Billy Hunter: Talks to resume Friday
The NBA and the re-formed players union will resume negotiations on the remaining terms of their new labor agreement at noon ET Friday, according to a letter sent to union members Thursday night by National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter.
In the letter, obtained by ESPN.com, Hunter tells players that the owners and NBPA "still must negotiate numerous non-economic matters, including the anti-drug agreement, commissioner and team discipline, and workplace rules, together with relatively smaller economic and other contract issues."
The union's hope, according to Hunter, is that the deal tentatively agreed to in the early hours of Nov. 26 will be fully negotiated and ready to present to the union membership at a general meeting next Wednesday in New York City. The meeting will be mandatory for team player representatives but open to all players.
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The deal, Hunter writes, would then be subject to ratification via electronic voting on Dec. 8 and would be completed by 5 p.m. ET that night, as per the terms set forth in the litigation settlement agreement reached between the owners and players earlier this week.
The NBA Board of Governors, according to Hunter's letter, is likewise scheduled to hold a ratification meeting next Thursday.
"If both the players and owners vote to ratify the agreement," Hunter wrote, "then training camps will open the following morning on Friday, December 9."
Hunter added: "As with the union authorization process, the American Arbitration Association will supervise the ratification process. Every player will have an opportunity to vote on the proposed agreement."
The NBPA announced earlier Thursday that NBA players had formally authorized the re-forming of the union, with more than 300 players submitting the necessary signatures to a third-party accounting group.
"This is good news and completes another step in the process of finalizing our agreement," NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.
When talks between the players and owners broke down Nov. 14, Hunter and union president Derek Fisher announced that the NBPA was disclaiming its interest in representing the players, enabling them to file an antitrust lawsuits against the league. Negotiations finally resumed after Thanksgiving, in a last-ditch attempt to reach an agreement in time to start the season by Christmas Day, finally leading to a handshake agreement on the broad points of a tentative labor pact after 15 hours of talks last Friday.
Teams and player agents were cleared to begin contract talks Wednesday and NBA practice facilities opened league-wide Thursday. The union needed at least 261 signatures from players to be received by the American Arbitration Association by the end of the business day Thursday to officially re-form as a union and have the ability to resume CBA negotiations with the league on a variety of outstanding salary-cap matters and so-called B-list issues that could include establishing an age requirement for NBA eligibility, which currently requires a player to be 19 years old and, in the U.S., one year removed from high school.
ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher reported this week that, while it has been widely held that the NBA would like to push the age limit to 20, sources familiar with the dialogue between the two sides now say it is expected to remain at 19 for at least the first two years of the new deal and possibly beyond that.
Several alternatives have been discussed, sources told Bucher. One option would be to allow players to enter the draft directly out of high school but have the option to withdraw and go to college, similar to the draft rule used by Major League Baseball. Under this concept, such players would next be required to attend at least two years of college before entering the draft again.
Another option would be to revise the rookie salary scale by adding incentives to stay in college longer, one source close to the labor talks told Bucher. Potential incentives would include increasing the salary range for each year a player stays in school or allow him to qualify for free agency sooner.
There are several ancillary reasons why keeping the age limit at 19 for the time being is seen as desirable by the NBA. The first is the limited time that owners and players have to complete a collective bargaining agreement by Dec. 9, which is the date NBA commissioner David Stern has announced for the start of training camp and free agency. All significant rules pertaining to league operations have to be in place by then.
The prospect of re-stocking the league with young talent is another appealing factor.
The 2012 draft class is expected to feature several lottery-level collegiate players -- North Carolina's Harrison Barnes and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger among them -- who passed on the 2011 draft because of the labor uncertainty.
One league official told Bucher that a star-studded draft and the hope that it offers the league's struggling teams -- with NBA-caliber collegiate freshman such as Kentucky's Anthony Davis and Connecticut's Andre Drummond also potentially joining Barnes and Sullinger -- could help erase whatever lingering disenchantment fans might feel from the labor turmoil.
The 2012 NBA draft is tentatively scheduled for June 28, which would fall two days after the scheduled date for Game 7 of the 2012 NBA Finals.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Information from ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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