- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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The NBA Players Association, in a brief but sober memo circulated to player agents mere hours before the start of free agency, has issued its latest warning about a possible lockout in 2011.
The memo, obtained by ESPN.com, advises agents who are worried about players who might have "difficulty budgeting" over the next year in advance of a potential lockout "can and should negotiate an 18- or 24-month payment schedule for [their] 2010-11 salary."
The memo continued: "This will allow [the player] to receive paychecks throughout the course of the 2011-12 season, regardless of any lockout."
Fears about a work stoppage have spread throughout the league in recent months, largely because the players' union reacted angrily to a proposal on a new labor agreement from NBA owners that called for major salary cuts and reductions in contract lengths.
Union chief Billy Hunter has strongly disputed a claim made by NBA commissioner David Stern in February that the league was poised to lose some $400 million this past season.
The players association held its annual summer meeting last week in Las Vegas, with Hunter pledging that a counterproposal to the league would be submitted within days.
The memo also advised agents that the union is "optimistic" the salary cap and luxury-tax threshold for the 2010-11 season will be "higher than the league's earlier projections, which called for a significant decrease from last year's amounts."
It is believed, however, that the union was referring to the league's gloomy projections from a year ago -- when it was suggested that the salary cap could drop all the way from the current figure of $57.7 million to the $50 million range -- as opposed to more recent projections.
The most current projections used by teams throughout the league have next season's salary cap falling slightly to $56.1 million, with a luxury tax threshhold of $68 million.
The memo also said the official cap and tax numbers will be confirmed on the night of July 7, with July 8 serving as the first day teams and players actually can sign new contracts.
Labor negotiations are expected all summer. Last month, during the NBA Finals, Stern said hashing out a new deal that avoids a lockout is "No. 1 on our agenda" for the offseason.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.