Carmelo’s move may make CBA negotiations nastier

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Utah Jazz owner Greg Miller talked about it when he tried to explain to a shaken fan base why he felt he had to trade Deron Williams away.

His argument: it’s a new era of stars congregating in big markets. The players have taken control of the process in a way they have not before. We could not risk Williams leaving as a free agent and getting nothing for him, so we had to make this move.

But then Miller said something else that hints at just how difficult the collective bargaining agreement negotiations are going to be:

“I’m not interested in seeing a congregation of star players on a handful of teams throughout the league…” Miller said. “I would like to see as much parity as there can be in the league.”

What has happened in the last couple years is a monumental shift in how and where free agents will go, and how players are using the leverage of free agency to move around. Carmelo Anthony’s move to the Knicks was the latest, most publicized proof of that. But it is a trend, no doubt.

And some owners want to shut that down.

In the current CBA, players were given the freedom of movement, but the “home team” (the team the player was with) was given a huge advantage — they could offer more money and more years. Nobody was going to walk away from tens of millions on a max deal, right? For a long time that was enough of an advantage, players usually took the money.

But LeBron James and Chris Bosh took less money and planned a superteam. Carmelo Anthony used the leverage of taking less money to get to New York (with his money). Now smaller market owners like Miller are trading D-Will now rather than risk losing out.

The players have the power. Maybe they have always had the power, but they are flexing that muscle more now. And the owners want to shift that power balance — and the players are going to fight to keep it.

Maybe it’s through a franchise tag. Maybe it’s through changes in max contracts and a hard cap (or the severity of penalties for exceeding a soft cap). There are a lot of ways to do it. But you can bet the owners are pushing hard for a fundamental shift in the financial and player movement structures that exist now. There are a handful of big-market owners who are doves on this issue, but there are more and more smaller-market owners who are hawks.

Those hawks watched the Carmelo Anthony scenario play out, they watched LeBron and Bosh last summer and they said, “there but for the grace of God go I.” They know if they luck into drafting a true star, they could lose him. They could lose the meal ticket. It will be couched in terms of franchise viability, but what it really means is making sure they have ways to hold on to their elite players.

The National Basketball Players Association, the union, is going to fight to keep player movement. They will argue it is good for the league (television ratings are way up and league wide game attendance is up slightly). They will argue that it is only fair that a person who fulfills his contract can choose his place of employment.

This was going to be a nasty fight as it was. What happened with Carmelo will make it nastier. And longer. And that is worse for all of us.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

Associated Press
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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

Associated Press
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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.