At the crux of the issue are the owners. With the economy taking such a big hit in the United States, nearly two thirds of teams within the league are in the red, and the owners are desperate to stop the hemorrhaging of money.
A recent trend within the league is owners and general managers handing out long-term contracts to players who quite honestly don't deserve them. What ends up happening is most players don't end up playing to their potential, and as a result, contracts stay on the books for years, and teams struggle on the court and have a hard time moving bad contracts elsewhere. Owners are going to push for maximum contracts that are shorter in length, which some speculate around four years instead of six, and less money given in contracts.
The owners will be seeking more ways to protect themselves from bad contracts. The owners will also push for non-guaranteed contracts. Non-guaranteed contracts give the owners the ability to cut ties with players who are not playing up to capabilities at any point in the contract.
The second issue owners are going to push for is a hard salary cap. Currently the NBA has a "soft" salary cap, which means that teams are allowed to go over the salary cap in order to sign their own players. A hard salary cap, which is instituted in the NFL and NHL, means whatever the league sets as the salary cap has to be followed, and no team can be able to go over that number in order to sign their own players. What this will do is completely level the playing field around the league and also eliminate the chance of multiple superstars joining on one team.
With the owners' demands so high, it is a guarantee that a work stoppage will take place because players are not going to be willing to give up so many concessions to the owners. As a result, players are preparing for a work stoppage from now. The perfect example is Spurs Forward Richard Jefferson, who opted out of his contract leaving fifteen million dollars on the table, which many around the league thought was insane. Players such as Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki have also done the same in order to have a long-term contract in place when next summer hits. The reason is, players don't want to be stuck next offseason without a contract, because this may be the last offseason in which players will receive the hefty contracts they usually receive.
The threat of a lockout in 2011 is legitimate, and with the owners and players being on opposite sides of the spectrum, it's very likely that the entire season will be lost in 2011.