be the toughest part, because it always seemed these talks would come back to money.

“We’re working at it,” Fisher said. “It’s a tough process and as we move through and try to close the gap in as many places as we can, it gets tougher towards the end.”

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Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: twitter.com/Briancmahoney