Hunter, speaking by telephone from Oakland, Calif., said

By Chris Sheridan Associated Press Published:

Hunter, speaking by telephone from Oakland, Calif., said he plans to return Sunday to New York.

"Once I get back, I'll reach out to David (Stern)," Hunter said, adding that the next negotiation session probably will include only one or two representatives from each side.

No talks have been held since Wednesday night, when Stern and Hunter met for several hours in Los Angeles at the office of agent Leonard Armato. There was an expectation that talks might resume this weekend, but nothing ever came to fruition.

"There's nothing new," deputy commissioner Russ Granik said Saturday.

Stern hasn't commented publicly in more than a week, but Granik used a familiar line after the Los Angeles meeting in saying the discussions "went nowhere."

"Nowhere Man was right," Hunter said. "We basically spent a lot of time covering old ground and restating what our concerns were.

"I'm not sure when David will be back from Aspen, but I'll speak by phone with him or Russ."

The opposing sides, fighting over how to distribute some $2 billion in annual revenue, must make a deal by mid-January to save a 45- to 50-game season. The league has scheduled a Board of Governors meeting for Jan. 7, and Granik said he will recommend canceling the season if a deal isn't reached by then.

Although many complicated issues remain in dispute, it has become apparent that the one critical area that is the key to a settlement is the league's insistence on setting an absolute maximum salary for players with more than six years of experience. The owners want the maximum salary tied to a percentage of the salary cap, while the players have proposed a luxury tax on any owner who signs a player to a multiyear contract starting at more than $15 million.

The union has already offered a $10 million limit on the starting salary for any player with less than seven years of experience.

Hunter has said he will not accept a maximum salary on veteran players unless the league reciprocates with an equally concessionary gesture that brings the sides to closure. Presumably, that would include the union's proposed minimum salaries and an additional salary cap exception tied to the median salary.

The union also would want the league to withdraw several proposed changes to salary cap rules, including the elimination of opt-out clauses, the toughening of trade rules, the reduction of performance bonuses and the elimination of signing bonuses and trade kickers.

Hunter admitted Saturday he is wary of giving the owners another concession and then having them walk away from the bargaining table saying it isn't enough.

Some agents are counseling Hunter to wait until the Jan. 7 deadline before trying to close the deal.

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