NBA: Tentative deal paves way for Christmas tip-off

NBA: Tentative deal paves way for Christmas tip-off

NEW YORK - Agence France- Presse
NBA: Tentative deal paves way for Christmas tip-off

AFP Photo

A tentative agreement to end the NBA's crippling lockout and save the season will have owners and players scrambling to get the details in place in time for a star-studded Christmas tip-off.

 "There is a lot of work to be done in a lot of places, with a lot of committees and player groups and the like, but we are optimistic that it will hold and we will have ourselves an NBA season," NBA commissioner David Stern said as he and players' association executive director Billy Hunter sat wearily side by side shortly after 3 a.m. Saturday to announce the handshake agreement.

 Once all the details are in place, the deal must still be ratified by NBA club owners and by the more than 430 members of the NBA players' association, with Stern describing the agreement as a "tentative understanding that is subject to a variety of approvals and very complex machinations."

 The ratification process for the players is complicated by the fact that they disbanded their union when talks last broke down on November 14 and launched an anti-trust lawsuit against the league.

 At the time Stern dismally predicted that move could portend a "nuclear winter" for the league.

 Now the players must drop the lawsuit and re-form the union in order to vote on the deal.

Stern said the league's labor relations committee would discuss the agreement later Saturday and he expects them to recommend it to owners.

 If all that happens as hoped, training camps and a free agency signing period will open on December 9 and a 66-game season will begin on Christmas Day -- 55 days after the normal 82-game season was due to begin on November 1.

 In the only prior NBA season shortened in a financial fight, each team played 50 games in the 1998-99 season, which did not start until February after a deal was reached in early January.

The league will have to come up with a revised schedule for both the regular season and the playoffs. Clubs will have to sort out their rosters -- with some moves likely impacted by new rules -- and the players who had planned to wait out the dispute competing overseas will have to head home.

"We're really excited," said Peter Holt, the San Antonio Spurs owner who is chairman of the league's labor relations committee and who was present at the marathon meeting during which the impasse was finally broken.

"We're excited for the fans. We're excited to start playing basketball, for players, for everybody involved."

Owners locked out players on July 1 after the previous collective contract expired.

Owners, claiming $300 million in losses last season among 22 of the league's 30 clubs, said they needed changes in how they divided some $4 billion in revenue and stricter controls on salary spending.

Neither side went into many specifics of the deal on Saturday, preferring to first discuss them with their constituents.

The New York Times reported that the proposed deal features a 50-50 split of revenues -- representing $300 million less for players who received 57 percent of basketball-related income under the prior contract.

The newspaper also reported it calls for shorter contracts, smaller raises and tougher penalties on the top-spending teams, something players had bitterly opposed because it could limit their options as free agents.

NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said he believes the deal will achieve the owners' aim of greater parity between the big-spending teams in large markets and teams with smaller budgets that have been largely priced out of the star free-agent market.

"We hope it's effective," Silver said. "We feel ultimately it will give fans in every community hope that their team can compete for championships."

Despite concessions, players association president Derek Fisher said he was happy to be part of reaching an agreement.

"For myself, it's great to be a part of this particular moment in terms of giving our fans what they wanted and wanted to see," Fisher said.

If the deal is approved, it will include a marquee triple-header on December 25, when Miami visit Dallas in a rematch of last season's championship series won by the Mavericks over the LeBron James-led Heat, plus Boston at New York and Chicago at Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers.

Many players greeted news of the agreement with enthusiasm on Twitter, although a few sounded a cautious note.

"Glad lockout is almost over, but I hope each player read the fine print and make the right decision with their mind and not their heart," tweeted Jason Richardson, who could soon be leaving Orlando as a free agent.