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Stern, union chief Hunter hold weekly meetings as lockout looms

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The likelihood of an NBA lockout -- and a long one, at that -- is already high.

But it would be even higher if there were no discussions being had, as less than two months remain before the league's collective bargaining agreement expires. According to a source close to the situation, however, that's not the case.

The source confirmed an ESPN.com report that commissioner David Stern and union chief Billy Hunter met in Chicago last week, and told SI.com that the two have been meeting "once a week for the last couple of weeks." And according to a second source close to the situation, Stern and Hunter are scheduled to meet in New York this Friday and next.

How productive those meetings might be is another matter entirely.

After the ice between the two sides seemed to melt mildly during an All-Star weekend meeting in Los Angeles, the owners sent their latest proposal to the players last week. But it was, according to one of the sources, a "rehash" of the previous plan.

NBPA president and Lakers guard Derek Fisher indicated as much at his team's practice facility on Tuesday, where he discussed the labor situation that will now move even higher on his priority list in light of the Lakers' loss to Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals.

"The NBA sent their recent proposal about a week or so ago, and we were able to take a pretty good look at it," he said. "Frankly, we're disappointed in the context of it and we're still full steam ahead in trying to get this thing figured out and getting a deal done. In terms of a timeline, how things will unfold, it's hard to say right now."

While the players have shown a willingness to take less than the 57 percent of basketball-related income that they currently receive, they continue to resist the owners' desire for a hard cap and salary rollbacks, totaling some $800 million. Fisher has been in contact with Hunter throughout the process, but he will be able to dedicate far more time to the task at hand now.

"I still worked on it daily [during the playoffs], but Billy didn't bombard me with too many calls or too many things unless it was vital," Fisher said. "Now, it's 24/7."

So does this mean it's Fisher-to-the-rescue time and more hope for fans who don't want to see next season cut short?

"It's hard for me to [say] that one, but hopefully at the end of the day we'll be able to look at it that way," Fisher continued. "We haven't really gotten a chance to flush it all the way out because of what we've been doing, but now there's time."

Fisher said the ongoing NFL lockout continues to affect the NBA situation.

The NFL and its players failed to reach an agreement on how to divvy up $9 billion in annual revenue, as owners seek a bigger piece of the pie to help with major investments and expenditures, and players resist any pay cuts. A judge briefly lifted the lockout two weeks ago, but a federal appeals court issued a temporary stay, meaning players cannot access team facilities or participate in any activities. The injunction hearing is set for June 3, just three months before the season is tentatively scheduled to begin.

"I do think that what is taking place on the NFL side is impacting the speed at which this process is playing out," Fisher said. "At the end of the day, we still have to come back to, 'What do you have? What's in place?' What we have is an unbelievable game full of unbelievable players, and people have continued to support this game in the last few years, which doesn't compare to any other time in pro basketball. They want to see NBA basketball.

"[But] I think both sides, as bad as we want to get a deal done, are going to be careful how we proceed on these matters. As much as the NBA speaks about the future of the game and trying to protect the game itself, that's a priority of ours as well."

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