NBA Commissioner Stern holds a news conference before Game 1 of the NBA Finals basketball series between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat in Miami

Still big gap between NBA owners, players after key talks

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If you were waiting to really worry about an NBA lockout, now is a good time.

Tuesday’s negotiation session — which NBA Commissioner David Stern had previously called key to avoiding a July 1 lockout — had both sides leaving and speaking in pessimistic tones. Chris Paul said this to Brian Smith of the Salt Lake Tribune (via twitter).

“We talked for a while. Both sides made moves, but we’re still very, very far apart on what we’re trying to get done.”

NBA Union Executive Director Billy Hunter was slightly more optimistic, and called a new proposal by the owners a ray of light in a very dark room. So if you’re looking for hope, that’s it.

The players are meeting again Thursday to go over the owners’ new proposal from Tuesday, then the two sides will meet again on Friday. But with nine days until a lockout there is a lot of room between the two sides.

The big move of the day was the owners proposed a “flex cap” according to David Stern. Here are his comments, via the tweets of Ken Berger of CBS Sports:

Stern: Proposal also included “flex cap,” with a max that could be exceeded and a minimum….Stern says cap “target” is $62 million per team, with a max above that to allow for exceptions such as the Bird exception.”…. Stern on owners’ proposal: “It’s all out there. … I’m never saying final, final to anything other than we made our offer.

What you think of that depends on where you think the middle ground really is. For the owners, whose first proposal was a $45 million hard cap with no exceptions, this is a significant compromise.

But for the players, the new proposal is still a hard cap, and that is a sticking point. Right now there is a soft cap with a lot of exceptions, allowing teams to spend. While the players are willing to limit exceptions, they do not want a hard cap.

Make no mistake, this is a hard cap. While teams could go over the $62 million it would only be a little over according to reports (a few million to sign players). Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said it was based in some degree on the NHL cap, but in that one if you go over the cap by a million to pay a bonus one season, the next season your team’s cap is $1 million lower. This is not a situation like now where the cap is $57 million but the Lakers are spending $90 million.

The union’s Hunter said that there was movement on the overall split of revenue between the sides — the Basketball Related Income (BRI). Adam Silver said they were moving closer to a 50/50 split (currently the players get 57 percent).

However, Hunter said they are still very far apart on how that money will be divided (or even where the split of BRI will be). Movement on the BRI is a start. Although Stern called it a “modest proposal.”

We are a long, long way from this being solved. There is going to be a lockout on July 1. But that ray of light into the negotiations is at least some hope that the two sides can find common ground before games are lost.

Report: Celtics not interested in trading for Dwight Howard

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 19:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets battles for the ball with Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics at the Toyota Center on November 19, 2013 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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The Rockets and Celtics reportedly talked about a Dwight Howard trade, though at the time, it seemed Houston was averse to dealing the center.

Now, that the Rockets are reportedly shopping Howard, is Boston a potential destination?

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

The Celtics currently have almost no interest in trading for Howard, 30, a talented center with a history of back issues and a questionable work ethic. He can opt out of his contract at season’s end, and even if he wanted to re-sign with Boston, the team would have reservations about offering a long-term deal. Also, Howard is not viewed as a player who would help attract another top free agent to Boston this summer.

The Celtics are in a great spot. Not only are playing well now, they have some nice players (including All-Star Isaiah Thomas and underrated Jae Crowder) and a boatload of draft picks.

They don’t need to cash in their chips for Howard.

Howard could help this team protect the rim and score inside, even as a rental. But at that point, it’s doubtful Boston would value him enough to offer the Rockets enough to deal him.

If the Celtics don’t want to pay Howard big dollars into his 30s – especially if they don’t think other stars want to play with him – there’s really no point dealing for him.

Houston will apparently have to find a team more desperate.*

*But also with assets. Sorry, Nets.

Gregg Popovich on coaching carousel: “I feel for every coach that’s ever been fired”

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 09: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs looks on during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on February 9, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — There has never been as much intrigue or confusion surrounding the All-Star coaches in both conferences. Steve Kerr is ineligible to coach the Western Conference, given that he coached them last year, but since he was officially credited with the wins that Luke Walton accrued while he was recovering from back surgery, Walton wasn’t eligible either. So that led to the selection of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who was second in line.

Out east, the Cavaliers received the honor of having their head coach make the trip to Toronto…but they let David Blatt go while they were in first place in the conference, meaning his midseason replacement, Tyronn Lue, gets to coach the team.

Popovich was as confused as anyone about all of this, especially Blatt’s firing.

“I feel for every coach that’s ever been fired, including David,” Popovich said Friday morning at All-Star media day. “He’s a great coach. But usually people are fired for circumstances that are beyond their control, and it usually has nothing to do with whether they’re a good coach or not. I find that to be the case almost all the time. But as far as judging an organization, I’ll leave that to you guys.”

Blatt wasn’t the first coach to be fired during the 2015-16 season, and he isn’t the last, either. As we enter the All-Star break, five teams have fired coaches in-season: the Cavaliers, Rockets (Kevin McHale), Nets (Lionel Hollins), Suns (Jeff Hornacek) and Knicks (Derek Fisher).

The coaching ranks are fiercely loyal to their own, none more so than Popovich, who is the longest tenured coach in the league. Needless to say, he isn’t a fan of the shorter leash that coaches are getting.

“We all know getting into this what the volatile aspects of the job are,” Popovich said. “But being humans you still hope for fairness and that sort of thing. But the bottom line is most firings have nothing to do with the ability of the coach, and that’s the same.”

On Lue’s end, he recognizes the awkwardness of the situation that Blatt’s dismissal put him in, and has nothing but praise for his predecessor.

“Me and Coach Blatt have a great relationship,” Lue said. “He did a great job. We went to the NBA Finals together, and he’s put us in this position to be number one, close to the All-Star Game. So I think Coach Blatt definitely deserves a job in this league.”

Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson headline Basketball Hall of Fame finalists

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 06:  Former NBA player Shaquille O'Neal attends Fanatics Super Bowl Party on February 6, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by C Flanigan/Getty Images)
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TORONTO —  The 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame class is shaping up to be star-studded with Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming.

But today’s announcement – which named Shaq and Iverson as finalists – omitted Yao, who was nominated through the international committee. That didn’t stop Yao and Shaq from taking jabs at each other during the announcement ceremony.

“I feel very excited and very honored to be nominated,” Yao said, then mentioned Shaq and added, “I’m just worried when we stand on the podium together, can it handle our weight?”

And Yao Ming, he used to travel all the time when he’d shoot that fadeaway,” Shaq countered later.

Some Hall of Famers were already on the stage — Isiah Thomas, Reggie Miller, Oscar Robertson, Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Spencer Haywood, and Bill Russell among others — and both Iverson and Shaq acknowledged the trail those guys blazed for the players to follow.

“I want to thank all the guys on the stage, except Rick Barry,” Shaq joked. “He came to LSU and wanted me to shoot free throws underhanded. I can’t do it. I’d rather shoot zero percent than shoot free throws underhanded… And Dick Bavetta, I don’t like you either, you gave me 10 technicals and threw me out of the game twice.”

No matter the nomination process, I still expect Yao to make it, but in a departure of previous procedure, his enshrinement wasn’t announced today.

Who would join him?

Here are the four NBA finalists, via the Hall’s release:

SHAQUILLE O’NEAL [Player] – A four-time NBA Champion (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006), O’Neal played 19 years in the NBA averaging 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.  A 15-time NBA All-Star (1993-98, 2000-07, 2009), O’Neal led the league in field goal percentage for 10 seasons (1994, 1998-2002, 2004-06, 2009) and ranks seventh on the NBA All-Time scoring list. He was named NBA MVP (2000), NBA Finals MVP three times (2000-02) and NBA Rookie of the Year (1993). At Louisiana State University (1989-92), O’Neal led the country in rebounding (1991) and blocked shots (1992) while earning unanimous First-Team All America honors (1991-92). O’Neal is an Olympic gold medalist (1996) and a member of the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.

ALLEN IVERSON [Player] – A nine-time NBA All-Star (2000-06, 2008, 2009), Iverson played 14 NBA seasons averaging 26.7 points and 6.2 assists per game. A three-time All-NBA First Team selection (1999, 2001, 2005), he led the league in scoring average four times (1999, 2001, 2002, 2005), steals per game three times (2001-03) and minutes per game seven times (1999, 2001-04, 2006-08). Iverson was named NBA Rookie of the Year in 1997 and NBA MVP in 2001. The Hampton, Virginia native attended Georgetown University (1994-1996) where he set the school record for career scoring average and earned consensus First Team All-America honors (1996).

KEVIN JOHNSON [Player] – After playing for University of California Berkley from 1983-1987, Johnson played12 years in the NBA and holds the NBA Finals single-game record for most minutes played with 62.  Johnson is the first player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 10 assists, a .500 field goal percentage and two steals per game for an entire season.  In 1989, he earned the NBA Most Improved Player award. The three-time NBA All-Star (1990, 1991, 1994) is also an All-NBA Second Team member (1989, 1990, 1991, 1994). Now the mayor of his hometown of Sacramento, CA, Johnson was a major advocate of keeping the Sacramento Kings NBA team in the city when it was at high risk of moving.

DARELL GARRETSON [Referee] – Garettson, a native of Long Point, IL, served as an NBA official for 27 years, officiating 1,798 regular season games, 269 playoff games, 41 Finals games and five All-Star games. He was instrumental in organizing and heading the first union for referees, the National Association of Basketball Referees. He is widely considered the individual who shaped modern basketball officiating with a three-person crew and a focus on “refereeing the defense”. He served as NBA Chief of Officiating Staff and Director of Officials (1981-98) and is the only person to have served as a staff referee and Chief of Staff simultaneously.

Shaq and Iverson are locks. Johnson’s inclusion makes me more uneasy than anything. No offense to Garretson, but the Hall of Fame features too many referees already.

The other finalists:

TOM IZZO [Coach] – A native of Iron Mountain, Michigan, Izzo has led Mighican State to seven NCAA Final Four appearances (1999-01, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015). With 18 consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament, his team won the NCAA National Championship in 2000. Izzo has coached Michigan State to seven Big Ten regular season championships (1998-2001, 2009, 2010, 2012), four Big Ten Tournament championships (1999, 2000, 2012, 2014), and 13 Sweet Sixteen appearances. He was named Big Ten Coach of the Year three times (1998, 2009, 2012), NABC Coach of the Year twice (2001, 2012), Clair Bee Coach of the Year (2005) and Associated Press National Coach of the Year (1998).

BO RYAN [Coach] – A native of Chester, Pennsylvania, Ryan has been named the Big Ten Coach of the Year four times (2002, 2003, 2013, 2015) while coaching at University of Wisconsin. Prior to Wisconsin, he coached at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (1999-2000) and University of Wisconsin-Platteville (1984-1999) where his team won four NCAA Division III Championships (1991, 1995, 1998, 1999). Ryan led Wisconsin to four Big Ten regular season championships (2002, 2003, 2008, 2015), three Big Ten Tournament championships (2004, 2008, 2015), and the NCAA Final Four twice (2014, 2015). Ryan is a recipient of the Clair Bee Coach of the Year Award (2007), NABC Outstanding Service Award (2009) and Coaches vs. Cancer Champion Award (2013).

EDDIE SUTTON [Coach] – The four-time National Coach of the Year (1977, 1978, 1986, 1995) and eight-time Conference Coach of the Year (1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1986, 1993, 1998, 2004) is the first coach in NCAA history to lead four different schools in the NCAA Tournament. Sutton currently ranks seventh among Division I coaches in all-time victories and has recorded only one losing season in 37 years of coaching. He coached Oklahoma State University from 1991-2006 and tied the conference record for wins by a first-year coach with 24. Sutton guided his teams to three Final Fours, six Elite Eights and 12 Sweet Sixteen appearances.

CHARLES “LEFTY’ DRIESELL [Coach] – A native of Norfolk, Virginia, Driesell is the only coach in NCAA history to win 100 games at four different schools and just one of four coaches to lead four schools to the NCAA Tournament. He is the only coach in NCAA history to be named Conference Coach of the Year in four different conferences. He currently ranks eighth among Division I coaches in all-time victories with an overall coaching record of 786-394 (.666). He received the NCAA Award of Valor in 1974 after saving children from a house fire and was inducted in the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

JOHN MCLENDON [Coach] – A native of Hiawatha, Kansas, McLendon was the first coach to win three consecutive national championships, leading Tennessee State to NAIA National Championships in 1957, 1958 and 1959. He compiled a collegiate coaching record of 522-165 (.760) and was named NAIA Coach of the Year in 1958. He was the first African-American coach to accomplish many feats including winning a national tournament (1954), winning a national championship (1957) and winning an AAU national championship (1961). He was the first African-American coach to coach in a professional league, the ABA. Already enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a “Contributor,” he is now named a finalist by the North American Committee as a coach.

ROBERT HUGHES [Coach] – Hughes coached high school basketball in Texas for 47 years during periods of both segregation and integration – for which he was a great advocate. He ranks first on the all-time wins list for boy’s high school coaches and has compiled an overall high school coaching record of 1,333-247 (.844), leading his teams to 35 district championships and five state championships. He served as head coach of the McDonald’s All-American Game West team (2001). He was named the NHSCA National High School Coach of the Year (2003) and recipient of the Morgan Wootten Lifetime Achievement Award (2010). He has been inducted into the Texas Basketball Hall of Fame (1993) and High School Basketball Hall of Fame (2003).

LETA ANDREWS [Coach] – Andrews has coached high school basketball for over 50 years and is the all-time winningest high school coach, male or female. She has coached five high schools in Texas since 1962 and has led them to 16 state Final Four appearances, plus a state championship in 1990. Andrews also served as Head Coach of the McDonald’s All-American Game West team (2004). She was named the NHSCA National High School Coach of the Year (2007) and recipient of the Morgan Wootten Lifetime Achievement Award (2007). She has been inducted into the High School Basketball Hall of Fame (1995) and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (2010).

MUFFET MCGRAW [Coach] – McGraw is a three-time Consensus National College Coach of the Year (2001, 2013, 2014) and five-time Conference Coach of the Year (1983,1988, 1991, 2001, 2013). As the coach of Notre Dame women’s basketball since 1987, she ranks seventh on the active coaches win list. She has led Notre Dame to 22 trips to the NCAA Tournament, including 13 NCAA Sweet Sixteens, seven NCAA Elite Eights and seven NCAA Final Fours (1997, 2001, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015) with one National Championship in 2001. In 2001, 2013 and 2014 she was named the Naismith Coach of the Year, Associated Press College Basketball Coach of the Year, WBCA National Coach of the Year and USBWA National Coach of the Year.

SHERYL SWOOPES [Player] – A six-time WNBA All-Star (1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006), Swoopes played 12 WNBA seasons averaging 15 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. A five-time All-WNBA First Team selection (1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005), she was also named Defensive Player of the Year three times (2000, 2002, 2003) and WNBA MVP three times (2000, 2002, 2005). As a member of the Houston Comets, Swoopes won four WNBA Championships (1997-2000). While setting an NCCA championship record for points scored with 47, the Brownfield, Texas native won an NCAA Championship with Texas Tech (1993). Swoopes is a three-time Olympic gold medalist (1996, 2000, 2004) and a member of the WNBA All-Decade Team.

WAYLAND BAPTIST UNIVERSITY [Team] – Coached by Hall of Fame nominee Harley Redin, the Wayland Baptist University women’s basketball team won 131 consecutive games from 1953-58 and 10 AAU National Championships overall (1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1961, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1975).  Rosters included exceptional players such as Marsha Sharp, a three-time AAU All-American Patsy Neal, two-time FIBA World Championships gold medalist Katherine Washington, co-captain of the 1980 United States Olympic team Jill Rankin, and AAU national tournament MVP Lometa Odom. Coach Redin and team sponsor Claude Hucherson, as well as five players have been enshrined in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. The team as a whole was recognized as Trailblazers of the Game in 2013.

Kurt Helin contributed to this story from Toronto.

Report: Andrew Wiggins vexes Timberwolves by skipping weightlift sessions

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins, right, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Lakers won 119-115. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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The Timberwolves suffered through a miserable 16-win season last year with a teenage shooting guard running point for them.

Their reward?

The teen, Zach LaVine, picked up valuable ball-handling and distributing experience that should serve him well. Andrew Wiggins, who won Rookie of the Year, spent significant time at shooting guard without having to battle more physically developed forwards. And – best of all – Minnesota lost enough to land the No. 1 pick in the draft, Karl-Anthony Towns.

This team looks primed for a bright future with LaVine at shooting guard, Wiggins at small forward and Towns at center. The Timberwolves must still determine whether they want to ride with Ricky Rubio at point guard and find a power forward, but they’re well on their way.

There is a hitch in the plan, though

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

One of the keys to Minnesota’s future success is for Wiggins, 20, to be strong enough to be a full-time small forward and open up the shooting-guard position for LaVine, also 20. Team insiders, though, lament how many weightlifting sessions Wiggins skips, and the supposedly slim-fit, sleeved jerseys the Wolves love to wear show the ample room to grow in his arms.

I think this assessment underrates Wiggins strength. He certainly has more room to fill out, but it’s not as if he’s some weakling out there.

Wiggins even uses his strength to his advantage in clear ways. He ranks in the 96th percentile when defending a post-up that ends a play. His 7.2 free-attempts per game rank eighth in the NBA.

That’s not because he’s a crafty veteran with a bag of tricks. It’s because he’s reasonably strong.

That said, the Timberwolves aren’t necessarily wrong for being dismayed with Wiggins. If he’s skipping weightlifting sessions – especially in Minnesota emphasized them to increase his viability with LaVine – that’s problematic. LaVine, who’s coming off the bench, should be especially perturbed.

These are the types of issues that come up with young teams trying to make the next step. Some figure it out. Some just move past the noise.

I don’t know how the Timberwolves will handle this, but – with Wiggins, LaVine and Towns – they have potential to be special if they figure it out.