The familiar squeak of basketball shoes will return to Oracle Arena on Thursday as the Warriors unlock the doors to their players.

With that it appears the NBA lockout truly is coming to an end.

Of course, for Golden State fans, the return of basketball brings up a litany of questions regarding their beloved team. We endeavor to answer a few.

Q: When is this deal getting ratified?

A: One source with knowledge of the negotiations speculated the deal wouldn't be ratified before Monday. However, it must be done by Dec. 9, when training camps open. Union director Billy Hunter sent out a memo to all players Monday outlining the deal. It seems the owners are expecting the deal to indeed be ratified, as they are opening their gyms Thursday.

Q: Will talks between teams and free agents begin before Dec. 9?

A: The NBA allowed teams to begin talking with agents on Wednesday, igniting the expected free agent frenzy. Nothing can become official, nor can management interact with players, until the deal is ratified.

Q: Is a team with a new coaching staff like the Warriors at a disadvantage with this truncated training camp, free-agent signing period and season?

A: New coach Mark Jackson and his staff have a great disadvantage in having such a short period to implement a new system. Jackson's staff has scarcely been able to develop a relationship with players, let alone indoctrinate his philosophy or engrain his defense and offense.


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Q: What is the Warriors' salary cap situation like?

A: Golden State has nine players under contracts totaling just over $49 million. Add on about $4 million in cap holds -- for restricted free agent Reggie Williams and rookies Klay Thompson, Jeremy Tyler and Charles Jenkins. That puts the Warriors cap figure at about $53 million.

The salary cap for the coming season is expected to be about $59 million. That leaves the Warriors with some $6 million to spend on free agents. They'll have more to spend if they amnesty someone and/or let Williams' walk.

Q: What the heck is amnesty all about?

A: With the proposed new collective bargaining agreement comes a one-time opportunity to get rid of a contract. Teams are allowed to waive one player and not have his salary count against the salary cap. The team still has to pay what it owes the player, but it can use that cap space for something else. This pardon can be used before any season during the life of the CBA.

Q: What might it mean for the Warriors and who might they amnesty?

A: It means more cap space to sign free agents, as Golden State will be hot on the market for a big man. Guard Charlie Bell, who has one year left for $4 million, is the leading candidate to be an amnesty waive. Center Andris Biedrins is "a distant second," per one team source. The Warriors would only use the amnesty if they needed to and had an agreement in place. If they can get who they want without using the amnesty, a couple team sources confirmed they will wait and use it another year.

Q: If the team's main core is still Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry and David Lee when the season begins, are the playoffs a reality?

A: Because the season is shortened, that answer has to be yes, though the Warriors are still a long shot. They finished 10 games behind the eighth seed last season. But some teams may fall back. Denver, the No. 5 seed last season, had three key players sign in China and they may not play for the Nuggets who could also lose starting center Nene. Portland, the No. 6 seed, could waive Brandon Roy, which despite his injury issues is a blow.

Working for the Warriors: the core has some experience playing together and the shortened season opens the door for them to get hot at the right time and surprise some people. Working against the Warriors: the first month of the season will be spent adjusting to all their changes.

Q: Could we see Nene in a Warriors jersey?

A: It is definitely possible. Word coming out of the rumor mill is that Nene is not enamored with staying in Denver, who can offer him the most money. But the Warriors have stiff competition for his services. While they offer a good situation for Nene (opportunity to shine, help on the roster), other interested teams -- such as Dallas and Miami -- offer a better chance to win now.

Q: Who are the most likely free agent candidates to become Warriors at this point?

A: It's far too early to speculate on who the Warriors will actually land. But sources have confirmed what the Warriors are going after. Their top priority is a big man and on their wish list is Nene, Dallas' Tyson Chandler, Memphis' Marc Gasol and the Los Angeles Clippers' DeAndre Jordan. To a much lesser degree, the Warriors also have interest in Samuel Dalembert, but only at a good price. Keep an eye on free agent center Chuck Hayes, an Oakland native who may be a sleeper choice at center, and free agent forward Thaddeus Young, who fits the Warriors style pretty nicely.

Q: Any clues yet as to how a Mark Jackson-coached team will play?

A: In Jackson's words, the Warriors are going to play stiff defense and run on offense. He said they will focus on team defense and effort plays. On offense, they will play smarter and run the floor. Of course, it all sounds good in the offseason.

Q: What is the status of the Warriors who went overseas?

A: Both Williams, who signed to play in Spain, and forward Ekpe Udoh, who signed in Israel, are returning to the States now that the lockout is ending. Williams played three games with Caja Laboral, totaling 16 points in just under 41 minutes. He sprained his right knee before mutually agreeing to part ways with the Spanish team and he's coming back to the Warriors despite signing a deal that had no out clause.

Udoh, who signed with Bnei Hasharon last week, played just one game. He posted 22 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks in 37 minutes. He had an out clause and is headed back to the Warriors.

Q: How do the new luxury tax rules impact the Warriors?

A: Immediately, not much, because they don't kick in until Year 3 of the proposed CBA. When they do, the new stiffer penalties make it less likely the Warriors will go into luxury tax territory. Owner Joe Lacob has said he would be willing to go over the tax if necessary. But with stiffer penalties, the reward for going into the tax would have to be that much greater to convince him to do so.

Q: Do any elements of the new agreement benefit the Warriors?

A: The reduced annual raises will help. The maximum raise allowed under the proposed CBA is 4.5 percent (7.5 percent for players with Larry Bird rights). Previously, the maximum was 8.5 percent (10.5 for Bird players). That will save the Warriors money when they sign free agents this offseason. Same is true for contract lengths, which have been reduced to four years (five years for Bird players).

Also, that fact that teams in the luxury tax can only offer a $3 million mid-level exception reduces the Warriors' competition for free agents. Golden State, being a team not in the luxury tax, will be allowed to offer a $5 million mid-level exception.

Q: Do the Warriors have a realistic shot at Dwight Howard?

A: The simple answer is no. Other teams just have more to offer. Orlando, if it trades Howard, will have a gigantic hole in the middle, one that will need to be filled. The Warriors can't come close to filling it. New Jersey, who is reportedly offering Brook Lopez, can. Or Chicago could by offering Joakim Noah. Or the Lakers could by offering Andrew Bynum. Or Atlanta could by offering Al Horford. The Warriors just don't have enough compared to the offers the Magic will receive. It is also likely they don't have enough to entice Howard to sign long-term, especially when he has a chance to play alongside Deron Williams or Kobe Bryant or Derrick Rose.

Q: Will Monta Ellis be traded?

A: Not before the trade deadline. It would take a monster offer for the Warriors to even consider it, and those offers aren't pouring in. New coach Mark Jackson wants a chance to coach Ellis, so he will get at least the first few months. Golden State will no doubt listen to offers in February, or whenever the trade deadline looms (say if Chicago comes calling). Doubtful they would pull the trigger then either.