With the NBA reaching a tentative deal on a new collective bargaining agreement, the next month or so will be a sprint, not a marathon, as teams will have to scramble to sign free agents, stage training camps and get ready for a 66-game season that is slated to begin on Christmas.
Players reacted to the news on Twitter with understandable enthusiasm and Wizards forward Trevor Booker decided to take some credit since he celebrated his 24th birthday while both sides were negotiating. “Id like to think my bday is good luck,” he wrote.
The schedules will not be released until after the agreement is ratified, but the Wizards are currently scheduled to host the New Jersey Nets on Dec. 26. If the league decides to keep that opener intact, the Wizards would actually open the season against the same team they were originally scheduled to begin with on Nov. 2.
Representatives for the players and owners are expected to complete the final details over the next few days and if they approve the deal, free agency and training camp are expected to start simultaneously on Dec. 9. The Wizards held training camp at George Mason last season and may have access to the facility depending on how long teams have to prepare, but Verizon Center is also a possibility, according to a league source.
The Wizards would be in a better position than most for the awkward predicament, since John Wall, Andray Blatche, Jordan Crawford, JaVale McGee, Rashard Lewis, Booker, Kevin Seraphin are under contract, and draft picks Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack expected to give them enough for five-on-five drills (if all the players arrive in camp healthy and ready).
The full details regarding free agency haven’t been revealed just yet, but the Wizards have put out qualifying offers on restricted free agents Nick Young, Hamady Ndiaye, Larry Owens and Othyus Jeffers and they have three unrestricted free agents in Josh Howard, Yi Jianlian (the team declined to extend him a qualifying offer) and Maurice Evans (who helped broker the deal as a union vice president). When asked his reaction to the agreement, Evans texted, “I am very much thrilled.”
Retaining Young will be the Wizards’ first priority in free agency, but the team will also attempt to sign a veteran backup point guard for Wall. Seraphin is currently playing in Spain for Caja Laboral but has an NBA out clause. Booker signed in Israel but returned home after developing a bruise in his right thigh. Vesely returned to the Czech Republic last week and had negotiated a tentative buyout agreement with his Serbian team, Partizan Belgrade. Now that an, the Wizards will soon be able to make the necessary contributions for Vesely to come over.
An amnesty clause is likely to be included in the final collective bargaining agreement and the Wizards would have to decide whether it wants to shed the $32 million owed to Lewis over the next two seasons.
Jeffers is arguably in the most difficult predicament in this scenario, because he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in July and will be out at least six-to-eight months. It is unlikely that the Wizards would stash him on the roster when Jeffers wouldn’t be able to contribute much, if at all, this season.
To fit in 66 games and still have four days set aside for all-star weekend in Orlando, the schedule would have to be extended by a week, meaning that teams would play almost four games per week from Dec. 25 to April 25.
Teams could theoretically play each team, including non-conference opponents, at least once and have eight games leftover. Four would likely go division opponents, with the other four set aside for conference rivalry or arena availability. If the NBA was really concerned about creating competitive balance outside of financial restrictions, it could potentially offer a weighted schedule with the five worst teams, the five best teams, and the five middle teams in each conference playing each other.
“Man, I am so happy, a lil surprised too,” Blatche wrote in a text message when asked about the tentative agreement.
Howard also texted, “It’s a good feeling to see both sides working to get things done.”