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Saturday, February 8
Updated: February 9, 8:53 AM ET
Players, league agree to best-of-7 first round news services

ATLANTA -- NBA commissioner David Stern delivered two pieces of news Saturday night, announcing that Darko Milicic of Yugoslavia will be eligible for the 2003 draft and that the first round of the playoffs will be changed from best-of-5 to best-of-7 this season.

Both agreements came after talks with the NBA Players' Union, whose director, Billy Hunter, joined Stern on the dais for his annual All-Star Weekend news conference.

The owners and players also agreed to meet this summer to begin discussing an extension of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that will expire after the 2003-04 or 2004-05 season.

"We are feeling pretty good about the state of the NBA in a very difficult economic time and in a very turbulent world," Stern said.

The change in draft eligibility rules will allow international players to declare for the draft in the same year in which they turn 18. Previously, the league said a player needed to turn 18 before the draft application deadline, which comes 45 days before the draft.

Eligibility rules for American players will not be changed.

Milicic, 17, has been projected as the possible No. 2 pick in next June's draft after high school phenom LeBron James. Milicic will turn 18 in June.

"He's thrilled. He's going to get a chance to live out his dream," said Marc Cornstein, the U.S.-based agent for Milicic.

The union agreed to expand the first round of the playoffs in exchange for an increase in postseason bonus money and some additional time off for veterans at the start of training camps.

One union member who wished to go unnamed told the move was "unprecedented."

"After years of fighting, we're finally talking to the league again," he said. "I think it's a big step in the right direction."

A source within the league with knowledge of the agreement, speaking on condition of anonymity, outlined the terms of the deal to AP:

  • The playoff pool, to be divided among players on teams that qualify for the postseason, will rise by $750,000 to $8.75 million this season. It will go to $8.875 million in 2003-04 and $9 million in 2004-05.

  • Veterans with at least four years' experience will not be required to report for the first three days of training camp next season, and the first five days of training camp in the two subsequent seasons.

  • Teams will be prohibited from holding two-a-day practices after the 10th day of training camp.

    Previous talks between the league and the union failed to produce an agreement on expanding the first round of the playoffs, which have been best-of-5 since 1984.

    The change means that all four rounds of the NBA playoffs now will be best-of-7.

    The agreement still must be approved by the 29 NBA owners, but that is considered a formality.

    Stern also disclosed that the league will open the 2003-04 season with two games in Japan after exhibition games are played during the preseason in Spain, France, Mexico, Puerto Rico and China.

    Stern also warned that he's had enough of the griping and complaining about referees, and that this season's somewhat heavy-handed penalties to Utah coach Jerry Sloan and Portland's Rasheed Wallace for their run-ins with officials would continue to be levied if similar instances occur.

    "We have got to stop the whining, stop the complaining and play the game. And that applies to everybody -- commissioners, coaches, team executives, players and referees," Stern said. "Everybody has been sort of forewarned here at the All-Star break, and we're anticipating a very elegant second half of the season."

    Information from Chad Ford of ESPN Insider was used in this report.

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