NEW YORK — NBA teams could find more money to spend during shopping season.

Commissioner David Stern said Friday that the league is projecting the
salary cap to be higher than it expected, good news for teams looking
to sign top stars during this summer's expected free agency bonanza.

The league is projecting the cap to come in at about $56.1 million,
though the actual number won't be determined until early July before
teams can begin officially signing players.

While that figure would still be lower than this season's $57.7 million
cap and only the third time it's ever fallen, it's far better than
estimates from last summer, when the league sent a memo to teams
warning them of a potential sharp drop to between $50.4 million to
$53.6 million.

"It's pretty clear that the revenue projections that we have now,
although, you know, they are not as good as last year, and our revenue
will still be down somewhat, it will not be as down as much as we had
feared at the beginning of the season," Stern said.

"So overall, it was a relatively optimistic and upbeat season," he said.

A cap in the $56 million range is a huge break for a team like the New
York Knicks — whose president Donnie Walsh was in the room to hear
Stern's news conference following the league's board of governors

That would mean the Knicks could now have more than $34 million in cap
space, enough to give two maximum-salary contracts to players from the
group of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Those All-Stars will
be eligible for first-year salaries of about $16.5 million if they opt
for free agency this summer.

And it gives the Heat the chance to give Wade a maximum-salary
sidekick, and still add another solid player. The new projected cap
would mean nine teams have at least $14 million to spend this summer,
when the deepest class of free agents ever could become available.

Stern said at the All-Star break in February that the league was
projecting losses of about $400 million this season, and he predicted
Friday they would still be close to that. But he credited teams for
their "Herculean" efforts in selling tickets and sponsorships in a
tough economy, and gate revenue is a portion of the "basketball-related
income" formula that helps determine the cap.

The BRI was originally projected to drop 2 1/2 percent to 5 percent, but is now forecast to fall only 0.5 percent.

The cap still could dip below Stern's projection, depending on revenues during the playoffs.

In other news from Stern's season-ending meetings with league executives:

  • On the matter of teams sitting healthy players at the end of the
    regular season, Stern said there was "no conclusion reached, other than
    a number of teams thought it should be at the sole discretion of the
    team, the coach, the general manager, and I think it's fair to say I
    agree with that, unless that discretion is abused."
  • The use of instant replay was expanded in two areas. Starting next
    season, officials will be able to review out-of-bounds calls throughout
    overtime, instead of only in the final two minutes. They can also
    review fouls to determine if they fall into the clear-path foul
  • The new hope for the sale of the New Jersey Nets to Russian Mikhail
    is that it will be completed in mid-May. It wasn't voted on
    at the board meeting because the state of New York has not taken over
    all the land seized under eminent domain at the site of the team's
    Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Stern still expects the deal to go through, but perhaps without waiting
for the vacant possession of the land if the appeals process continues
to drag on. The Nets have a busy summer ahead with hiring a coach and
signing players, and need to know who will be spending the money.

"I think that if it got to be draft time, I think there might be an
acceleration of the closing in any event, even without the vacant
possession," Stern said.

"I think if I were Mr. Prokhorov, I think I would wait for vacant
possession, unless it got a little bit late, because I think generally
now the prospects of the Nets, with the next two years in Newark, with
the roster they currently have and the space they have under the cap
have taken a turn for the better and Mr. Prokhorov made a very good
investment and I don't think he wants to not close on it."