NEW YORK (AP) _ After 204 days, hundreds of millions of dollars in losses and countless fits, starts, fights and snags, the NBA lockout finally came to an official end Wednesday.

``It's a great feeling,'' commissioner David Stern said after he and union president Patrick Ewing affixed their signatures to the nearly 300-page collective bargaining agreement. '' It was an incredible relief.''

All league business will officially begin at 2 p.m. Thursday, with training camps opening and trades and free agent signings going through.

The 50-game schedule for the upcoming season will be released, Scottie Pippen will officially join the Houston Rockets, Latrell Sprewell will become a member of the New York Knicks, Antonio McDyess will return to Denver and the Chicago Bulls will renounce their rights to Michael Jordan _ all of it happening at once in what promises to be busiest day in league history.

``For us, we're just incredibly relieved and feel very good about going back to work,'' said Stern, who attended a party at the NBA Store after the agreement was signed.

Still unanswered are dozens of questions about who will play where, what the schedule will look like and whether the fans who were so turned off by the prolonged process will return with their old enthusiasm.

Two of the most pressing issues on the free agent front were the futures of McDyess and Tom Gugliotta.

McDyess decided early in the evening to return to the Nuggets, the team he played for in his first two NBA seasons.

``It was a real close call,'' said McDyess' agent, James Bryant. ``It came down to a question of do you want to inherit a contender or do you want to build one? Phoenix is a great franchise, but Denver is doing a lot of exciting things that haven't come out yet.

``Antonio has a chance to be the main guy there,'' Bryant said. ``And as you know, he played about 24 minutes per game in Phoenix last year and will play more than 40 a game in Denver. This is a player they will build a franchise around.''

The Suns, who surrendered two players and four draft picks when they acquired McDyess from the Nuggets, immediately turned their attention to Gugliotta. But there remained a chance that Gugliotta would end up in Minnesota or with the Lakers.

Also, Rod Strickland was wondering whether the Washington Wizards would improve their offer of $30 million guaranteed for three years, with two additional non-guaranteed years.

Strickland's agent, David Falk, was trying to engineer a sign-and-trade deal while also contemplating whether to advise Strickland to sign a one-year deal with another team and then re-enter the free agent market next summer.

Dennis Rodman, meanwhile, changed his mind Wednesday and decided not to retire.

``OK, so here's the deal,'' Rodman wrote in a message posted on his website. ``I've had some long discussions with the people I love, the ones whose opinions matter most to me, and I've decided not to retire after all.

Saying he has would like to play in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York or overseas, Rodman also wrote: ``There's one thing I have always told my fans I would do in my last game that I still haven't done. I'm sure you know what it is, but I still have to come back for at least one more game so that I can get buck naked on the court.''

Other players and their agents worked feverishly to finalize deals. Among the tentative agreements:

_ Christian Laettner heading to the Detroit Pistons in a sign-and-trade deal sending Charles O'Bannon and Scot Pollard to Atlanta.

_ Derek Harper was joining the Los Angeles Lakers.

_ Billy Owens was signing with Seattle.

_ Jud Buechler was set to sign with Detroit.

_ Michael Stewart was close to signing with Boston.

_ Jerome Kersey was headed to San Antonio.

_ Sam Perkins was ready to sign with Indiana.

_ Eric Murdock was joining New Jersey.

``Tomorrow will be the craziest day in the history of the league,'' agent Keith Glass said, ``and I'm looking forward to it.''

Among the other unresolved questions was where Charlotte free agent center Vlade Divac would sign. The Suns were interested if they lost both McDyess and Gugliotta, and the Sacramento Kings were weighing whether they should renounce the rights to free agent Corliss Williamson in order to clear enough salary cap room to meet Divac's asking price. One agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, insisted that the Seattle SuperSonics were making a late push for Divac.

Other free agents, including Hot Rod Williams, Brent Barry and Charlie Ward, still were not sure where they would be signing.

There also were a slew of unconfirmed trade rumors involving Donyell Marshall, Bob Sura and John Starks.

``There's a pent-up demand for information about players and playing, not about negotiators and negotiating,'' Stern said. ``We're ready to get back to work.''

The league released the schedule of exhibition games, with the first Sunday night at the United Center with the Indiana Pacers taking on a team no one will recognize _ the Chicago Bulls.

The regular season will begin Feb. 5.

The new collective bargaining agreement wasn't finalized without a final round of snags.

After meeting all night, lawyers for the owners and union broke off talks late in the morning. The main sticking point had been whether the new middle-class exception could be used for a three-year contract (the league's contention) or a six-year contract (the union's contention).

The union won that argument, but a final hitch developed over the league's insistence upon having discipline authority over agents involved in salary cap circumvention. Another snag concerned whether bonus money would be counted in trade calculations.

The final issues were resolved over the phone and the lawyers went through a final proofreading before Stern and Ewing finally put pen to paper at about 6 p.m. in a conference room on the 21st floor of a midtown Manhattan skyscraper. No photographers were present to record the moment, and the opposing lawyers, most of whom had been working all night on the agreement, offered only a smattering of applause.

``The overriding emotion was shock from looking at the lawyers for both sides,'' Stern said. ``We were looking for some intravenous feeding and other ways to take care of them. We hope they will be accepted back by their families.''