Wizards eager to go with 66 games ahead

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It was Day 149 of the NBA lockout, and the latest negotiation session was heading into its 15th hour. Wizards free agent Maurice Evans, vice president of the players trade association, was feeling a wide range of emotions. Time was running out to save the season. Then, just before 3 a.m., a deal was struck. Evans was elated.

“We were very, very close [to losing the season],” Evans said in an ESPN interview. “I take my hat off to Billy Hunter and David Stern for keeping both sides together and trying to keep everybody optimistic. Once the union dissolved and we went to litigation, we still had to stay ready just in case the opportunity presented itself [to make a deal].”

Early Saturday morning, the players and owners reached a tentative deal on a 10-year collective bargaining agreement, with an opt-out clause after six years. Evans played a big part in making sure the players got the best deal they could.

“The fans and a lot of players and people who were removed from the process don’t have a great understanding of what was going on,” Evans said. “Everyone had to be mindful that we’re in a recession around the world.

“The 57 number [percentage of basketball-related income for the players in the previous CBA] doesn’t exist anymore. When players were wiling to concede on the economics, the only thing players were hopeful for was to get a system that would allow competitive balance and security, and allow our great game to continue to grow.”

As word reached the players, many began to share their excitement, mostly via Twitter and Facebook. The deal must still be ratified, but league sources indicate that ratification by the players and owners is a formality. In the new CBA, the players will receive between 49 and 51 percent of BRI.

“I’m glad we are finally able to get back on the court,” Wizards forward Trevor Booker said. “Not only for ourselves but also for the fans and workers.”

Wizards rookie Chris Singleton was awakened with the news at a very early hour by the sound of his cellphone.

“I woke with a lot of messages from friends and family,” Singleton said. “I was excited. I felt great about it. It was good to hear it’s [the lockout] finally over.”

The Wizards will begin evaluating Singleton and fellow draft picks Jan Vesely and Shelvin Mack as soon as the new CBA is ratified and they can get the players in camp. Free agency and training camp are slated to begin Dec. 9.

Several Wizards already are under contract, including Booker, John Wall, Jordan Crawford, Rashard Lewis, JaVale McGee, Kevin Seraphin and Andray Blatche.

The team also has issued qualifying offers to restricted free agents Nick Young, Hamady Ndiaye, Larry Owens and Othyus Jeffers. Josh Howard, Evans and Yi Jianlian are unrestricted free agents.

Jeffers is unlikely to play this season because of an ACL injury suffered July 17.

Seraphin, Booker and Vesely were playing overseas, but all three should be in uniform by the season opener. Seraphin, who is in Spain, has an opt-out clause. Booker returned to the States after injuring his knee, and Vesely will need to come to a buyout agreement with his Serbian team.

The league will play a 66-game season, and if the schedule remains intact, the Wizards will open at home against the New Jersey Nets on Dec. 26.

The league calendar is likely to shift forward by a week in order to get in 66 games, including an All-Star weekend, originally scheduled for Feb. 26 in Orlando. The season likely will end the second week in April, with the playoffs starting and ending one week later than they would during an 82-game season.

“I don’t know the details of the agreement, but I’m elated that it’s over,” Blatche said. “I’m ready to play basketball. I know it’s going to be a great season for our team.”

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