Players Association executive director Billy Hunter says the 2011-12 NBA season will likely be canceled entirely because the commissioner's negotiating leeway is in danger of being undermined by a group of hard-line owners.
"The circumstances have changed among [David Stern's] constituency," Hunter told a group of lawyers Wednesday, as quoted in the Baltimore Sun. "In the last six or seven years, there is a new group of owners to come in who paid a premium for their franchises, and what they're doing is kind of holding his feet to the fire."
Hunter told an American Bar Association conference that if he "had to bet on it", he would wager that there will be no NBA season.
"We're $800 million apart per year," Hunter said Wednesday, adding, "something has to happen that both of us can use as leverage to save face."
NBA owners and players held a formal collective bargaining session for the first high-level negotiations in a month Monday but after nearly three hours of discussions the sides emerged as far apart as they were when the day began. Stern said the sides were "at the same place" as they were when the lockout began July 1 just before the old collective bargaining agreement ran out.
Owners are seeking significant changes to the league's salary structure, claiming $300 million in losses last season and hundreds of millions more in each year of the previous agreement, which was ratified in 2005. Players have acknowledged the losses but disputed their size, and they've balked at the league's push for a hard salary cap and reduction in salaries and maximum contract lengths.
The union has encouraged players to find work rather than give in to the owners' economic demands, with the hope that owners would offer better proposals if they see their players have other options. Hunter recently sent a memo to all players endorsing locked-out players to consider playing overseas.
Nets All-Star Deron Williams agreed to an overseas deal with Besiktas of Turkey, the only superstar with an overseas deal thus far, though some lesser players have one. Many elite players say they are keeping it as an option.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.