The NBA lockout ended early Saturday morning with a tentative deal. We have a rundown of what's to come in the weeks and months ahead.
Early Saturday morning, a weary David Stern, Billy Hunter, Adam Silver and Derek Fisher smiled for the cameras and told the world that the NBA lockout was over, that a tentative deal had been reached and that the season would likely start on December 25. The world celebrated.
And then the world asked what was next.
Here's an early reading on how things will shake out from here:
Immediately: Players under NBA contract who have signed overseas during the lockout will stop playing for those teams. They may not be required to return to the NBA until December 9, but few will have the stomach to risk guaranteed contracts with fuzzy legal bearing in play. Expect DNPs from the NBA contingent in Europe for Sunday's domestic league action.
On Saturday: The NBA and players still have a host of issues to work out on the actual deal, including the draft age minimum, D-League assignments, player discipline, drug-testing, promotional requirements and just about anything else you can think of. None of this stuff can derail the deal, but it still needs to be hashed out. It should be done soon.
Over the next 10 days: The lawyers will first lead the way on crafting a settlement agreement to the players' anti-trust lawsuit. Signatures on that settlement will allow the National Basketball Players Association, which disclaimed interest in representing players in collective bargaining last week, to reform. Once it reforms, ratification votes can be held for both owners and players, and the deal can be signed into effect.
Also in this timeframe, the league will release modified schedules for the season. It's not yet clear whether the NBA will continue to schedule teams to play every other team in the league twice (home and away) or will focus more on in-conference rivalries.
December 9: Stern indicated Saturday morning that training camps would open December 9. Also on that date, free agency is expected to open up. The free agent class of 2011 is relatively weak, especially compared to the 2010 version. But there is still plenty at stake, especially in the trade game as the lockout deal reportedly loosens trade rules.
Mid-December: The mechanics and dates of the league's amnesty clause remains unknown, but assuming salary cap relief remains involved, as it had in the earlier proposals, expect wide-ranging use of the clause. These waived players will enter the free agent ranks as well, and as was the case in 2005, some of them may actually be useful!
It remains unclear if the NBA will schedule and sanction official preseason games; if so, they'll likely begin a week into training camp and end a few days before the regular season tip-off. The NBA could also eschew formal preseason games and allow teams to schedule scrimmages against regional rivals to provide a less formal setting. The NBA has in the past been comfortable allowing referees to enter the regular season without the benefit of a preseason.
December 25: The season tips off! It's expected that the previously scheduled triple-header will be saved: Celtics vs. Knicks, Heat vs. Mavericks in Dallas and Lakers vs. Bulls. Christmas Day is a Sunday, but expect the NBA to leap right in on December 26 to get the entire league in action.
A 66-game season and just one week of delay in the start of the playoffs means that teams will play games more frequently than in the standard 82-game season. Expect the snowball effect to come into play, and the abbreviated trade season -- with the deadline in mid-February -- to catch fire quickly.
February 24-26, 2012: All-Star Weekend will be held as scheduled in Orlando. This is different than in 1999, where the All-Star Weekend was cancelled due to the lockout extending into January. The Magic opened their shiny new Amway Center last season; this All-Star Weekend could be particularly dramatic given the assured presence of Dwight Howard, who could be finishing out the string before an offseason defection, or could have been already traded.
Last week of April 2012: The playoffs will begin roughly a week later than usual, with the first round to begin in the last week of April or first week of May. That will push the NBA Finals back a week, as well.
In short, there will be no breathing room for the next eight months or so. After the disastrous lockout, no one will complain. Bring on basketball.