NEW YORK — NBA players and owners will start negotiating again Saturday, and the union's leaders say they're unified as they seek to resolve the lockout.
President Derek Fisher, executive director Billy Hunter and executive committee members said after meeting for about three hours Thursday that there was no truth to reports of a rift among them.
"We've had no problems, and that's the reality," Hunter said.
Hunter said they spent no more than 10-15 minutes total on a conference call earlier this week and during Thursday's gathering discussing the reports questioning Fisher's allegiances.
"The battle is not within our union," Bucks guard Keyon Dooling said. "Derek Fisher's the best president our union has ever seen. We'll stand as committee members — I'm the first vice president and I stand behind him."
Later Thursday came reports that a group of about 50 disgruntled players held a conference call with an antitrust lawyer about the possibility of pursuing decertification of the union. Yahoo! Sports and The New York Times reported that the players would consider pursuing the tactic if union leaders made more concessions in negotiations.
Thirty percent of players would have to sign a petition, then a majority would have to vote in favor for decertification. Mere talk of decertification also could give the players' side leverage in negotiations.
Owners and players haven't met since talks broke off last Friday. Hunter said federal mediator George Cohen contacted him earlier this week about possibly rejoining the negotiations. The conversation led to Hunter calling Commissioner David Stern on Wednesday about resuming talks, though it has yet to be determined whether Cohen will be involved.
Hunter said union leaders had spent the last several days cautioning players that the two sides were still far apart on several system issues, so completing a deal was not as simple as a compromise on the revenue split.
"Our guys are in a position of they still want us to negotiate a fair deal," Fisher said. "They've given us that power. They've given us that support.
"Obviously, we're going to have individual members in individual sets of circumstances that want to get back to play. We want to get back to play. But we realize the ramifications of agreeing to a bad deal at this moment. ... This particular collective bargaining agreement will forever impact the circumstances of NBA basketball players. We can't rush into a deal we feel is a bad deal just to save this season."
The lockout, which began July 1, has already led to the cancellation of a month of regular-season games. The two sides met for three days last week, but again the talks stalled when they turned to the revenue split.
They'll get back at it Saturday, though neither side seems to be shifting its stance.
"It's not wise or prudent for us to not meet or let huge gaps of time go by and let the clock run and not meet, because then we just become more entrenched in our respective positions," Hunter said. "At least if we're around the table something might happen; I can't predict if anything will."
Hunter said he told Fisher after negotiations broke down Friday: "You will see the kind of friend I have been and will continue to be."
Follow Rachel Cohen at http://twitter.com/RachelCohenAP
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