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Summer drug tests in, HGH unclear for NBA players

Posted Dec 7 2011 9:41PM - Updated Dec 7 2011 10:13PM

NEW YORK (AP) -- NBA players have agreed to offseason testing for performance-enhancing drugs for the first time as part of the new labor deal reached with owners, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press.

Players' union executive director Billy Hunter sent the memo to players on Wednesday detailing these and other changes to the labor deal and recommends they ratify the agreement.

Previously, the NBA did not test players during its July-September offseason. Now, players could be tested up to two times during the offseason but would not be screened for drugs such as marijuana.

The memo was less clear about testing for human growth hormone, saying only that a committee would study the "possibility of an HGH testing program." NBA spokesman Mike Bass, however, insisted that both sides agreed to HGH blood testing, subject to the process being validated by a "neutral committee of experts."

It wasn't immediately clear who would be on that panel.

Major League Baseball and its players recently agreed to start HGH testing in spring training. The National Football League's new labor contract also included a provision for HGH testing as soon as this season -- but only once the players' union approves the process. That hasn't happened, in part because the union says it needs more information about the test.

No matter what, NBA players will face additional testing if the deal is ratified.

According to the memo, players can be tested up to two times during the offseason for steroids and performance-enhancing drugs, beginning in the 2012-13 season. The memo said a majority of players will be tested no more than four times throughout an entire year, and that no tests could be given at the arena on the night of a game.

Players began voting electronically on the deal Wednesday night and could vote through Thursday afternoon, when team owners will hold a meeting in New York to vote. If the deal is ratified by a majority on both sides, the NBA fully reopens for business Friday with the beginning of training camps and free agency.

If the agreement is ratified, a 66-game schedule will begin on Christmas. Players will receive a prorated portion of their 2011-12 salaries.

After owners and players reached a tentative agreement on the main labor issues on Nov. 26, owners opened up the arenas so players could begin workouts without coaches present. In the meantime, lawyers for both sides continued to negotiate a lengthy list of "B-list" items right into Wednesday.

Among the items agreed upon, per Hunter's memo:

• A joint committee will discuss the NBA age limit, which for now remains at 19, with one year out of high school.

• Players with three years of service or less may be assigned to the NBA Development League, with no limit on the number of assignments. No player in the NBA for more than three years may be assigned to the D-League without his consent.

• There will be a neutral review of any fines imposed by NBA Commissioner David Stern for players' on-court actions.

• Upon request, a player will wear a microphone for one nationally televised game per month, one locally televised game per month and up to two playoff games per round. The player must consent before the content can be aired live and can't be subject to discipline for content captured as a result of wearing a microphone.

• Neither the league nor a team may discipline a player solely based upon an arrest.

The division of basketball-related income and numerous issues related to the salary cap system were the biggest obstacles to reaching an agreement. Players were guaranteed 57 percent of basketball-related income in the old deal but will receive 51.15 percent this season and will earn between 49 and 51 percent during the remainder of the deal.

In giving up the guarantee, transferring about $250 million per year to owners, players were able to maintain the current soft salary cap system that allows teams to use exceptions to exceed the cap, rather than the hard cap the owners sought.

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