David Stern says it would be “challenge” to avoid lockout

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Wednesday, representatives of the NBA owners and the Players Association will sit down in a room together and talk about a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. They’ll do the same thing a couple times when the NBA finals series shifts to Dallas next week.

So, at least they are talking.

But even David Stern admitted that avoiding any lockout at this point is going to be “a challenge.” The current deal expires at the end of June, the lockout would start July 1 (and teams have already gotten detailed instructions from the league on what that would entail). Stern expounded upon his thoughts in a generally positive press conference, as reported by Howard Beck of the New York Times.

“I know both sides will make their best offers before” July 1, Stern said, “because if they don’t, then there’s going to be a lockout that would be destructive of our business from the owners’ perspective, and the players’ perspective.”

Last week, the union delivered what Silver called “some new ideas” to league officials. It was not a full-blown new proposal, but it built on the offer the union made last summer, which the owners generally rejected. Stern said the new ideas addressed at least some of the larger financial concerns.

“And we’ll be suggesting some new ideas to them tomorrow,” he said.

The fact is the two sides remain far, far apart. The owners continue to suggest radical changes to the NBA’s financial system — including a hard salary cap and rollbacks in player salaries — that the players simply will not give in on easily. The negotiations have gone so poorly the players submitted charges against the owners to the National Labor Relations Board (charges the owners deny).

The owners say the league is losing money, to the tune of $300 million or more a season this season and that big changes are needed. The players union says that the owners need to do a better job of revenue sharing and they point to the recent sale of franchises at record prices to suggest things are not as dire as the owners make it out to be.

For all the at-least-we’re-talking comments out of both sides, there are quotes like this one from NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, the league’s lead negotiator, that point to the kind of radical changes the owners are seeking and why it will be hard to get a deal (as reported by Ken Berger at CBSSports).

“Costs have risen much faster than revenues over the course of this deal,” Silver said. “… At the same time, non-player costs are growing at a much higher percentage, and the built-in increases of our contracts are much higher than inflation and the growth of our business. For example, the three key players on the Heat all have 10.5 percent per year increases built into their deals for next year, at a point when revenues in our business are growing somewhere around 3 percent. It’s a broken system.”

There will be a lockout this summer. The next real question — the most important question — is will it cost games?

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.

John Wall returns for Wizards-Grizzlies

AP Photo/Nick Wass
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Point guard John Wall was in the Washington Wizards’ lineup Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing nine games with a sore left knee.

Coach Scott Brooks said Wall would play in the mid-20-minute range, perhaps a bit more.

The Wizards (14-13), currently in first place in the Southeast Division, went 4-5 in Wall’s absence.

“He such a force offensively,” Brooks said of Wall. “He’s a two-way player and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can find open 3-point shooters going 100 miles an hour in transition.”

Wall, 27, is averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 assists per game.

Pacers president Kevin Pritchard likes tweets critical of Paul George trade

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Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard was widely panned – including by me – for trading Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

Oops.

Oladipo and Sabonis are killing it while George has underwhelmed.

Upon George’s return to Indiana, Pritchard took the opportunity to gloat. The Pacers general manager recently liked these tweets (hat tip: Matt Ellentuck of SB Nation):

This is petty – and I love it. Pritchard earned the victory lap.

Report: Rival executives still expect Paul George to leave Thunder for Lakers

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Paul George has been pretty open about his plans.

He told plenty of people – including the Pacers – he planned to leave for the Lakers in the summer of 2018. Even after the Thunder traded for him, George spoke of the lure of playing for his hometown team.

Of course, George also left the door open to re-signing with Oklahoma City. He proclaimed he’d be dumb to leave if the Thunder reached the conference finals or upset the Warriors.

So far, Oklahoma City (12-14) doesn’t even look like a playoff lock, let alone a team capable of knocking off Golden State or reaching the conference finals. So, cue the inevitable speculation.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Rival execs still expect Paul to head for the Lakers in free agency

Do these executives have inside information into George’s thinking, or are they just speculating based on already-available information? Some executives are incentivized to drum up the Lakers threat, because they want to trade for George themselves now. If these executives insist George will leave for Los Angeles regardless, they might pry him from Oklahoma City for less.

There’s also a theory George is hyping his desire to sign with the Lakers so a team would have to trade less for him. That got him to the Thunder for what looked like a meager return (but hasn’t been). It might get him to a more favorable situation before the trade deadline without hampering his next team long-term. Of course, this theory isn’t mutually exclusive with George actually signing in Los Angeles. It could just get him better options to choose from this summer.

Surely, the Thunder are trying to parse all this noise. If their season doesn’t turn around, they should explore flipping George rather than risk losing him for nothing next summer. But they should also be wary that he’ll bolt for Los Angeles at first opportunity just because rival executives predict it.