Do owner, player negotiations finally get serious Wednesday?

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Wednesday in Manhattan, NBA commissioner David Stern and players’ union director Billy Hunter are going to sit down in a room across the table from each other and talk new NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement.

They have done that a few times in various settings, exchanging a few proposals, for two years now. With absolutely no progress.

But we are now a month or so away from when training camps were supposed to open, less than six weeks from the first preseason games. About two months from the first regular season games.

We’ve said all along that until there was real pressure, a real deadline, the negotiations would not move forward. Well, now is about time for both sides to start really moving toward a deal.

The question is will it happen? We’re not the only ones wondering, agent Bill Duffy said this to Yahoo’s Marc Spears.

“This is a telltale meeting,” said agent Billy Duffy, whose client roster includes Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo and Greg Oden. “I think we will know the seriousness of both sides’ position after Wednesday.

“I don’t think the season starts on time. There really has been no progress. The union has been patient on hoping there would be movement on the league side. The league hasn’t demonstrated any movement whatsoever while the union is flexible.”

Back in 1999 — when the league missed half a season due to a lockout — the resulting deal was hailed as a win for the owners. They got a salary cap. They got a maximum salary put in.

But a dozen years later the current crop of owners sees that deal as a loss — 57 percent of all Basketball Related Income (BRI) has to go to the players in the form of salary. Doesn’t matter if it is bad deals or good ones, salary is a set percentage of league revenues. As costs outside of just players have risen to run a team, the owners have taken a financial hit trying to pay the rest of it out of their 43 percent. The owners wail of financial losses on their toys.

The owners want a bigger slice of the pie. The players union offered to come back to 54 percent, but the owners want that number below 50 percent and they want to redefine how BRI is calculated (more net than gross income).

The owners want to overhaul the system, including hard salary caps, shorter contracts and ways to get out of the end of bad deals. The players are playing goalie, trying to keep as much of what is in the current deal  as they have. But for them, they want a percentage of salaries tied to the league’s BRI — with new television deals on the horizon they want a share of that money, not to just let the owners pocket it.

If you want a positive heading into Wednesday’s meeting, it is that this — this is just top executives from both sides. There are not hardline owners in the room for Stern to have to placate, there are no players (outside of union president Derek Fisher) in the room that Hunter has to put on a show for. Both sides know each other, know the issues and are civil with one another. This is a setting where there can be real dialogue.

But with the two sides so very far apart right now, will that matter? We can hope so, but it’s hard to be optimistic.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.

Joel Embiid, his mask, Sixers three point shooting too much for Heat in Game 3

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Joel Embiid is back and all is right with the world in Philadelphia.

From the opening tip Tuesday night, this felt like an old-school playoff game. It was chippy, with the referees futilely trying to use technicals to settle people down. Dwyane Wade was yanking on Justin Anderson’s arm away from the play. Justise Winslow was stomping on Joel Embiid’d goggles. Goran Dragic’s hatred of Marco Belinelli was on full display.

All of which is to say it was what we want in a playoff game — intense. No love lost. It was a battle royal for three quarters.

Then in the fourth quarter it quickly became a blowout. Because Philadelphia — with Joel Embiid back in the lineup — is that good. And that dangerous. Especially when they hit 18 threes on the night.

The Sixers won the fourth quarter 32-14, behind Embiid and Ben Simmons combining for 15 in the quarter and playing great defense. With that, the Sixers won Game 3 on the road 128-108. Philly now has a 2-1 lead in the series, with Game 4 on Saturday in Miami (and that game becomes vital for the Heat).

Embiid is a force of nature, even if he was showing some rust in this game after missing three weeks with a concussion and orbital bone fracture. Embiid was a disruptive force on defense from the opening tip, finishing with four blocks but that doesn’t begin to get into the number of shots he altered. His ability to make plays on the perimeter and recover is impressive and was on full display.

On offense, he led the Sixers with 23 points, on just 11 shots. He was 3-of-4 from three and got to the line for 15 free throws — Hassan Whiteside could not handle him in the paint, or when Embiid got the ball and drove.

When Embiid sat the Sixers’ pace instantly picked up, they were getting transition chances, moving the ball around and getting good look threes. Philly hit 18-of-34 threes (52.9 percent) and when the outside shots are falling it opens up the drives and everything the Sixers want to do in the paint.

It was a tale of two teams for the Sixers — one with Embiid, and a faster one when he sat — and Miami had trouble adjusting to the different but effective versions of the Heat.

Simmons finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists. He also did this, which is some insane handles for a guy 6’10”.

Handles so smooth!

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Dario Saric and Belinelli each had 21 for the Sixers.

Goran Dragic playing his best game of the series, finishing with 23 points on 13 shots.

The game was choppy for stretches, there were turnovers and an uneven feel to the game in the first half, but it was close with the Heat up 64-63 at the break. Both teams made runs, but the other always answered. It was close through the third quarter, too.

Then in the fourth, the Sixers found themselves on both ends, and it was over. The Heat play hard, play smart, but they don’t have the talent of the Sixers and when Philly finds its groove there is little Miami can do.

Justise Winslow stepped on Joel Embiid’s mask (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid started for the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night. The Game 3 matchup between the Miami Heat and Philadelphia was an important one with the teams tied, 1-1.

Embiid had previously vented his frustration on social media about the perceived slowness of his return to the floor from an orbital fracture.

Now, the Cameroonian big man is back for the Sixers and playing with a huge mask and goggles.

But the mask didn’t come without its problems for Embiid. It clearly affected his shooting and ability to handle the ball, as evidenced by a missed alley-oop in the second quarter, among other things.

There’s also the matter of how other players are treating Embiid and his mask. At one point, Embiid’s googles ended up on the floor and Heat forward Justise Winslow purposely stepped on them.

Via Twitter:

That’s harsh.

Embiid will have to adjust to using the mask since it’s unlikely he will be cleared to play without it soon. Hopefully he has some backups just in case the first couple sets get broken.

Tractors worth $50,000 stolen from Scottie Pippen’s farm

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HAMBURG, Ark. (AP) — Authorities in rural Arkansas are investigating the theft of more than $50,000 worth of equipment from a farm owned by former NBA star Scottie Pippen.

Investigator Mark Griever of the Ashley County Sheriff’s Office says two tractors were stolen from the farm in Hamburg, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) southeast of Little Rock. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Pippen’s family is offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Griever says Pippen owns the livestock farm with his brother.

Pippen, who now lives in Florida, is a native of Hamburg. Pippen won six NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls alongside Michael Jordan in the 1990s.