BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - NBA basketball is back.
Calling it a “new beginning in a way,” Commissioner David Stern announced that owners and players ratified a new collective bargaining agreement Thursday, the final step to ending the five-month lockout and paving the way for training camps and free agency to open Friday.
The 10-year deal promises owners savings of perhaps a quarter billion dollars a year but largely leaves intact the soft salary cap system that the players fought hard to maintain.
Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver announced the deal during a press conference, putting an end to nearly two years of difficult negotiations that resulted in the second shortened season in NBA history. A 66-game schedule will begin on Christmas and run through April 26, forcing every team to play on three straight nights at least once.
Owners approved the deal, which allows either side to opt out after six years, by a 25-5 vote. The players’ association said 86 percent of the more than 200 players who voted electronically approved the deal.
Owners also agreed to an expanded revenue sharing plan, and Stern called the agreement of both plans “a watershed moment” for the league.
Saying they lost hundreds of millions a year under the old collective bargaining agreement, ratified in 2005, and believing that it favored large-market teams, owners sought significant changes in these negotiations. They refused an option to let the CBA run another year and opened the process in January 2010 with a proposal that called for a hard cap, the elimination of guaranteed contracts, rollbacks of current salaries and a massive reduction in the players’ share of basketball-related income.
Owners locked out the players on July 1 when the old deal expired, and they reached a tentative deal on the main issues around 3 a.m. Nov. 26, heading off the potential of a canceled season and avoiding a possibly costly and lengthy court battle if the players had proceeded with the antitrust lawsuit they had filed in Minnesota.
The remaining issues finally were agreed to late Thursday morning, after players already had begun voting electronically.
Though owners insisted they wanted competitive balance just as much as a chance for profit, there’s no proof yet they achieved it. Trade rumors involving All-Stars Chris Paul of New Orleans and Dwight Howard of Orlando had them landing in major markets, whose teams cleaned up during most of the old deal, when the Lakers, Celtics and Mavericks claimed the last four championships.
But Stern said the “tortured journey” was worth it, insisting that more teams will have an opportunity to compete.
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