SAN ANTONIO – A minimum age of 19 to be eligible to play in the NBA (search) was part of a new six-year collective bargaining tentatively agreed to Tuesday by owners and players, averting the possibility of a lockout.
Commissioner David Stern (search) and union director Billy Hunter (search) flew to the NBA Finals from New York and announced the agreement prior to Game 6 between San Antonio and Detroit. The deal came on the fourth consecutive day of talks between the sides to replace the seven-year pact that expires June 30.
"We're gratified that we were able to avoid a work stoppage," Stern said. "This agreement creates a strong partnership with our players, which is essential for us."
The sides reached agreement on several key issues that had held up a settlement since serious talks began in late February. Among them were a one-year increase in the minimum age for draft eligibility, a reduction in the maximum length of long-term contracts from seven years to six, and reductions in the size of annual salary increases in those long-term contracts from a maximum of 12 1/2 percent to 101/2 percent.
Veterans will now be subject to four annual random drug tests for performance-enhancing and recreational drugs, an increase from current rules calling for them to be tested only once at the start of training camp. Penalties for violators will be increased.
Players with less than two years in the league will be eligible to be assigned to the minor league NBDL (search), where the minimum age will be reduced from 20 to 18.
Minimum salaries and benefits will increase, but Stern said it was uncertain how the new deal will affect the pensions for the small number of recipients who played in the NBA prior to 1965.
The salary cap will be raised from 48.04 percent of revenues to 51 percent, increasing the amount of money each team can spend on player salaries, and players will receive a guaranteed 57 percent of revenues.
Rosters will be expanded from 12 to 14, and players will have the right to an arbitrator's review of any suspension of more than 12 games for on-court misconduct.
Players agreed to reduce the number of guaranteed contract years for rookie first-round draft picks from three to two.
Also, there will be a gradual reduction from 10 percent to 8 percent in the so-called escrow tax under which a portion of each player's salary is withheld if the amount of leaguewide revenues devoted to salaries exceeds specified percentages.
The NBA has a system known as a "soft" salary cap, allowing teams to exceed the cap threshold to retain their own free agents, and to sign free agents under the so-called midlevel exception that was added to the labor agreement in 1999 after the sides went through a 71/2-month lockout. All salary cap exceptions from the prior deal will remain in the new deal.
Owners also withdrew their idea for an extra penalty — a so-called supertax — against the highest-spending teams. They also agreed to the union's request to have luxury tax revenues divided in a more equitable way.
Another lockout could have begun July 1, and the likelihood of a work stoppage seemed to increase last week after a round of posturing from both sides. But significant progress was made in almost 12 hours of meetings Friday, and the final gaps were closed Tuesday morning.
"We decided it was time to back away from the abyss and see if we could get a deal," Hunter said.
The agreement will still need to be ratified by the league's Board of Governors and by the members of the players' union at their annual meeting in Las Vegas next week.
Because of the time expected to be needed to put the agreement in writing, the upcoming start of the free agent signing period has been moved from July 14 to July 22.