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• Annual salary increases will be set at 7.5 percent in Larry Bird contracts and 4.5 percent in non-Bird deals. • Owners dropped their demand to eliminate player options for high-paid players. • The owners agreed to a $4 million "apron" above the tax threshold which stipulates that teams may go above the luxury-tax line by $4 million and can still use the entire $5 million mid-level exception -- or acquire a player via sign-and-trade. Teams above the $4 million tax apron are limited to a maximum $3 million mid-level exception that can be extended out for three seasons and used every year.
Unhappiness among some players continued to percolate Saturday even after the memo was circulated, with a handful privately suggesting that Hunter capitulated too easily no matter how hard he tried in his letter to make it appear as the owners moved significantly in Friday's talks. "Spinfest 2011 has begun," one veteran player told ESPN.com after reading the memo. Yet the overwhelming sentiment around the league persists that the deal will easily win majority approval when the union's 400-plus members vote, since so many players are weary from the five-month impasse and eager to start playing again. NBA commissioner David Stern announced in the early hours of Saturday morning that the league hopes to open training camps Dec. 9 and commence the regular season schedule on Christmas. ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher reported earlier Saturday that the players' union viewed the following three aspects of the owners' previous offer as the most unappealing: • The unlimited escrow system. • The inability of teams under the salary cap to use their mid-level exception if it takes a team's player payroll over the cap, as well as the inability of teams over the cap to have the use of any exceptions at all. • Prohibition of teams over the salary cap from making sign-and-trade deals. Owners still will retain 10 percent of every player contract and have the right to keep that money if total salaries go over the allotted percentage allowed in a given season for player salaries, but they will not be allowed to take additional money from benefits or future escrow to settle up, as the owners proposed roughly two weeks ago. Any excess spending not covered by the 10 percent of salaries withheld will be drawn from a one percent pool of basketball-related income earmarked for benefits. When it comes to the mid-level exception, if the luxury-tax threshold is set at $70 million and a team's payroll is at $68 million, they would be allowed to use the full $5 million. But if a team is at $69.5 million in allotted payroll, they can go as far as $74 million and therefore use only $4.5 million of the exception. In the previous offer, owners wanted teams below the line to be required to get back under the limit by Oct. 15 of the following year if they used an exception to go over. The players, though, did not get all that they had hoped for on sign-and-trade rules, sources told Bucher. For the first two years of the 10-year agreement -- with either side possessing the option to exit the CBA after six seasons -- tax-paying teams still will be eligible to do sign-and-trade deals. That opens the door for impending star free agents such as Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams to be moved to big-market teams such as the Lakers, Knicks and Mavericks that are already over the salary cap. In the final eight years of the agreement, teams can still make sign-and-trade deals as long as the math does not put them more than $4 million into the luxury tax. Bucher reported that one concern on the player side is the fact that only broad, basic tenets of a new deal have been agreed to by both sides, meaning that disagreements on what was said and mutually accepted could arise when it comes to committing the entire deal to writing. It remains to be seen, furthermore, how quickly both sides can get through the B-list issues, which is also expected to include the league's drug and discipline policies. Senior writer Marc Stein covers the NBA for ESPN.com. Information from senior NBA writer for ESPN The Magazine Ric Bucher was used in this report.