NEW YORK (AP) – If progress can be measured in time spent together, things were looking better in NBA labor talks Friday.

Commissioner David Stern, union director Billy Hunter and several owners and players met for more than seven hours at a Manhattan hotel, the first substantive talks in weeks between the sides negotiating a new labor agreement to replace the seven-year deal expiring June 30.

Neither side would immediately characterize the talks, other to confirm that they began at 11 a.m. were still going as of 6:30 p.m. EDT.

ESPN quoted players union President Michael Curry as saying the talks were going “good,” and that he was hopeful the framework of a new deal might be in place by the end of the weekend.

No meetings had been held since June 1 when the sides met for 21/2 hours at the union’s office. The past two weeks have been marked by public posturing from both sides.

On Wednesday, Hunter said he surmised from Stern’s public comments last Sunday that only three issues remain in dispute – an age limit for rookies, a tougher drug-testing program and the maximum length of long-term contracts, but deputy commissioner Russ Granik said Hunter’s assumption was incorrect.

Owners are known to be seeking several other changes to current rules, including a new luxury tax (dubbed a “supertax”) for the highest spending teams, reductions in the size of annual salary increases in long-term contracts, a shortened rookie wage scale and adjustments to the so-called trigger percentages that activate the escrow and luxury taxes designed to curtail spending on player salaries.

AP-ES-06-17-05 1903EDT

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