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Federal mediator to rejoin NBA talks

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Federal mediator George Cohen is returning to New York on Saturday and will rejoin the NBA labor meetings in Midtown, according to a source.

Cohen stepped in more than two weeks ago and spent three days with the two parties before it broke off in a bad way.

Saturday is the first labor talks since one week ago, when union director Billy Hunter stormed out of the room after the NBA would not budge from its 50-50 proposal on the revenue split of $4 billion.

David Stern announced after last Friday's breakdown that an 82-game season is impossible, then canceled games through November. The New York Post reported Sunday that a possibility exists of a 78-game season if the sides agree by this weekend. Hunter, though, lowered expectations Thursday in a sitdown with reporters at his Harlem office.

Union vice president Roger Mason said that reports exaggerated the closeness of a deal. The players are at 52.5 percent, the owners at 50. But the salary-cap system has not been finalized.

"The biggest misperception is it's just two percentage points because it's about much more than 52-50," Mason said. "There's still a system that hasn't been addressed. There's perception we're 95 percent done with system issues. It's just not true. There's still issues that lead to a big divide."

All elements of a luxury tax for teams over the cap have not been hammered out. Hunter said he feels Cohen can ease the tension.

"That's why we suggest George gets involved," Hunter said. "We need someone who can serve as a bridge."

As to whether the sides could continue negotiating into Sunday, Hunter said, "We're wide open. I can't predict. I have no way of knowing what could transpire."

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