NBA, players reach tentative agreement on labor deal

MIAMI (AP) — The NBA and its players have agreed to keep the most lucrative era in league history rolling.

The sides agreed Wednesday in principle on a new collective bargaining agreement, one that could last up to seven years and needs now only to be ratified by players and owners in the coming weeks. The deal was struck a day before the sides faced a deadline for opting out of the current deal.

If approved by votes of players and owners – likely to be formalities – there will be no lockout next summer and no labor issues for years to come.

“It’s amazing. I’m excited,” union president Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers said. “I’m happy for our fans, the owners involved. It’s a great thing.”

Three people briefed on the terms said the deal extends for seven seasons, with an opt-out possible after six. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because neither side was releasing exact details.

If the deal is ratified, the season will start a week earlier, preseason games would be capped at six and one of the most dreaded elements of the schedule — the four-game-in-five-day stretches — may be eliminated.

Other details of the new proposed CBA include increases in values of rookie-scale contracts, minimum salaries and exceptions, with a 45 percent increase in minimum salaries across the board in the first year of the new agreement. The rookie deals will be proportionate to the salary cap, either rising or falling as that does. The average player salary is expected to hit $8.5 million next season and rise to $10 million by 2020-21 under the new terms.

“It’s fair. It’s fair,” said Miami Heat guard Wayne Ellington, his team’s player rep to the union. “That’s all we were asking for.”

The deadline for opting out has now been extended to Jan. 13, with the NBA saying that’s “in order to give both sides enough time to review the terms of the agreement and vote to ratify.”

“That’s the second-best news of the night,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks joked when asked about the CBA right after Washington’s victory over Charlotte.

Two-way contracts between the NBA and the D-League will be in play for the first time, which would figure to enhance player development. And contracts would be able to be extended for five, or in some cases, six years. That will give teams more leverage to keep homegrown players on their rosters, a priority for owners after Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State this summer.

Neither NBA Commissioner Adam Silver nor NBPA executive director Michele Roberts spoke publicly after the tentative deal was announced. Some players reacted quickly on social media, including Golden State’s Draymond Green – who said “one day we will get it right…. maybe.”

But most players who spoke Wednesday seemed thrilled.

“It just shows you how big the NBA, how popular the NBA is, that it can’t afford a lockout,” Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan said. “People love the game too much. It’s great.”

News broke of the tentative agreement just as Wednesday’s games were starting. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra heard the news after a victory over the Pacers and said he felt a sense of relief.

“We’re all very fortunate to be in this profession,” Spoelstra said.

Talks have gone on for months, and unlike those surrounding the most recent deal between the league and its players, these were mostly amicable. Most of the major issues — such as keeping the split of basketball-related income the same as it is in the existing deal — were agreed upon weeks ago.

One element that held up the talks late in the process was a group licensing agreement. Among the four major U.S. pro sports leagues, the NBA was the only league that controlled its players marketing rights for sponsorships and media. Going forward, the players will now control their marketing rights.

Included in the more-than-400-page document is a proposed program that addresses domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. Players and their families will be provided with education, training and counseling and players facing allegations will be subject to a new investigation, discipline and appeals process.

Another issue addressed in these negotiations was a deal where the league would help fund programs to help retired players with medical expenses. That will kick in Jan. 1, even before this deal is likely ratified.

“I think everyone negotiated in good faith,” Paul said. “The conversations were great, everything was cordial. Everyone knows how well the game is going and didn’t want to mess that up.”

NBA officials and players expressed optimism throughout the process, pointing to the league’s skyrocketing revenue and salaries — thanks to a massive new television deal — and rising TV ratings.

It ensures a labor stoppage will be avoided, unlike the last negotiation before the 2011-12 in which the owners locked out the players for 161 games, resulting in a shortened season and plenty of frustration.

“For me, this is a relief,” Heat guard Goran Dragic said. “I want to play basketball. I didn’t want to sit home.”