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NEW YORK — Billy Hunter hoped to deliver good news when he meets with NBA players on Thursday in Las Vegas.
Instead, the executive director of the players’ association isn’t even sure how he will answer all their questions.
No progress was made toward ending the 2 -month lockout during a meeting with owners Tuesday, and Hunter might have to tell players to look elsewhere if they want to be paid to play basketball anytime soon.
“There are a lot of guys, many marquee players now, who have offers to go outside the country. And the question is, what do they do?” Hunter said. “I mean, do they hold off making the decision, or do they wait in hopes that we get a deal in place sometime in the immediate future?”
The NBA owners have locked out the players, and little progress has been made in negotations. ESPN.com Topics keeps you up to date with all of the latest on the NBA’s ongoing lockout. Topics Page
Hopes of that diminished after Tuesday’s meeting between the union’s executive committee and the owners’ labor relations committee ended with the sides still divided over the salary cap system, despite a hint of economic compromise.
And with Hunter and union president Derek Fisher of the Lakers warning that the season might not open on time, where do players go from here?
A courtroom, to sue the league after dissolving their union?
Back to NBA arenas, playing under a deal they hate?
Hunter makes the latter two options seem unlikely for now, reiterating Tuesday that players are unified in their refusal to accept the owners’ current proposal.
But players might be considering overseas alternatives now more than ever.
“As time passes, guys are going to definitely defect, and you won’t be able to find the same combination of skill and talent and character that the 450 of us NBA players possess,” NBPA vice president Maurice Evans of the Wizards said. “You’re not just going to go out and find that at random to replace this product; that should definitely be noted.”
To date, Nets All-Star point guard Deron Williams’ deal with Turkish team Besiktas is still the only one signed by a top NBA player since the lockout began July 1. Commissioner David Stern has downplayed the overseas option, believing there isn’t the money or comforts to entice his superstars. But lower-level players might choose any contract over no guaranteed payment back home anytime soon.
More than 40 players are in Las Vegas this week taking part in a league at the Impact Basketball academy, so union leaders decided to go there to speak with them. Meanwhile, owners will be meeting in Dallas. Stern has said there won’t be any decisions at Thursday’s session to cancel training camps, which were scheduled to begin in less than three weeks.
Despite Tuesday’s lack of progress, Fisher said his message won’t change much Thursday — because it’s been cautious all along.
“I don’t think we’ve minced our words in terms of our guys understanding that this was a moment that we expected to find ourselves in starting over two years ago,” Fisher said. “We expected to be here, we anticipated that, we felt like our owners were strong enough in their position … that they’d be possibly willing to risk time lost in the season to get the things they needed in this particular round of collective bargaining.”
Hunter and Fisher likely will have to address the concept of decertification during their presentation. NFL players dissolved their union this year so they could file an antitrust lawsuit against the league, though they ultimately resolved their dispute with owners.
Hunter’s preferred course has been to wait for a ruling on a charge the union filed against the league with the National Labor Relations Board for unfair bargaining practices.
“We’ve never really had any discussions about decertification,” Hunter said. “As you’re aware, we’ve obviously been experiencing some pressure, at least in the media, from some of the agents about decertification. But that’s not a message that’s crossed our lips.”
Hunter added he hoped for a ruling from the NLRB by the end of this month.
That would be too late to save the opening of training camps, but time remains to open the regular season as scheduled on Nov. 1. Hunter hopes that at some point a split will develop between big-market and small-market owners — if it’s not already there — and the big spenders who have more incentive to play without massive changes to the structure will push for a settlement.
“I think there’s probably a division of interest within their group, and I think trying to develop a consensus within the group is the issue,” he said.
In the meantime, Fisher is instructing players to train as normal.
“Continue to prepare yourself physically and mentally for whatever circumstances play out, and if we start on time, you should be physically ready to go,” he said. “The way it looks right now we may not start on time, and you should continue to make the decisions and the plans accordingly to your individual situation.”
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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