"I think it's highly probable that there will be a lockout and that's what I'm preparing for because I don't see anything else right now," Hunter said.
With negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expires next summer going nowhere, Hunter said he's been instructing his players to save their money.
There was no breakthrough in the latest meeting with league representatives last week, and the sides hope to meet again next month. But Hunter said the owners aren't budging on their demands for cuts in salaries, contract lengths and guarantees, annual raises, and the rookie salary scale.
"What's left?" Hunter said in a conference room at the union's headquarters after helping distribute turkeys to 2,000 families outside.
The sides have been negotiating for more than a year, but Hunter agreed with Commissioner David Stern that there's been no progress. And the players are no closer to agreeing to the cuts that the league is seeking.
"I don't really see that the argument's all that compelling for the changes that they're asking for," Hunter said.
The league is calling for a reduction in player salary costs of $700 to $800 million and is seeking a hard salary cap to replace the system which now allows for certain exceptions.
The players counter that the current system has worked, pointing to record revenues and ticket sales, and strong TV ratings. They say the total of negotiated salaries has dropped for three straight seasons and forecast a 3 to 5 percent increase in revenues in 2010-11.
"It seems like things are doing all right and so our position is that we want to do what's best for the game," said Knicks guard Roger Mason Jr., a member of the players' executive committee. "Any way that we can make the game better as players, speaking for a lot of the guys, we're all for it. But we don't want to have a deal that's just not fair and that's what we think is being presented to us right now."
Hunter said the league has given no feedback on the proposal the union submitted in July. He offered no specifics of it, other than to say the players could be open to negotiating their guarantee of 57 percent of the revenues — which Stern has said is a central issue in the next CBA.
Hunter added that the players believe their proposal resonated with some owners, but blames others — he called them a hawkish group — for pushing Stern toward a deal Hunter says he won't get, one that would guarantee each owner a minimum annual profit of $10 million.
And Hunter, who has been mostly silent while Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver revealed items from their wish list last month, decided it's time to speak out to them.
"I think the message has to be driven home to I guess that hawkish group of owners that if they're inclined, if they want to lock us out — because we're not going to strike — if they want to lock us out and they want to pull the roof down on themselves, then hey, have at it," Hunter said.
Both Hunter and Stern have said progress must be made by February's All-Star break to reduce fears of the first work stoppage since 1998. Hunter isn't sure it'll come by then, saying he's "waiting for some sign, some movement from the owners that they want to reach a reasonable deal.
"Right now they're being unreasonable and I can't tell you when reason's going to set in," he said.
Notes: The NBPA plans to distribute turkeys to more than 8,000 families in NBA cities. They've already given them out in Atlanta, Miami and New Orleans, with planned stops in Los Angeles and Milwaukee.