Winderman: CBA talks time to address contraction, schedule

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To some, these are the worst of times for the NBA.

An impending lockout. The drafting of a new collective-bargaining agreement. Big-money teams vs. low-revenue franchises in what might set up as its own civil war.

And yet this also can be the best of times in at least one respect, in the void of a working agreement.

What the NBA needs as much as Tuesday’s Board of Governors meeting or the ensuing negotiating sessions with the players’ union in advance of the July 1 start of the lockout is a good-of-the-game summit.

Once a new CBA is in place, for whatever the term, so will be a blueprint moving forward. That makes now the perfect time, even amid this distressing time, to reshape the workplace, perhaps the final opportunity for the balance of the decade.

First, start with those owners whining because they’re losing money or not making enough money.

This was never a place for a high-profit return. That’s called the NFL. The NBA is a place where Micky Arison and Mark Cuban and Mikhail Prokhorov spend because they want to be viewed as winners. This is their hobby, their passion.

For most of the league’s successful owners, the view is similar.

The hard-line insurgency is being led by the league’s lesser half, owners David Stern never should have allowed to the table in the first place, his Frank McCourts, if you will.

So buy ’em out. Contract ’em. (It sure seems at this point as if no one wants to own the Hawks, anyway.)

The outlay now could be offset by a larger split among a smaller group of owners when it comes to television and marketing revenues. The playoffs drew record ratings because of the select group of teams viewers prefer to watch. A smaller league will allow more opportunities for Heat-Bulls, Mavericks-Lakers, Knicks-Celtics, games that will produce higher ratings than some of what is being offered nationally now.

The added benefit would be less dilution of talent. Perhaps now every team could actually field a legitimate center, quality depth.

Such contraction also would send a message to the players that your ranks will thin, so start working with us. In essence, the NBA could shrink the union.

Beyond that, address the schedule.

Among the reasons a lengthy lockout is forecast is because the NBA doesn’t truly gain traction until its Christmas games. Everything else seemingly is scheduled around Sunday and Monday NFL, and, to a degree, Saturday college football.

There has never been a groundswell for weeknight basketball from those rushing to arenas from work and then needing to get up early the following morning.

This should be a league of Friday, Saturday and Sunday (after NFL season) games, as the NBA has learned with its D-League scheduling.

A 60-game schedule would work just fine. The league still could sprinkle in Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday games to keep the ESPN and TNT schedules viable, only with less competition from local broadcasts, thus potentially higher ratings in that respect, as well.

These are not changes that can come in the middle of a collective-bargaining agreement.

They have to be part of the framework of a new CBA.

So if ownership insists on a lockout, if the players’ union can’t abide by management’s terms, then step back from the table and assess not only what is best from a revenue standpoint, but, dare we say it, what is best for the game, itself.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.

Veteran NBA official Monty McCutchen to be head of referee development, training

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After 25 seasons running up and down the NBA hardwood and refereeing more than 1,400 games, NBA official Monty McCutchen got a promotion.

He officiated his last game Thursday night in Minnesota and will move to a desk at the league office where his new title is Vice President, Head of Referee Development and Training.

“Monty has earned the respect of players, coaches and his peers during an exemplary career as an NBA official,” said Senior Vice President, Head of Referee Operations Michelle D. Johnson (who started on the job in October).  “He understands as well as anyone what it takes to be an outstanding referee and how the league can best support its officials.  With his wealth of insight and experience, Monty is uniquely suited for a leadership role in our officiating program.”

“I’m excited for the opportunity to channel my passion for the officiating profession in a new way,” McCutchen said.  “While I’ll miss officiating games, I’m grateful to continue working with our incredibly talented referee staff as part of an organization so dedicated to excellence and innovation.”

Despite what some fans like to blast on Twitter (especially during the playoffs), NBA officials are the best trained and flat-out best basketball referees in the world (if you don’t think so, watch the college/scab referees from the last lockout of the refs, it was painful). Could they improve? Sure. Hopefully, McCutchen can help do that in his new position.