A collective sigh of relief was breathed by interested observers in Jazz camp after hearing Tuesday that the NBA and its players' union had reached agreement in principle on a new six-year collective bargaining agreement.
"I was concerned they might be out, because the reaction two weeks ago was 'it looks like there's no chance,' " Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan said with regard to the lockout that would have resulted had the two sides not come to terms on major issues before the current deal expires July 1.
"Having it settled, I think, is a relief," added Kevin O'Connor, the Jazz's senior vice president of basketball operations. "Now we can go forward with summer league."
NBA commissioner David Stern said during a Tuesday-afternoon news conference that both summer-league play and free-agency negotiations can proceed in July, even if lingering minor issues still to be settled mean a formal deal is not signed right away.
The Jazz-hosted Rocky Mountain Revue an annual summer league for NBA rookies, youngsters and free agents now is scheduled to go on as planned July 15-22 at Salt Lake Community College.
Though ratification also is pending from both players and NBA owners, Jazz president Dennis Haslam called the new agreement "win-win."
"We avoided stoppage," he said, "and we're allowed to go ahead and do what we do best, which is play basketball.
"I think the players want to play basketball," added Haslam, who would not address specific labor issues. "I don't believe the players wanted to have a work stoppage, and this puts both sides in a position to be winners."
But the real winners, one NBA Draft prospect suggested Tuesday, are neither players nor the owners.
"I'm kind of glad they got it done, just for the simple fact we can start playing, just for the simple fact that the fans don't have to suffer," said 19-year-old Gerald Green, a Texas high school star who worked out for the Jazz on Tuesday morning in advance of next Tuesday night's draft. "Because it's not all about us. It's all about the fans, too, because the fans make this game. We just play for the fans."
The new agreement calls for an increased team payroll salary cap, a guaranteed percentage-share of revenue for players, reduced maximum contract lengths, reduced guaranteed contract length for first-round rookies, reduced maximum annual pay raises, increased drug testing and an expanded NBDL minor-league system.
It also will result, beginning in 2006, in a minimum rookie-season eligibility requirement of 19 years of age or one year removed from high school a concession from the union, though not exactly the 22-year-old rule Jazz owner Larry H. Miller would have liked or the 20-year-old rule for which Stern fought.
"Certainly there are some terms that don't make everybody happy," said Haslam, who called Miller "excited" nonetheless over the prospect of avoiding a lockout. "Many owners or team management would like to see older players coming into the league. But we'll deal with what we're presented."
With the minimum at 19, Stern will have cause to ban teams from scouting in high school gyms which is what he wanted all along.
Some, though, wanted much more.
"Personally, four years (removed from high school) would have been what I think," Sloan said. "In the long run, I think it would make our league better because players would learn how to play basketball.
"Then you have a good background coming into our league, instead of having to sit and learn and wait."
That fact aside, Sloan is just pleased to know the 2005-06 season will not be compromised.
"It's a terrible loss, not only for the fans, but (also) for the owners and the players, to be out," he said. "I think it sends a bad message people don't want to hear."
Now, though, it seems that message will be deleted rather than sent."That," Sloan said, "is great for the league."
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