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NBA free agents can get even more money

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Top National Basketball Association free agents such as Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady can make $750,000 more than what their agents thought was the maximum allowed by the collective bargaining agreement, the union said.

Officials at the players union said some agents and teams were incorrectly calculating the highest salaries allowed under the agreement.

The new maximum means agents can increase the demands they are making on teams before their clients can sign after Aug. 1.

"I don't think a lot of people knew about this," said agent Mark Bartelstein, who represents Portland Trail Blazers free agent Brian Grant.

During negotiations on the labor agreement, which ended the 1998-99 lockout, the union agreed to absolute limits on what individual players could earn, unprecedented in North American sports.

Players with fewer than seven seasons of experience can get a maximum of $9 million annually. Those with 7-9 years of service can get $11 million a year, while players with more than 10 years in the league are eligible for $14 million.

According to the labor agreement, though, players with fewer than seven seasons in the NBA — such as Hill and McGrady — can take either the $9 million or 25 percent of the salary cap, the league's limit on team payrolls that is based on league revenue.

Those with 7-9 years can get 30 percent of the team spending limit, and those with 10-plus years 35 percent.

The NBA and the union estimated that the salary cap for the 2000-01 season would be about $35.5 million. Twenty-five percent of that would be less than $9 million, which is why the players were taking that amount. The salary cap will be set Aug. 1.

However, the league and union instead should have calculated the cap at about $37.5 million, the amount before it was reduced because owners spent more than a predetermined percentage toward salaries last season, said Hal Biagas, deputy counsel of the players union. Twenty-five percent of that works out to $9.4 million.

"Guys will look at it as found money because I'm sure they thought that max was $9 million," said agent Lon Babby, whose clients include Hill and San Antonio's Tim Duncan, a free agent who has said he'll re-sign with the Spurs.

While it's good news for players, the extra money could hinder teams that had set their budgets, Babby said.

Some general managers said teams might not be able to re-sign players because they'd been calculating their salary cap room based on the $9 million figure.

NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik couldn't immediately be reached to comment.

Both Hill and McGrady said they would sign with the Orlando Magic when NBA rules permit Aug. 1. Based on a starting salary of $9 million, the most they could get from Orlando over six seasons—the maximum length allowed by rule—would be $67.5 million. If they start at $9.5 million, though, the contracts would be worth $750,000 more over the six years.

Does an extra $750,000 really matter to a player making $67.5 million?

"We'll take it," Babby said. "It's not bad, not bad at all."