This is good news.

ESPN: The NBA’s locked out referees appear to be inching close to a return to work after an unexpected meeting Tuesday in New York between commissioner David Stern and Lamell McMorris of the referees’ union, ESPN.com has learned.

Sources close to the process told ESPN.com on Tuesday that the referees are planning to vote on a fresh proposal from the league office this Friday after quiet progress in negotiations, which comes weeks after both Stern and McMorris separately withdrew from the highly contentious negotiations that preceded the lockout.

“A lot is happening behind the scenes,” one source said.

“Things look promising,” said another source.

It was not immediately known how quickly veteran referees would be ready to call games even if a deal could be struck this week. Multiple sources close to the process said that the veterans could be back at work in time for the start of the regular season, but opening night is a week away with four games next Tuesday, and replacement referees have worked the entire exhibition season.

Yet it was an undeniably positive sign that the executive board of the referees’ union — McMorris included — met face to face with Stern on Tuesday at the league’s offices in Manhattan.