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NBA stirs to life in anticipation of starting season

(Reuters) - The National Basketball Association (NBA) began stirring back to life Wednesday with player agents and team officials formally allowed to begin discussions about free agents in anticipation of next month's start of the delayed season.

The league also said that teams could open their facilities to players starting Thursday in advance of the planned opening of training camps on December 9, which has also been set as the first day for free agent signings.

NBA spokesman Tim Frank said players would be welcomed back for the first time since the lockout began on July 1 for voluntary player workouts and physicals.

The handshake agreement on a new collective bargaining deal between club owners and players that was reached Saturday was still to be ratified, but the machinery was in motion for an expected Christmas Day start-up that would include a Dallas-Miami rematch of last season's NBA Finals.

Players were in the process of reforming their union -- which they dissolved earlier this month to pursue an anti-trust legal remedy to the labor dispute -- before putting the deal to a vote that required a majority approval from the 430-plus members.

At least 16 of the 30 NBA team owners had to endorse the deal that cut the players' share of the league's basketball-related income from 57 percent to around 50 percent.

The NBA rumor mill was getting into gear with speculation over the destinations of the free agent crop that includes centers Nene, Marc Gasol and Tyson Chandler, forwards David West, Thaddeus Young and Caron Butler, and swingman Jason Richardson.

Trade talks could also heat up as teams contemplate maneuvering into position for next year's free agents, including All Stars Dwight Howard, center for the Orlando Magic, and New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul.

(Writing by Larry Fine in New York, Editing by Steve Ginsburg)