- Associated Press - Saturday, February 19, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The NBA and its players’ association finally sat down again and are planning to get together more frequently.

Maybe even enough to prevent a work stoppage.

A two-hour meeting Friday that union executive director Billy Hunter described as “pretty cordial” and “amicable” was the first formal session between the sides since November. With the collective bargaining agreement set to expire June 30, Hunter said he’s available to negotiate “if and when the NBA elects, the owners elect to give us a counter proposal or something that indicates they really want to get a deal and it’s not really a slow march to a lockout.”

Though there wasn’t much progress, there also wasn’t the acrimony of a year ago, when the players shot down the owners’ original proposal for a new deal at All-Star weekend. The league wasn’t satisfied with the players’ counterproposal in July, and Hunter has said he was “99 percent” sure there would be a lockout if the owners didn’t move off their position.

But he saw signs Friday that “maybe going forward they may be a lot more open to some kind of compromise.”

With the league projecting about $350 million in losses this season, the owners have proposed a hard salary cap to replace the current system that allows for certain exceptions. They also seek lesser contract lengths and values and non-guaranteed deals.

Hunter has said a hard cap is a “nonstarter” and the union argues it would weaken the league. He said the union won’t offer another proposal and doesn’t expect one from the league anytime soon, but believes they still can work through some issues in smaller group meetings.

Both sides had said there wouldn’t be any progress Friday because there would be so many people in the room. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire were among the All-Star players who joined the players’ executive committee in the meeting, and any owners in town also were invited to attend.

Still, union president Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers said: “The dialogue was constructive. There definitely was a commitment to trying to get this process done in this room.”

Hunter said he and Commissioner David Stern would make plans for smaller meetings when they returned to New York next week. Hunter has been telling his players to be prepared for a work stoppage he said would “hurt of all us, everybody associated or connected with NBA basketball,” but believes four months is still enough time to prevent it.

“We’re going to make every effort to negotiate. We want to get a deal. Our guys do not want to be locked out, but they’re given no choice and that’s what I said to them,” Hunter said. “If you don’t give us any choice and our only alternative is to fight, then we’ll fight.”

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