Wizards' owner Ted Leonsis likes NHL-style hard salary cap. Must like lockouts, too.

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Leonsis_Wizards.jpgWashington Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis went through the ugliness of the NHL lockout that cost the league an entire season — and set the sport back considerably in public opinion. Check the television ratings.

But Leonsis seems to like what came out on the other side of that, enough that he thinks the NBA should go down the same road. He said as much meeting with a Virginia business group today, as reported by Fanhouse:

“In a salary cap era — and soon a hard salary cap in the NBA like it’s in the NHL — if everyone can pay the same amount to the same amount of players, its the small nuanced differences that matter,” Leonsis said.

Because Leonsis is not officially authorized to speak regarding the ongoing NBA labor negotiations, he refused to expound on his remarks when asked to clarify after his speech. But he did note that he is a huge fan of the NHL’s system, praising it and noting that it is a good one that works fairly.

“It’s working,” he said. “The teams are very, very competitive. There is no way that big markets teams can outspend small market teams. So when the season starts everyone thinks their team can compete for the Stanley Cup.”

Two thoughts here.

First, the NBA Players Association is not going to take a hard cap — not when the owners just sold $100 million more in season tickets than they did a season a go. After a year where the overall league revenue was up. If you want a hard cap you’re in for a long, drawn out, ugly fight.

Commissioner David Stern has countered that teams had more expenses to get that revenue up. They had to discount tickets and hire more sales staff, for example. My thought — welcome to the recession. At my favorite restaurant down the street from me, the owner is surviving and doing pretty well but he has to give away more meals now, market more and smarter, and generally work harder for a little less. The NBA is no different. Suck it up and don’t complain about it.

Secondly, the NHL salary cap is not the simple solution you may think?

As of this year, NHL players will have a salary cap set based on 57 percent of “hockey-related income.” Which is almost identical to the percentage of Basketball Related Income the NBA players get right now. It’s divided up differently (and the NBA’s pie is larger), but the percentage is the same. If the NBA used that model, the salary cap would likely be much closer to or higher than the luxury tax line now.

Also, some sites keep talking about the $40 million cap the NHL had when it came back from a strike. That was 2005-06 season. This year, the cap is $59.4 million with a salary floor of $43 million. As Joe Yerdon from our own ProHockeyTalk told me, a lot of teams are now complaining the must spend more than they could spend at all just a few years ago. Not all NHL teams are raking in money.

In the NBA’s case, whatever system is in place will need much better owner revenue sharing. And don’t for a second think all the owners are on the same page with that.

Also, if fans think you get a deal out of this, think again — NHL ticket prices now are higher than they have ever been.

One final note on all this — the NBA is having a renaissance of popularity. The Lakers/Celtics finals followed by what happened in Miami this summer vaulted the sport up the popularity ladder to Jordan era levels.

A lockout that costs games kills that. Fast. Dead. The NBA will lose the casual fan it is getting back now, and it will be 10 times harder to get them back. And then everybody’s revenue goes down.

Rockets bench hams it up over Andre Roberson missed free throw (video)

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Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.

Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.

It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.

Isaiah Thomas: ‘Mentally and emotionally, I’m not here’

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Isaiah Thomas previously explained his emotions in a statement, but the Celtics guard spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since the death of his sister in a car crash just before the playoffs.

Thomas, via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

“Mentally and emotionally I’m not here,” Thomas said after Game 4, the first time he has spoken publicly since his sister’s death. “So I just feed off of what the guys give me. They give me a lot of confidence. I can’t do it without those guys. They believe in me. Being here is what makes me sane and makes me feel somewhat normal through these tough times.”

Thomas has played well for Boston, which won twice in Chicago to even its series with the Bulls, 2-2. It’s remarkable considering the heavy emotional burden and extra travel, going to Seattle for his sister’s funeral then joining the Celtics in Chicago.

His teammates have clearly rallied around him, and that surely helps. But I can’t even imagine how he’s simultaneously handling such a tragic family situation and the biggest games of his career.

Kyrie Irving knocks flamingo from Pacers fan’s hands (video)

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Pacers super fan Matt Asen brings his lucky flamingo to each game.

He also annoyed the heck out of Kyrie Irving by trying to hand it, rather than the ball, to the Cavaliers guard.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.