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NBA Lockout Q&A: PBT explains it all (well, almost)


Welcome to the NBA lockout. Pull up a chair, make yourself comfortable, you’re going to be here a while. If we’re all lucky it will be for just the summer, but it could be longer. Much longer.

I understand you all have questions about how we got here, where we are at and what is next. We don’t have all the answers, but let’s try to answer those questions as best we can.

Why is the league locking out now, after a season when ratings, attendance and interest in the league are at the highest levels in decades?

July 1 is when the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the owners and the players union runs out. It was not so much they chose right now as this was the time the old deal was up and a new one needed to be hammered out. Both sides have known for years that this would be a tough negotiations — that the owners were going to look for big changes to the system — and both sides have anticipated for a couple years a lockout would come now.

That it came on the heels of a fantastic season for the league was a coincidence, but it may be the one thing that saves next season. Both sides understand the need to get a deal done that does not cost games next season or all that newfound momentum will be lost and it will take years and years just to get back to this point.

What are the two sides disagreeing over?

Everything. Much like the negotiations at the end of the Vietnam War, I’m not sure the two sides could agree on the shape of the table they should sit down at to negotiate.

But as always the big issue is money. Specifically how to divide up the money that comes into the league. That money is called “basketball related income” (BRI). That is the money from ticket sales, national television contracts, local television deals, luxury boxes, concessions, jersey sales — basically everything tied to basketball.

Currently the players get 57 percent of the gross BRI — 57 cents on every dollar that comes into the league goes to the players in salary. The owners want to change that number dramatically, their proposal would have the players in the low 40s percent wise in a decade. The players have agreed to go down to about 54 percent in their proposals.

In that gap is hundreds of millions of dollars per season. The two sides are nowhere near close – they can’t even agree on how to define BRI (the owners want to start taking a number of expenses out of it so it is more net than gross that is divided between them).

What are the owners proposing?

The owners want a radical change in the system. They want to put in a “flex cap” of $62 million per team. For some perspective, the Dallas Mavericks payroll last season was $86.2 million (the team with the lowest payroll was Sacramento at about $44 million). Teams could not exceed that $62 million number except to sign their own free agents, and even then teams could not exceed a second figure that would not be more than a few million higher.

What David Stern will gladly tell you is that this number guarantees the players about $2 billion a year in salary, which is not much below the $2.17 billion they made last year. The difference is the owners want to lock that figure in for a decade — even as revenues rise for the league the salary cap would remain flat. All that additional revenue goes to the owners.

The owners also want to reduce the length of contracts by two years when handed out (from five to three for signing a free agent, for example), so they don’t end up stuck with terrible choices and bad deals as long. (Yes, the owners want the CBA to protect them from themselves.)

What is the owners’ sales pitch?

For fans, they are selling parity. This season the Lakers spent more than $90 million on salary, with the luxury tax they spent more than $110 million. And as a franchise they will still turn a profit. Smaller market teams have a hard time competing with teams willing to spend like that. What this harder salary cap would do is put teams on a more even playing field financially.

Now will parity work in the NBA as a practical matter or in marketing manner like it does in the NFL? That’s a harder sell. The best times for the NBA were when Michael Jordan’s Bulls dominated the league, or when Magic and Bird ran the show. Parity has never sold the same in the NBA like it has for the NFL.

What do the players say about the owners’ plan?

What would you say if your boss asked you to take a pay cut then told you they expect record growth for the company in the next decade but you’d see none of the rewards? Yes, NBA players are very well paid, but they also realize that they are the product that drives the league and they should see money from any growth in the league’s business.

What do the players propose?

The players are essentially playing goalie in these negotiations — they want to keep the system pretty much the way it is now. They like the “soft cap” which allows teams to spend well over the cap to keep their own free agents and has a host of other exceptions (a mid-level exception, a veterans exception, and more).

The players have proposed a reduction in the percent of BRI they get down to 54 percent, which would be a give back of about $100 million per season. They say that is their percentage of the losses they admit some owners are suffering. But aside that they want even more flexibility for teams to make trades (not as restricted by matching salaries) and other steps to increase player movement.

What about revenue sharing?

This is the players’ other big push — they want the owners of big market teams to share much more revenue with smaller market teams. They also point to the NFL where about 70 percent of league revenue is shared; where in the case of the NBA it’s about 25 percent. (That is primarily because the NFL has much larger national television deals.)

For example, the Lakers new local television deal that kicks in for the fall of 2012 will pay the team upwards of $150 million a year, the Sacramento Kings made about $11 million last season on their local television deal. None of that revenue is shared right now, the players say it should be and they want to know the numbers.

The owners are talking about revenue sharing amongst themselves, but they say it is not part of the CBA negotiations and the players do not have a seat at that table.

So is the NBA lockout like the NFL lockout?

No. Not at all… well, in one key way yes.

But not in the details. The bottom line is the NFL is a league that is still making gobs and gobs of money, it’s just that the owners are not making as much as they used to so they are locked out. But at the end of the day, that argument truly is about how to divide the profits.

The NBA has lost money for several years in a row, and even though the players dispute the owners figures they do not dispute the losses overall. The losses this past season as a league were around $300 million according to Stern. And that is the key difference between the two lockouts — the NBA has far more serious issues to deal with, real revenue and expenditure issues to deal with.  Because of that the two sides are farther apart than they ever were in the NFL. A few minor issues are the same but the big issues are different in the two lockouts.

So how are the NBA and NFL lockouts alike?

The arc of how the problems will be solved.

The NFL has been locked out for more than 100 days but only now are we starting to see some real progress towards a deal, in time to save this season. (How much progress depends on who you ask.) The bottom line is this — in any negotiations, from teachers unions to longshoremen to sports leagues, nothing actually gets done until there is pressure on one or both sides to compromise. In the NFL, with the owners seeing the threat of lost games and the players fearing lost paychecks, the negotiations are getting serious.

It will be the same with the NBA. With the start of the lockout, the two sides will move farther apart. They have both known this lockout is coming for years — there have been proposals on the table since the 2010 All-Star Game in Dallas — and they have dug in their heels. Don’t be shocked if the owners start talking about going back to their original proposal of a $45 million hard salary cap.

But as we move into the second half of August and September, when the threat of lost games starts to become more real, then we will see movement and the two sides start to negotiate in earnest.

Then we will see the resolve of the two sides.

How and when does this end?

The when is unpredictable. I want to believe there will be a full season next year. But there are hardline owners — smaller market owners who leveraged themselves in recent years to buy these teams and who need a change in the business model — who are willing to lose some or all of a season to reshape the financial landscape of the NBA.

The players are going to come out of these negotiations with less money then when they went in (even under their own plans), the question is how far back will they go and how hard are the owners as a group willing to push for a deal they want? We’ll start to get a feel for that in August and September.

If we get to mid to late September and the two sides are nowhere near a deal like they are now, then my friends we may not see the NBA for a long while.

Damian Lillard’s goal for season: Win MVP

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) poses for a photograph during NBA basketball media day in Portland, Ore., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
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When the PBT staff made our predictions for MVP you saw some expected names — LeBron James, James Harden — and a smart pick off some people’s radar in Kawhi Leonard. Russell Westbrook was discussed as someone with a chance.

What about Damian Lillard? You know, the hip-hop star.

Lillard told a Jay Allen of Portland area Fox Sports Radio that’s his goal.

Lillard averaged 25.1 points and 6.8 assists per game last season, he is unquestionably a dynamic offensive force — he has a great pull up jumper and he can get to the rim and finish. Plus, he’s just entertaining to watch.

But MVP? That’s going to take more than numbers.

Portland won 44 games last season. The MVP almost always goes to the best player on a top two or three seed, meaning a team winning around 55 games or more. For Portland to add 10 wins or so and get Lillard noticed in the MVP race is going to be about defense — Portland was bottom 10 last season in defense and they need to be at least middle of the pack this time around. Which comes back to Lillard on some level, he’s often an overmatched defender and he can lose focus on that end. He’s gotten better over the years, but Lillard is going to have to lift up the Blazers defense, not just offense, to get in the MVP discussion.

I’m skeptical (of Lillard’s chances and the Trail Blazers taking a step forward), but we all underestimated Portland last season, too.

LeBron James says he can still win MVP with reduced workload, cites Stephen Curry

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 02:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers with the ball against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter in Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 2, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The door is open for LeBron James to win a legacy-altering fifth MVP.

But his Cavaliers could also win another championship, leaving Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue planning to limit LeBron’s minutes in preparation of a long playoff run.

LeBron, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN

“No,” James said Saturday when asked if he was concerned that planned rest could affect his MVP case. “Because Steph played 31 minutes a game and he won the MVP.”

“Well, I’ve never set into a season saying I want to win MVP,” he said. “I’ve always thought of the season saying I want to be MVP for my team and it’s resulted in me getting four of them. So I’ve been available, for the most part, every night and I’ve been available on both sides of the floor. I’ve been healthy.

Curry won 2015 MVP while playing 32.7 minutes per game, the fewest by any MVP. He played 34.2 minutes per game last season, third-fewest by an MVP – ahead of just himself and 1978 Bill Walton, who played 33.3 minutes per game.

To contrast, LeBron has set career lows the last two seasons with 36.1 and 35.6 minutes per game. So, LeBron could get a reduced workload and still play more than Curry did.

But Curry, to some degree is an anomaly. He often sat late in games with his Warriors on the right side of blowouts. The Cavs aren’t good enough regularly rest LeBron as much in those situations.

It’s not that voters care directly about minutes. But the less LeBron plays, the lower his per-game averages will be and the less Cleveland will win. Those factors matter significantly.

LeBron can overcome that. He’s darned good, and there could be a push to reward him after the last two Finals have shown he’s still better than Curry when it matters most.

Playing fewer minutes per game won’t eliminate LeBron from the MVP race, not even close. But it will – and should – hurt his case. After all, MVP should reward the player who does the most to help his team win. MVP-caliber players don’t significantly help while sitting on the bench.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder prepare for life without Kevin Durant

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 11:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a preseason game at American Airlines Center on October 11, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Maybe life after Kevin Durant won’t be so bad for the Thunder.

After the longtime face of the franchise left for Golden State, crestfallen Oklahoma City fans were worried it was just a matter of time before the team’s co-star, Russell Westbrook, would follow suit. In a move that shocked many, Westbrook re-signed with Oklahoma City. The former scoring champion and two-time All-Star MVP’s return gives the team hope.

New faces such as shooting guard Victor Oladipo and forward Domantas Sabonis, both acquired in the deal that sent Serge Ibaka to Orlando, might take some time to fit in. Westbrook believes the team is talented enough to succeed if it is focused and the new pieces blend with the old ones who helped the Thunder reach the Western Conference Finals last season.

“Just play hard, man,” Westbrook said. “I don’t know, win or lose. The only thing I know is that as long as we play hard, we give ourselves an opportunity to win.”

Westbrook could post historic numbers. He averaged 23.5 points, 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds last season and had 18 triple-doubles, the most since Magic Johnson had 18 during the 1981-82 season. Without Durant, more of that could be on the way.

Sabonis, a rookie out of Gonzaga who played for Lithuania’s Olympic team, played with the starters throughout the preseason. Oladipo averaged 15.9 points and 4.0 assists in three years with Orlando. He joins Westbrook to form arguably the most athletic backcourt tandem in the NBA.

“Defensively, I think we can be the best defensive backcourt in the league because we can do different things with our size and using our length and our speed,” Westbrook said.

Here are some things to watch for the Thunder:

Steven Adams

The 7-footer from New Zealand was already a top-notch defender and rebounder before stepping up his offense and averaging 10.1 points during the playoffs last season. In his final two preseason games, he scored 20 points against Minnesota and 17 points against Denver. He could be a breakout star.

“I think we’ve had an opportunity these last two nights (against Minnesota and Denver) how good he is around the basket, how smart he has become and how much of a presence he is in the middle,” Westbrook said.

Enes Kanter

The natural expectation was that Ibaka’s departure would prompt coach Billy Donovan to move Kanter, who finished third in balloting for the league’s sixth-man award last season, into the starting lineup. Instead, Donovan started Sabonis throughout the preseason. Perhaps Donovan knows best – Sabonis showed he can hang with the starters, and Kanter averaged 17.8 points and 9.4 rebounds while shooting 61.7 percent in the preseason.


Oklahoma City’s defense could slip with Ibaka in Orlando. Sabonis has great potential, but he’s young, and NBA defense takes some time to learn. Donovan said Sabonis has caught on quickly, but there still could be a dip early because Ibaka’s level of play is difficult to replace – he was a three-time first-team All-NBA defender and a two-time blocks leader.


The Thunder added several foreign players to the roster who will add depth – Spain’s Alex Abrines, France’s Joffrey Lauvergne and Turkey’s Ersan Ilyasova. Donovan said he likes the maturity foreign players add to a team. Abrines played for Spain’s national team that earned bronze medals at the Olympics. Lauvergne played for France in Rio.


Andre Roberson has shifted from the starting shooting guard to starting small forward. That means the Thunder still have Roberson’s dynamic athletic ability, defensive prowess and nose for the ball on the boards in the lineup. He was a liability on offense in the past, but he started becoming more of a factor on offense during the playoffs last season.

“I think he feels more comfortable and confident offensively,” Donovan said. “He’s put forth effort in that area. It’s just him continuing to grow offensively and trying to put him in situations where he slashes to the basket and he can cut and he can get out in transition and he can take his open corner threes.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter (at)CliffBruntAP

Raptors’ Jared Sullinger to have foot surgery, miss “extended time”

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 19:  Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics looks on from the bench against the Atlanta Hawks in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on April 19, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Raptors are counting on Jared Sullinger to cover for the loss of Bismack Biyombo by crashing the boards, helping them space the floor on offense, and just being solid.

But they are going to have to get by without him for a while, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports, and confirmed by the team.

There is no timeline for Sullinger’s return, but it’s going to be a while. Sullinger had battled a stress reaction in his foot a year ago, this is likely an extension of that problem.

This certainly hurts the Raptors’ depth up front, but it’s also not a massive setback for a team with lofty aspirations this season. Patrick Patterson will get more minutes, which is a good thing, plus the Raptors need to play DeMarre Carroll more at the four. They can wait for Sullinger (who they signed this summer after Boston let him walk in the wake of signing Al Horford.