When National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter called Maurice Evans on Thanksgiving to tell him that his services were needed in New York to help resolve the five-month labor stalemate, Evans didn’t hesitate to purchase a plane ticket.
But to abbreviate his time away from family during the holiday, Evans bought a ticket that ensured he had less than 24 hours to either help the players find common ground with the owners or return home with ample time to spend with relatives. Evans caught a 6 a.m. flight out of Houston on Friday and left New York the next morning at 5:45 — nearly two hours after Hunter and NBA Commissioner David Stern held a joint news conference to announce the two sides had reached a tentative settlement and established the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement.
“I trusted Billy. I knew for me to go up there it had to be serious,” said Evans, the Washington Wizards’ free agent swingman and union vice president. “I knew it was an opportunity to close out. I think that was big for everybody to get that and take the pressure off everybody.”
The news that the NBA was close to starting a 66-game season beginning Dec. 25 was like an early Christmas present for many of the Wizards. Some reacted with glee on Twitter and in text messages — especially because the season appeared in jeopardy two weeks ago when the union disbanded and players filed an antitrust lawsuit against the league in Minnesota.
Wizards point guard John Wall wrote in a text message that he was “happy” that the lockout is nearing its end. Second-round draft pick Shelvin Mack wrote on his Twitter account, “Lockout is over . . . #Yessir.”
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.
Wall had played in several charity basketball games and summer leagues during the offseason but decided to attend but not participate in games in Dallas and Davis, Calif., in order to rest. He said was “gonna be good” when training camp begins. The Wizards held training camp at George Mason University last year and may have access to the facility, depending on how long teams are allowed to prepare, but Verizon Center is also a possibility, according to a league source.
The Wizards are also in better position than some teams to have a condensed training camp, since Flip Saunders and most of his staff are returning and the team already has Wall, Andray Blatche, Jordan Crawford, JaVale McGee, Rashard Lewis, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin under contract. Draft picks Mack, Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton will join the fold once they sign their set rookie deals.
The team has also put out qualifying offers on restricted free agents Nick Young, Hamady Ndiaye, Larry Owens and Othyus Jeffers and has three unrestricted free agents in Josh Howard, Yi Jianlian and Evans. Retaining Young will be the Wizards’ first priority in free agency, but the team will also attempt to sign a veteran backup for Wall.
Seraphin is currently playing in Spain for Caja Laboral. Seraphin’s agent, Bouna Ndiaye, said his client would stay with his team until the deal is ratified, meaning Seraphin may only play one more game before returning. “The Wizards will be surprised by their new player,” Ndiaye said.
Booker signed in Israel but returned home last month after developing a bruise in his right thigh. Vesely trained in Los Angeles for six weeks and returned to his native Czech Republic last week. He has negotiated a tentative buyout agreement with his Serbian team, Partizan Belgrade, and the Wizards would be able to make a financial contribution to free him from his contract once the deal is complete.
New York Knicks free agent guard Roger Mason Jr., a former Wizard, said Saturday that he and local trainer Joe Connelly were organizing a minicamp for players in the Washington area, beginning on Monday. Mason Jr., who was also a member of the players’ union executive committee before the union disbanded, said he expected Wall, Booker, Blatche, Ndiaye, Memphis Grizzlies draft pick Josh Selby and former Wizard and Dallas Mavericks center Brendan Haywood to participate.
“We’re getting started,” Mason Jr. said in a telephone interview. “I know a lot of guys have been working out, hopefully guys will be ready. We’re just happy that we saved the NBA and we can have a season.”
Evans and Mason said they both were confident that the players would agree to the deal that included a “band” that could allow them to receive up to 51 percent of the basketball-related income if certain financial benchmarks were met. The players conceded nearly $300 million per year to the owners by coming down from the 57 percent of income they received in the previous collective bargaining agreement.
“To everybody’s credit, everybody buckled down and made the concessions to get it done,” said Evans. “It was all worth it, though. There were times when we didn’t think we would make it. Frustrations settle in and it’s easy to let emotions take over instead of logic and sensibility. I think all the parties involved should get tremendous credit for that, because it was a long process.”