NBA All-Star break could be the end for union head

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NEW YORK (AP) - After 17 years fighting for NBA players, Billy Hunter might be down to his last, most difficult battle.

This one is for his own job.

A lengthy report critical of seemingly every aspect of Hunter’s leadership has given players plenty of reason to fire him as executive director of the players’ association, and some will go to Houston for All-Star weekend with that intention.

“First, I just feel like it’s time for a new leader,” Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins said.

Some other notable players agree, and plenty more could follow if they take the advice of their agents, many of whom have long disliked and disagreed with Hunter.

Others, realizing that Hunter hasn’t been found to have done anything illegal, may not support his removal from the position he’s held since 1996.

His future is expected to be the focus of the players’ meeting, unless there’s a resolution beforehand. He’s already been placed on indefinite leave, likely the first step in a termination that could be voted on during the meeting.

After a lengthy labor struggle with the NBA in 2011, union leaders have now turned on each other, creating a situation that superstar Kobe Bryant said last week is a “mess right now.”

It resulted from the fallout between Hunter and union president Derek Fisher, Bryant’s longtime teammate with the Los Angeles Lakers. Fisher urged a review of the NBPA’s business practices, which was completed by the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.

Released in January after eight months of reviewing financial records and NBPA emails, along with interviews of more than three dozen witnesses, the report contains hundreds of pages of questions about Hunter’s judgment and decision making, leaving readers to wonder whether the issue is that Hunter didn’t know better or should have done better.

He was aware his contract was never properly approved. He hired family and friends, or companies that employed them. Red flags are raised about vacation pay, travel expenses and purchases of gifts, among others.

The report urges players to consider Hunter’s position this weekend, and players such as Paul Pierce, Deron Williams and Andre Iguodala have called for his ouster. Yet even Bryant, a veteran who can be as informed as he wants through his friendship with Fisher, called himself “pretty ignorant” about the issues, and many other players either don’t seem to know or care what’s going on.

“I think one of the weaknesses so far at this point has been a lack of communication. I think a lot of us were taken by surprise by a lot of things that supposedly have been found,” said Kyle Korver, Atlanta’s alternate player representative.

“I think it would be helpful if people who found the report would come sit down and talk to everyone and say exactly what they found, because it’s hard to know, to trust a side. Because agents have their side, obviously. We all picked agents that we trust, but they have a stake in something. The union, they’re trying to protect jobs. They have a stake in something. The media is trying to tell a story and it’s hard I think for the players to get the truth a lot of times.”

Representatives from the law firm will brief players at the meeting. Still unclear is whether Hunter will be in Houston, or exactly what the steps are to firing him.

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