SAN ANTONIO -- The days of jumping from the preps to the pros -- the route to the NBA chosen by LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady and others -- are almost over.
A one-year increase in the minimum age was part of a new six-year collective bargaining agreement tentatively reached Tuesday by owners and players.
Commissioner David Stern and union director Billy Hunter finalized the deal in principle in New York and immediately flew to the NBA Finals to announce it prior to Game 6 between San Antonio and Detroit. The agreement will replace the seven-year pact expiring June 30.
"We're gratified that we were able to avoid a work stoppage," Stern said. "This agreement creates a strong partnership with our players, which is essential for us."
Other facets of the new deal will make trades easier, increase pensions for retired players, impose harsher penalties on drug violators and offer teams the option of sending young players for minor-league seasoning.
The salary cap will be raised from 48.04 percent of revenues to 51 percent, increasing the amount of money each team can spend on player salaries, and players will be guaranteed 57 percent of revenues.
There could be more jobs, too, with teams being required to keep an average of 14 players on their rosters, and players will have the right to an arbitrator's review of any suspension of more than 12 games for on-court misconduct.
On the age limitation, American players will have to wait one year after their high school class graduates before they can become draft eligible. International players will have to turn 19 by the end of the calendar year in which they become draft eligible.
"This will encourage our scouts to spend time in D-league gyms rather than high school gyms," Stern said.
Next Tuesday's NBA draft will mark the final time, barring future changes, that high school players will be draft eligible.
A lockout could have begun July 1, and the likelihood of a work stoppage seemed to increase last week after a round of posturing from both sides. But significant progress was made in almost 12 hours of meetings Friday, and the final gaps were closed Tuesday morning.
"We decided it was time to back away from the abyss and see if we could get a deal," Hunter said.
The agreement still must be ratified by the league's Board of Governors and by the players' union at its annual meeting in Las Vegas next week.
Because of the time needed to put the agreement in writing, the upcoming start of the free agency signing period has been moved from July 14 to July 22.
"David Stern and Billy Hunter did a great job bringing this to a head quickly, getting past any personal issues," Dallas mavericks owner Mark Cuban said. "It takes a lot of guts to be called out on both sides and then go right past that and get a solution, so they deserve a lot of credit."
Over the final days of negotiations, the sides reached agreement on several key issues that had held up a settlement since serious talks began in late February.
Among them were the age limitation, a reduction in the maximum length of long-term contracts from seven years to six, and reductions in the size of annual salary increases in those long-term contracts from a maximum of 12 1/2 percent to 10 1/2 percent.
Veterans will now be subject to four annual random drug tests for performance-enhancing and recreational drugs, an increase from current rules calling for one test at the start of training camp. Penalties for steroid violators were raised from five to 10 games for a first offense, 25 games for a second offense, one year for a third offense and a lifetime ban for a fourth.
Players with less than two years in the league will be eligible to be assigned to the minor league NBDL, where the minimum age will be reduced from 20 to 18.
Minimum salaries and benefits will increase, but Stern said it was uncertain how the new deal will affect the pensions for the small number of recipients who played in the NBA prior to 1965.
Players agreed to reduce the number of guaranteed contract years for rookie first-round draft picks from three to two.
The NBA has a system known as a "soft" salary cap, allowing teams to exceed the cap threshold to retain their own free agents, and to sign free agents under the so-called midlevel exception that was added to the labor agreement in 1999 after the sides went through a 7 1/2-month lockout.
All salary cap exceptions from the prior deal will remain, and several rules that made trades difficult have been relaxed. Previously, the salaries of players being traded for one another had to be within 115 percent of one another, plus $100,000. That first number has been increased to 125 percent.
A variety of regulations have been eased regarding restricted free agents, players falling under so-called base-year compensation rules, and the amount of time players with career-ending injuries will continue to count against a team's salary cap.
Owners also withdrew their idea for an extra penalty -- a so-called supertax -- against the highest-spending teams. They also agreed to the union's request to have luxury tax revenues divided in a more equitable way.
Also, there will be a gradual reduction from 10 percent to 8 percent in the so-called escrow tax under which a portion of each player's salary is withheld if the amount of league-wide revenues devoted to salaries exceeds specified percentages.
Most important was the big picture -- that the NBA won't have a second straight work stoppage.
"I'm sure no one would admit it, but I think everybody saw what was going on with the NHL and how difficult a battle it was once it came to a standstill, not only from a negotiation perspective, but also from a fan's perspective and a marketing perspective," Cuban said. "I think we kind of wanted to avoid some of the pain that they went through."