The executive director of the NBA Players Association said Friday he can promise owners the union will resolve the marijuana issue, but it won't stand for a hard salary cap.
"The players are strongly united in their opposition to the elimination of a soft cap," Billy Hunter said after a three-hour union meeting at an airport hotel. "That's not negotiable.
"We're prepared to work out some kind of compromise as long as it doesn't involve a hard cap. That's the main issue. There are other solutions to their problems. There are no teams in the red, the issue is guaranteed profits."
Hunter said if the salary cap issue can be resolved, he believes everything else will fall into place.
"We're prepared to reach an accord and address their concerns on our current (drug) policy. We'll resolve that one," Hunter said. "I can promise them we will resolve the marijuana issue."
Marijuana has not been on the NBA list of banned substances.
About 30 players, including Stacy Augmon, Brent Barry, Jud Buechler, Michael Cage, Elden Campbell, Chris Dudley, Rick Fox, Adam Keefe, rookie Michael Olowokandi and Lorenzen Wright attended the session. Another regional meeting is planned Monday in Dallas.
Those interviewed backed Hunter on the salary cap issue.
"We're not going to bend on that," said Wright, the Los Angeles Clippers player representative. "It's the only way we can make money. We're going to stand firm. Everybody's on the same page.
"Before the season starts (in early November), I think it will be settled. I hope it will."
Said Augmon: "You have situations like with Michael Jordan, you want to pay him $30 million. If there's a hard cap, there won't be money for anyone else."
The meeting, for the purpose of keeping the players informed, came a day after the union withdrew its unfair labor complaint before the National Labor Relations Board.
The withdrawal came shortly before the board' regional director was to issue his recommendation on the union's contention that owners illegally imposed a lockout before bargaining to an impasse as required by federal law.
The union's about-face came exactly one week after commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Russ Granik and six owners abruptly walked out of a negotiating session after receiving the latest offer from the players.
The move was seen as a victory for the owners, but Hunter said it was simply a matter of establishing priorities.
"We had several matters we initiated," Hunter said. "It's not as significant as the guaranteed contract action or other things. We wanted to focus our attention on the guaranteed contract issue. Our position is they have to pay them."
Arbitrator John Feerick will convene a meeting Aug. 24 on the players' grievance contending that some 220 players with guaranteed contracts should be paid during the lockout, which began July 1.
The sides haven't scheduled any new formal negotiations, and none should be expected until Feerick issues his ruling. That will give the sides only about 2-3 weeks to finalize a collective bargaining agreement in time for training camps to open on time at the beginning of October.
"I have to be optimistic," Hunter said of a settlement. "I'm convinced that the owners no more than us want to experience a loss of games. Next month, I think we'll know whether there's a probability of whether we'll reach an agreement (before the season starts) or whether we won't."
If an agreement is not reached, the league stands to lose regular-season games to a work stoppage for the first time in its history.
"At first, I didn't understand what all the fuss is about," said Olowokandi, who was chosen by the Clippers as the No. 1 selection in the NBA draft, held shortly before the lockout began. "It seems like the players know what they're doing.
"If I have to sacrifice, I will. We have to stay intact. After seeing everything, I'm fine with it. I've been broke all 23 years of my life. If I'm broke two or three more years, I can live with it.
"It's a money issue, but the main issue is about being treated fairly."
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