DALLAS (AP) _ While NBA players await a crucial arbitrator's ruling that could determine who has the best bargaining position in new negotiations, the NBA Player's Association continues to hold meetings with players throughout the country.

About a dozen players attended a regional meeting Monday characterized by attendees as informational. Players are not expecting any forward motion in lockout talks for at least a week.

``I don't know if this meeting is about progress'' said Boston Celtics forward Popeye Jones. ``It's basically what you're seeing in the paper _ we're just in a situation where we need to see what (arbitrator John) Feerick says.''

The next step in getting both sides back to the bargaining table hinges on a decision by Feerick, the dean of the Fordham University law school, said Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBA Player's Association.

Feerick will convene a meeting on Aug. 24 to decide whether about 220 players with guaranteed contracts should be paid during the lockout. Hunter said he expects a decision by Labor Day.

``We're anxious to negotiate, but that won't occur until after Aug. 24,'' Hunter said.

What Feerick says will probably decide who comes back to the negotiations with the stronger bargaining stance. Bargaining broke down in early August when NBA commissioner David Stern and the owners abruptly left a meeting.

If Feerick rules that owners do not have to pay those players during the lockout, then the owners could gamble that players will soften their stance under the threat of continued money loss.

Players adamantly oppose the hard salary cap pushed by owners, fearing that superstars would use up most of the money available under the cap and leave others short. Hunter said if that issue is resolved, he believes the others will fall into place.

``Everything is going smoothly, and we feel like everybody's got to keep a level head and find compromise,'' said Dallas Maverick Samaki Walker.

The issue of whether to include marijuana in the NBA's drug policy is perhaps the only area of agreement between the players and owners. Both have agreed to add marijuana to the list of banned substances, but the player's association says that will only happen after other agreements are released.

``We'll incorporate it if we get everything else,'' Hunter said.

Otherwise, most players at the meeting are intent on ending the lockout by the time training camps are scheduled to start in early November.

``All the guys I've talked to want to play ball, but we don't want to be part of something that will affect the guys coming into the league,'' said Dallas Maverick Shawn Bradley.