Posted Feb 25 2012 7:39PM - Updated Feb 25 2012 9:26PM
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- At the halfway point of an already whirlwind NBA season, union leader Billy Hunter is pleased overall while still reserving judgment about the game in the aftermath of the prolonged lockout.
"Obviously the TV ratings are up. The attendance is up. Merchandising is up. So all the signs are positive, that's what I'm getting from (NBA Commissioner) David (Stern)," Hunter said Saturday. "The early report is that things are positive."
After a summer spent haggling mostly over revenue sharing, Hunter said the union is waiting to see the first official revenue figures from the league.
Early indications are the players will be pleased with what they eventually see.
The league shares its financial projections with the players' association on a quarterly basis, and the next update is due in March. Adam Silver, the NBA's deputy commissioner and chief operating officer, has informally conveyed to Hunter that the numbers are higher than expected.
There are several reasons for the positive numbers, but Hunter did allude to the recent surge in popularity of New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin as one possible culprit.
Hunter said he's not at all surprised that the league has been able to rebound so swiftly after a contentious summer.
"I believed that the electricity was in the air and what was going to happen was the same thing that happened to football," Hunter said. "(There was) just a groundswell of support when the NFLPA and NFL got their deal. Everybody was concerned of whether there would be a problem or downturn, and it didn't happen.
"I think the appearance of some of the new talent that they either weren't aware of before or the ones that we've seen that have kind of upped their game, and I think it's a time where people are impressed and turned on."
As far his satisfaction level with the new collective bargaining agreement that allowed for the compressed 66-game season, Hunter said he isn't ready to offer judgment just yet.
"I think it's too early to tell," he said. "I think when you look back at the players that were free agents that signed this past summer, the guys that we anticipated that would get paid got paid. That's what the system allows. So I think when some of the free agents come out this season, I think you're gonna see the same kind of response with what teams step up.
"It's not that they're not gonna be in a position to pay the players. The players deserve it."
Hunter will be looking at specific numbers when he measures the effect of the new agreement on free agency.
"The criteria is at what level guys sign, what they sign for and the length of the contracts," he said. "I think it's more about revenue sharing. I don't think the owners of the teams can sit back and say they have a problem with the ability to pay players and be able to make money. I think they got revenue sharing and many other things that they wanted."
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently told CBSSports.com that from his fellow owners' perspective, how they feel about the new deal may take even longer - perhaps as much as three or four years. Cuban even alluded to the possibility of the owners choosing to exercise their option to opt out of the 10-year deal in six years.
That did little to rattle Hunter's optimism about the future, though.
"We're not intimidated by that," Hunter said. "Trust me, all of that is just, how can you characterize that? It's a lot of hot air."
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