by Marcel Mutoni / @marcel_mutoni

Just two months ago, both the Players’ Association and the owners characterized their meetings as cordial and productive. Today, however, things are considerably less jovial and optimistic.

Billy Hunter sounds like a man who’s ready to throw in the towel. The Union chief says that a lockout is all but guaranteed.

The NY Times has the quotes:

“I’d be 99 percent sure as of today that there will be a lockout,” Billy Hunter, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, said in an interview at his Harlem office. “I’ve said, ‘Save your money because in all probability there’s going to be a lockout.’ ”

It was the most dire prediction that Hunter has issued since the league and the union began discussing a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the deal that expires in July. Negotiations have been almost nonexistent. Each side has effectively rejected the only proposal made by the other. No meetings are scheduled, although the two sides have discussed meeting in late December.

Hunter, in full-court press mode, added that NBA team owners are being unreasonable in their demands. So, there’s that.

This is all just part of the negotiating gamesmanship between the two sides, of course, but should things reach a critical point and a lockout does indeed take place next summer, Hunter said the union has set aside a $175 million war chest to assist players in need.