Earlier NBA opener likely coming in new CBA

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Major League Baseball had all the labor negotiating fun this week, coming to terms on a new five-year pact to avert a lockout just before its own buzzer to get a deal done, but fear not.

The NBA remains on course to announce its highly anticipated agreement with the National Basketball Players Association between now and Dec. 15, which NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently said has always stood as the "real" deadline for a new deal because that's the final date by which either side can opt out of the current CBA.

Details of what the new pact contains, meanwhile, continue to dribble out slowly. This is bound to continue over the next several days, but we can pass along a couple of goodies that blipped onto our radar this week, (seemingly) safe in the knowledge that only an unforeseen snag of epic proportions could derail the two parties at this point.

1. League sources say there's a strong likelihood that the start of the 2017-18 season will be moved up a week to 10 days, which is yet another measure aimed at reducing the number of back-to-backs teams face over the course of 82 games.

We're hearing that opening night next season is likely to fall in the Oct. 15-20 range, which would be achieved by shortening the preseason schedule from its longstanding eight-game max per team to five or six exhibition games.

The 2016-17 NBA season, to cite the most recent example, tipped off Oct. 25. Starting a week-plus earlier would give the schedule-makers even more wiggle room to cut down on the number of back-to-backs and four-games-in-five-nights stretches clubs endure.

NBA teams are scheduled to play an average of 16.3 back-to-backs this season, down from 17.8 in 2015-16.

2. There's a real chance, I'm told, that the forthcoming labor deal will enable teams to sign prized first-round draft choices to extensions after Year 2 of their rookie-scale deals.

Players are currently eligible for such extensions after Year 3, resulting in the mega-contracts we saw over the summer for Portland's C.J. McCollum and Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo and the flurry of deals (Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, etc.) we just witnessed on Halloween.

If this change indeed comes to pass, it would instantly put Minnesota's reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns in line for a rich new contract this coming summer.

As Silver recently told SiriusXM NBA Radio: "One of the things we're talking about, without being too specific in bargaining right now, is coming up with some additional opportunities for the incumbent team to retain the player, some advantages in terms of being able to negotiate earlier to extend the contract.

"I think if we 'early up' some of those opportunities, at least teams will be in a better position to know, one, whether they can keep that player. And if they can't, there will be more of an opportunity to deal that player and get value for that player if it seems likely that player is going to leave."

How unexpected was the 10-10 record that the Lakers lugged into December under new coach Luke Walton?

The Lakers, according to ESPN Stats & Info sage Micah Adams, were favored by ESPN's Basketball Power Index in only two of those 10 wins and only three of their first 20 games total.

Walton & Co., in fact, entered Wednesday's win at Chicago with just a 15 percent shot at victory according to the trusty BPI. It was thus an even bigger upset statistically than the Lakers' home win over Golden State on Nov. 4, when the BPI gave them a 23 percent shot at success, knowing that the Warriors were playing on the second night of a back-to-back -- on the road -- after beating Oklahoma City at home in the first Kevin Durant vs. Russell Westbrook duel.

(Adams, by the way, informs us the forecast for the Chicago game realistically should have been even more pessimistic, given that the BPI does not account for injuries; the Lakers had two starters out: D'Angelo Russell and Nick Young.)

For fans of such forecasting, we've assembled a brief list of updated Lakers projections:

However ...

There are at least two very pertinent footnotes to what's happening with this that the giddy denizens of Lakerland shouldn't lose sight of:

A. All this unexpected winning means that the Lakers' first-round pick in the 2017 NBA draft is increasingly looking Philly-bound. The Sixers, remember, take possession of L.A.'s first-rounder unless it lands in the top three of the June draft.

B. Expect the volume to keep rising on questions about Luol Deng and where he fits with this team. In the first year of a four-year, $72 million deal, Deng is shooting 33 percent from the field and struggling to find his niche among all the Lakers' youth and pace. Who knows what sort of market would await the Lakers even if they tried to trade him, but the topic seems unlikely to fade.

The timing of Brooklyn's looming offer sheet to restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas is no accident. The Nets are hoping that, by waiting until after Nov. 23 to sign Motiejunas, they'll give Houston further incentive to surrender its right to match and let the Lithuanian relocate to Barclays Center. As ESPN.com reported in early November, Houston established Nov. 23 as its unofficial internal deadline to come to terms with Motiejunas because that was the last day it could sign him and still be able to trade him this season. If the Rockets match now, Motiejunas can't be traded for a full year without his consent from the date the contract is signed. It's also no coincidence that the Nets emerged as the team to finally make a run at Motiejunas; Brooklyn hired longtime former Rockets executive Gianluca Pascucci as its director of international scouting in the offseason. ... Handy reminder about the back-and-forth rehab assignments Philadelphia's Nerlens Noel is making with the Sixers' D-League affiliate in Delaware: D-League assignments for injury rehabilitation, per NBA rules, require the player's consent. ... Wishing the happiest of 60th birthdays Sunday to my favorite player from the '80s: Mr. Bernard King!

The star guest in our latest TrueHoop Conversations podcast was none other than New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis.

A link to the full convo is enclosed, but here are a few highlights:

On whether he heard all the "poor Anthony Davis" talk during New Orleans' 0-8 start:

"I hear it. I see it. I’m on social media, so I see it all the time. But I think for me, it’s just about the guys in that locker room. I know they come out here every day, in practice and every night in the game, and fight and leave everything on the floor. It’s nothing that I try to pay attention to as much. But you see it. You have to pay attention to it. [But] for me, that’s not my M.O. to get into all the media and all that stuff."

On getting more adept, with experience, at tuning out external noise:

"It’s something you get better at. ... Of course we had it at Kentucky and a little bit at high school, but when you get to the NBA and of course you’re the No. 1 pick, all this media’s going to be around you. And so when they start [saying], ‘Oh, injury prone, he’s not a leader, he can’t carry [a team]’ -- all this stuff -- you start to see it. But after a while, as you get older and more established in the league and more experienced, you kind of find a way to tune it out. I think that’s the point I’m at right now.”

On staying positive through the tough times:

"It’s kind of my personality. I just try not to stress over everything. At the end of the day I try to look at it like, win or lose, whatever anybody says, I’m doing the thing I love and my life is pretty [good], so there’s nothing to be stressed about. Nobody has a sickness in my family. Nobody’s doing bad, so I’m always happy. There’s nothing to be down about, be stressed about."

ESPN.com's Baxter Holmes, Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst, and Saad Yousuf of ESPN Radio Dallas (103.3 FM) contributed to this report.