Latrell Sprewell will be returning to the NBA sooner than expected - although not as quickly as he wished - with his Golden State contract intact.

In a ruling that stunned the Warriors and angered commissioner David Stern, an arbitrator decided Wednesday to reinstate Sprewell's contract and reduce his suspension by five months.Sprewell's suspension now will expire July 1, and he will once again become a member of the Warriors. He is due to be paid $8.3 million next season and $9.0 million in 1999-2000, even if Golden State, as expected, trades him.

"Half the people are going to love it and half the people are going to hate it," Greg Foster of Utah said of the decision.

Actually, no one was completely pleased.

"We were shocked at this decision," said Warriors owner Chris Cohan, whose team seemed to be the biggest loser.

"You cannot strike your boss and still hold your job - unless you play in the NBA and are subject to arbitrator Feerick's decision," Stern said.

"We are happy Latrell has his contract back, (but) we are disappointed that he will not be able to resume his NBA career until July 1," said his agent, Arn Tellem.

Sprewell's contract was terminated by the Warriors and he was suspended by the NBA for one year for his attack on coach P.J. Carlesimo at practice Dec. 1.

"I thought our organization made a statement of what they think is acceptable behavior, and the league supported that," Carlesimo said Wednesday night after the Warriors upset the San Antonio Spurs 90-83. "To have that set aside is disappointing. At the same time, to get a resolution to this is great. It's good for Spree and that's fine."

Carlesimo also said he would be willing to coach Sprewell again if the Warriors decide to keep him.

The players union argued that Sprewell was being punished twice and that the league conducted a flawed investigation.

Arbitrator John Feerick rejected those arguments but determined that the punishment was simply too excessive.

"I find that a penalty of 68 games (and $6.4 million in lost salary) is commensurate with the severity of the misconduct, addresses the wrong done to the head coach and conveys a message that violence in the NBA will be dealt with severely, but always with due regard to principles of fairness," the arbitrator wrote.

It wasn't a total victory for Sprewell, however, because he was hoping to return to the league this season. The San Antonio Spurs would have been eager to add a shooter with Sprewell's ability, and the Houston Rockets were said to be mulling making an offer to the former All-Star.

Instead, Sprewell remains a member of the Warriors unless they trade him, which they can't do now because the trade deadline has passed.

Golden State general manager Garry St. Jean did not rule out the possibility of Sprewell's return to the Warriors, but said no decision has been made on what approach the team will take.

"One thing I have learned in the NBA is you never say never," St. Jean said.

Sprewell's attack on Carlesimo ignited a national debate.

His one-year suspension was more than six times longer than the previous harshest non-drug penalty in league history. The termination of his contract was unprecedented.

Stern reacted with some of the harshest comments.

"The arbitrator is a very charitable man, and he made a charitable decision in respects to Mr. Sprewell in this decision," Stern said. Feerick "missed the opportunity to send a message of what sports leagues stand for. On that basis, we're a little disappointed."

Sprewell, who was in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, made no public comment.