Hunter plans bargaining meeting with Stern soon
The union says total player compensation will fall this season, which would be only the second drop in the salary cap era that began in the 1984-85 season.
The amount of the drop can't be determined yet, since more deals will be signed during the season. Nor is it particularly surprising given the economic difficulties some teams have faced.
The league warned clubs during the summer of an impending drop in next season's salary cap, and some were careful with their spending. Veterans such as Allen Iverson found limited to no interest, while restricted free agents such as New York's David Lee and Nate Robinson, and Charlotte's Raymond Felton couldn't even get an offer from anyone beyond their own teams.
"We have some concern, but I think a lot of it has to do with the system," Hunter said Thursday. "I think it has to do with the economy, I think it has more to do with attitude. I just think that they decided they're just going to be a lot more cautious and restricting in terms of spending dollars."
Partly because of the economy, the league and union have already begun talks on a new collective bargaining agreement, even though the current deal doesn't expire until after the 2010-11 season. The sides met twice over the summer, and though the players are unavailable while their seasons are going on, Hunter said he and Stern will probably meet again within the next couple of weeks.
"We both know that we don't want to repeat 1998," Hunter said. "We don't want a lockout and I'm sure there's going to be some bumps in the road as we get there, there may be a little acrimony along the way, but we know what we've got to do."
Hunter also said there is approximately $1.5 billion less in committed contracts now than in 2005-06, the first year of the deal. Maximum contract lengths were shortened from seven to six years in the deal, and with those offers hard to find this summer, Hunter thinks players should know it's no longer business as usual.
"Whereas in the past some of the GMs or owners have contended that they can't say no, that's not reflected in their actions," he said.
Hunter was in Brooklyn, where the players' association partnered with the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club to distribute 500 turkeys. The union will give out turkeys in every NBA city, totaling about 15,000 turkeys, during the holiday season.
The Nets hope to move to Brooklyn, and Hunter said the local fans are excited about having them. In the meantime, he hopes the team plays its games in Newark.
New Jersey draws poorly at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, but did well at the box office in two preseason games at the Prudential Center. The Nets are considering playing their games there until their arena in Brooklyn is ready, and Hunter believes they'd have a stronger fan base there.
"I think one of the problems associated with being in the Meadowlands is that there's no real connection to any given community. It's just out there and you're New Jersey's team or what have you and I don't think that works," Hunter said. "I think you've got to have a fan base, a community that relates to you, that's engaged with you and prepared to support you."
Hunter was joined by the Nets' Keyon Dooling and Knicks forward Al Harrington. The giveaways are expected to last through the middle of next month, with the biggest one planned for Dec. 3 in Washington, where Wizards and Toronto Raptors players will take part.
"It's an honor and a privilege, and I think everybody knows that economically in our country it's very, very bad right now and so kind of to boost morale in the community is a pleasure for us," Dooling said.