NEW YORK (AP) – The NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement was finally completed and signed early Saturday, clearing the way for free agent signings to begin Tuesday.

Lawyers for the league and the players’ union had been working nearly around the clock for the past several days on drafting the documents for the six-year agreement, which was agreed to in principle more than a month ago.

There already were two delays in the date for free agents to begin signing.

League attorneys will spend the next few days reviewing the agreement with teams, and signings will begin at noon EDT on Tuesday.

The salary cap will be set at $49.5 million, an increase of $5.63 million from last season.

For the first time, teams will know before the season begins what the luxury tax threshold will be – $61.7 million.

Teams with payrolls over that will have to pay a dollar-for-dollar tax on the amount of their payroll that exceeds the $61.7 million.

Under the old luxury tax system, teams did not know until the season ended whether the luxury tax would even kick in, or what the threshold was. The new rules provide a level of cost certainty to replace the cost mystery many owners complained about.

Free agents signing under the midlevel exception, which can offered by teams who are over the salary cap, can sign contracts beginning at $5 million annually.

Among the details:

• Teams will have a one-time chance to waive a player under contract and be relieved of any luxury tax liability. Waiving Michael Finley could save Dallas at least $51 million; the Mavs would be barred from re-signing him until his contract expires after the 2007-08 season, and they still would have to pay his full salary.

• The minimum age for draft eligibility increases by one year. U.S. players must be at least one year removed from their high school class’ graduation to be draft eligible. International players must turn 19 during the calendar year of that draft.

• The minimum team salary is now $37.125 million.

• The players will receive no less than 57 percent of basketball-related income, a percentage that will increase as revenues increase.

• The maximum length of any contract drops from seven years to six. Free agents changing teams can sign for five years, down from six.

• The maximum annual salary increase drops from 12.5 percent to 10.5 percent.

• Teams may assign players to the NBA Development League during their first two seasons.

• Veterans are subject to four random drug tests. The old rules called for one test during training camp. Rules are different for rookies.

• Players can now appeal suspensions longer than 12 games for on-court misconduct.

• The second-year Charlotte Bobcats, as part of their expansion restrictions, have a salary cap of $37.125 million next season, and a minimum salary of $27.84 million.

AP-ES-07-30-05 0134EDT

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