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NBA, Union Sign Labor Contract

July 11, 1996

The NBA and its players finally made labor peace Thursday, signing a collective bargaining agreement that opened the door to the richest free-agent market in league history.

The league announced from its New York headquarters that a deal extending through the 2000-2001 season was now in place.

That development, which for much of the week had seemed in doubt, lifted the moratorium on player signings that had been in effect since July 1.

Among the players who can now negotiate with any club they choose are Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Miller, Juwan Howard, Dennis Rodman and Gary Payton.

``The process has been a difficult one,′ said Jeffrey Mishkin, the NBA’s chief legal officer. ``But I think we now have an agreement that will provide a constructive framework for the long-term relationship between the NBA and its players.″

The moratorium officially ended at 5 p.m. EDT, meaning the free-agent market opened 10 1/2 days later than originally scheduled.

``I expect my deal to be done in about four days, Shaq might take a week,″ Payton said.

A two-day break had been agreed upon after a brief lockout was imposed Monday when the league and union found themselves at odds again over the dispersal of $50 million in television revenue.

Last summer, a three-month lockout ended when the players voted to ratify a modified labor deal rather than decertify the union.

The agreement remained unsigned, however, while the two sides argued over details. The matter ended up in court, and the league threatened a lockout for July 1 if the differences couldn’t be resolved.

Now, general managers and agents, after sitting on their hands for more than a week, can set in motion the trades that had been on hold.

Charles Barkley is expected to be dealt to Houston in a three-way trade that would send Dikembe Mutombo to Phoenix and Robert Horry and Sam Cassell to Denver.

In one deal that appears definitely set, high school star Kobe Bryant would be traded from Charlotte to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac. Also, Andrew Lang would go from Minnesota to Milwaukee for a first-round draft pick.

About 150 players whose contracts have expired are available. The teams with the most room under the salary cap will have the most options, but any team can exceed the $24.3 million limit to retain one of its players.

Miami, New York, Minnesota, Indiana and Vancouver have the most salary cap room, and the Lakers will join that group if the trade for Bryant goes through.

The Lakers would then push for O’Neal, hoping the movie lots and recording studios of Hollywood can lure him from Orlando.

``It’s going to be a difficult time, one of the most difficult decisions of my life,″ O’Neal said earlier this week. ``It’s like deciding whether to get married, where to go to college, whether to leave college early.″

O’Neal’s Los Angeles-based agent, Leonard Armato, said his client will consider only those teams that submit offers before July 19.

``Orlando is still the first choice and the likely place for Shaquille,″ Armato said. ``However, I have advised him that he should carefully consider all of his options and make a well-reasoned, thoughtful decision.

``Shaquille has made clear that he does not want to drag out this decision, preferring to concentrate on the upcoming Olympics.″

O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning might be the two most sought centers, especially if the Mutombo-Barkley trade is made.

The second tier of free agent centers includes Ervin Johnson of Seattle, Jim McIlvaine of Washington, Benoit Benjamin of Milwaukee and Sean Rooks of Atlanta.

Payton, the defensive player of the year for Seattle, is the marquee point guard on the market. A notch below are Kenny Anderson, Tim Hardaway and Derek Harper. John Stockton and Magic Johnson would be on the A-list, but Stockton is expected to re-sign with Utah and Johnson has retired once again.

B-list point guards include Robert Pack, Chris Childs, Lee Mayberry, Eric Murdock, Kenny Smith, Spud Webb and Brent Price.

Among the best power forwards are: Rodman, Howard, Horace Grant, Dale Davis, Brian Grant, Brian Williams, Chris Gatling, Otis Thorpe, Kevin Willis and Elden Campbell are among the best power forwards. Walt Williams, P.J. Brown, Don MacLean, Mario Elie and David Benoit are among the small forwards.

The shooting guards include Jordan, Miller, Allan Houston, Steve Smith, Rex Chapman, Dan Majerle, Latrell Sprewell and Hersey Hawkins.

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