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Fine print worth a look in new NBA agreement

Sean Deveney The Sporting News

A few days after Commissioner David Stern said the NBA players’ union was preparing to make a “tragic mistake” and Billy Hunter was claiming to hear a “death knell for the NBA,” the two were seated at a table at the SBC Center in San Antonio, smiling and clasping hands for a photo op. A new labor agreement had been struck. Tragedy and death had been averted.

The upshot of the agreement is known. The owners are happy because the length of player contracts has been scaled back a year, annual raises have been dropped by 2 percent and the minimum draft age is 19. The players are happy because the amount of their salaries withheld in escrow has been cut, the owners are not implementing a “super tax” and players suspended more than 12 games will be able to appeal to a neutral body.

But some of the intriguing aspects of the new contract are the ones in fine print. These might have more effect than some of the headline-grabbing issues.

Minor league structure: Players with less than two years of experience will be eligible to be sent to the NBDL, which means the youngsters chosen in the draft will have a place to play. A true minor league, at last.

But there are questions. The league intends to boost the number of NBDL teams to 15, with two NBA teams sharing each NBDL team. But how will NBDL coaches determine playing time? Will there be pressure to play the demoted players ahead of free agents? Financially, can the NBDL sustain itself? Shouldn’t NBDL teams be near the NBA teams they serve, to drum up interest?

Trades: NBA trading rules traditionally have been restrictive, to prevent lower-revenue teams from making financially driven trades. Previously, if a team traded a player, the player(s) it received had to make the same salary, within 15 percent (plus $100,000). So, if you wanted to move a $5 million player, you were obligated to take back anywhere from $4.15 million to $5.85 million.

But the 15 percent and $100,000 has been increased to 25 percent and $100,000, so trading a $5 million player now requires taking back between $3.65 million and $6.35 million in salaries.

Second-round picks: Remember how Gilbert Arenas escaped Golden State thanks to a collective bargaining agreement loophole? No more. Used to be that a second-round pick who signed a two-year deal could become a restricted free agent and his team could match any offer he received. But if that team was over the salary cap – most are – the team could match only to the midlevel exception (about $5 million).

Now, an outside team making an offer for a second-round restricted free agent must start the bidding at the midlevel exception in the first year and can increase its offer to the maximum after that. That allows the player’s current team to match any offer using its midlevel exception.

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