Yet even if Paul bolts, or Dwight Howard leaves Orlando this summer, Stern said the new labor deal can't be judged by that, or anything else that may happen right away.
"I believe in free agency," he said. "We have a deal where a player who has completed his time at a team under a contract has a right to go someplace else. And then there are potential judgments to be made by teams about whether there's a time when they want to consider getting something more for that player in the event he will leave than if he stays. So nothing has changed about that. That dynamic is the same. But, yes, this is going to be a more competitive league over time."
Saying they lost hundreds of millions a year under the old collective bargaining agreement that owners believed favored large-market teams, the league sought significant changes in these negotiations. Owners refused an option to let the CBA run another year and opened negotiations 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.
After locking out players on July 1, the two sides reached a tentative deal around 3 a.m. Nov. 26, heading off the potential disaster of a canceled season and avoiding a possibly costly and lengthy court battle had players 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. Stern knows the owners, particularly in the small markets, didn't get everything they wanted after watching the big-spending Celtics, Lakers and Mavericks claim the last four championships.
"While it's not perfect, the deal addresses significant issues on both sides in a very productive way, we believe," he said.
Player salaries were reduced by 12 percent, and Stern emphasized new provisions such as the amnesty clause will allow teams to more easily escape difficult contracts and become competitive more quickly.
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. 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."
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