By Brian Mahoney, AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK -- Insisting that the NBA's financial projections "strain credulity," players' association executive director Billy Hunter said Wednesday he's seen nothing to change his belief that a lockout is possible.
Hunter disputes commissioner David Stern's forecast of nearly $400 million in losses this season, countering that the league's basketball-related revenues increased to their highest point ever in 2009-10.
"Our position is that David is mistaken," Hunter told The Associated Press, adding he believes things are "much, much better than they maintain."
The league's collective bargaining agreement expires next summer. The sides have started negotiations toward a new one but remain far apart, creating fears of the first work stoppage since 1998-99.
"I'm preparing for a lockout right now and I haven't seen anything to change that notion. Hopefully I'll see something over the next several months," Hunter said. "As of this moment, it's full speed ahead for me in preparing the players for a worst-case scenario."
Stern predicted the $400 million loss during the All-Star weekend in February, amending it to about $370 during a press conference Monday in Las Vegas following a meeting of the league's board of governors.
The union was alerted to that projection last summer, but Hunter contends revenues turned out to be much higher than anticipated -- though deputy commissioner Adam Silver said costs were up, too.
Hunter was already wary of the league's projections after it warned its teams last July that next season's salary cap could fall as low as $50.4 million. It was set last week at $58.0 million, even higher than this season's.
"Clearly it causes us some concern, causes us to question their numbers," Hunter said.
Hunter said the players will offer their interpretations of the league's finances at the next bargaining meeting. He said he hasn't heard anything from the league since the union submitted its proposal for a CBA earlier this month.
Stern said that proposal basically embraced the current system, but the league believes changes are necessary and the teams that spent freely during free agency did so because it was the only way they could win. Hunter disagrees, saying owners want a system where they can spend and "receive guaranteed profits unlike any other industry in America."
Stern also said the higher-than-expected cap didn't mean things were better than they were a year ago, but Hunter points to huge increases in season ticket sales in New York, New Jersey, Chicago and Charlotte as proof otherwise.
And since he said player salaries were down by about 1 percent this season, he still maintains the best way for the owners to get the help they need is from each other.
The union is calling for expanded revenue sharing among teams, with Hunter noting that a group of small-market owners recommended it to Stern a couple of years ago. Stern has said it will come after the agreement with the players, but Hunter said it should come as part of the deal.
"Revenue sharing has to be part of the process, has to be part of the total package," Hunter said.
Hunter thinks owners who lived through the 1998 lockout won't want to risk shutting the league down again, but wonders if some newer ones might be willing to sit out for a year or two. Just in case, he's telling players to save their money and stay united.
Hunter hopes "cooler heads prevail" and it won't come to that point, with the NBA receiving plenty of positive press during a seven-game NBA finals between the Lakers and Celtics, before the free agency period that saw LeBron James move to Miami.
"This is a high time for the NBA, a time for celebration," Hunter said. "So we're going to do everything within our power -- I can't underscore that enough -- to try to reach an agreement."