Players, owners approve agreement

NEW YORK -- NBA basketball is back, and commissioner David Stern insists it's better than before.

Maybe it won't be noticed right away, but Stern said the "tortured journey" of the 161-day lockout will prove to be worth it.

Stern announced that owners and players ratified a new collective bargaining agreement Thursday, the final step to ending the five-month lockout and paving the way for training camps and free agency to open Friday.

Together with an expanded revenue sharing program, Stern said teams and fans will see an improved league in coming years.

"It's a new beginning in a way," he said. "It's going to take a couple of years to work its way out, but we're very excited about its prospects."

The 10-year deal promises owners savings of perhaps a quarter billion dollars a year but largely leaves intact the soft salary cap system that the players fought hard to maintain.

Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver announced the deal during a news conference, putting an end to nearly two years of difficult negotiations that resulted in the second shortened season in NBA history. A 66-game schedule will begin on Christmas and run through April 26, forcing every team to play on three straight nights at least once.

Owners approved the deal, which allows either side to opt out after six years, by a 25-5 vote. The players' association said 86 percent of the more than 200 players who voted electronically approved the deal.

The Mavericks' Mark Cuban revealed his vote.

"I voted against it," Cuban said during a Friday appearance on ESPN 103.3's "Ben and Skin Show." "But we are where we are, right?"

Owners also agreed to an expanded revenue sharing plan, and Stern called both agreements "a watershed moment" for the league. The plan, which will begin in 2013-14, more than quadruples the revenue currently shared by teams, with Stern saying they could now receive in excess of $20 million and at least six teams could pay $50 million into the plan.

Saying they lost hundreds of millions a year under the old collective bargaining agreement, ratified in 2005, and believing that it favored large-market teams, owners sought significant changes in these negotiations. They refused an option to let the CBA run another year and opened the process in January 2010 with a proposal that called for a hard cap, the elimination of guaranteed contracts, rollbacks of current salaries and a massive reduction in the players' share of basketball-related income.

Owners locked out the players on July 1 when the old deal expired, and they reached a tentative deal on the main issues around 3 a.m. ET Nov. 26, heading off the potential of a canceled season and avoiding a possibly costly and lengthy court battle if the players had proceeded with an antitrust lawsuit.

The remaining issues finally were agreed to late Thursday morning, after players already had begun voting electronically.

Though owners insisted they wanted competitive balance just as much as a chance for profit, there's no proof yet they achieved it. Trade rumors involving All-Stars Chris Paul of New Orleans and Dwight Howard of Orlando had them landing in major markets, whose teams cleaned up during most of the old deal, when the Lakers, Celtics and Mavericks claimed the last four campionships.

Stern knows the owners, particularly in the small markets, didn't get everything they wanted, but he said "this is going to be a more competitive league over time."

"While it's not perfect, the deal addresses significant issues on both sides in a very productive way, we believe," he added.

Player salaries were reduced by 12 percent, and Stern emphasized new provisions that will allow teams to more easily escape difficult contracts and become competitive more quickly.

"We think it's a very good deal, and it's going to withstand the test of time," he said.

But with the revenue split and system issues taking so much time, there was little opportunity to change the non-economic issues. The draft age limit will remain 19 years at least through the 2012 draft -- the league would have liked to go to 20, the players would like to abolish it entirely -- and blood testing for human growth hormone won't be implemented this season.

Stern and the owners have been criticized for taking so long to come to an agreement, with no noticeable proof that the small-market teams who so badly needed relief are getting it. And the lockout comes with damage to the legacy of the 69-year-old Stern in his last CBA negotiations.

But he dismissed fears of that, believing he did what's best for his owners and league.

"I think most importantly we're back to basketball," Silver said. "I think legacies aside, it would have been terrible for the players, for the teams, our fans, concessionaires, everyone involved if we had lost more games than we had, so I think that's what's most important."

Training camps will open at 2 p.m. ET Friday, with the salary cap staying at $58 million. Having free agency the same day will be a challenge, but Stern said everyone was ready to go.

"We considered it, but on balance, our teams, our players and our fans were just saying let's get it on," he said. "So even though you could make a logical argument that we could have gained a day one place or the other, it was the overwhelming sentiment that we should just get going and we decided to do that."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.