Are owners, players closer than we think to a deal?

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The conventional wisdom — based on the words out of the mouths of David Stern, Billy Hunter and basically everyone who has been in on one of the NBA labor negotiations — is that the two sides are nowhere near a deal. They are finally getting serious about the negotiations, but the sides remain far apart.

Or are they?

Not according to Chris Sheridan — he formerly of ESPN and the Associated Press, one of the better league-wide reporters out there, who has started his own site sheridanhoops.com. (We wish him luck, he’s one of the good ones and you should be reading his stuff.)

Sheridan reports the two sides are closer than you think to a deal.

Yes, under the 10-year collective bargaining agreement the owners have proposed, the gap is indeed somewhere in the area of $7-8 billion range….

Moreover, if you look at years 1, 2 and 3 of the proposals, the sides are a total of $870 million apart. (The players are asking for $2.17 billion in salaries and benefits in 2011-12, $2.33 billion in ’12-13, and $2.42 billion in ’13-14. The owners are offering a flat $2 billion per year.) Or to put it another way, in a business that brought in $4.2 billion in revenues last season, the sides are only $170 million apart for next season….

But here is the key thing, the two most important words to keep in mind as this lockout plays itself out: Aggregate dollars. Right now, the owners have offered the players slightly more than $12 billion in total compensation over the next six seasons. The players are seeking just under $15 billion.

Somewhere in between $12 and $15 billion lies the settlement number, and they’ll get there one way or another.

I want to believe, but….

First off, that is still three billion dollars we are talking about, a healthy chunk of change by even Warren Buffett’s standards. Also, the owners last proposal decoupled league revenue and the salary cap — the players will not stand for that. The players know big television deals are coming and they want a cut.

The other real question to me is: Who is driving the bus on the owners side? Remember, David Stern works for the owners, he has a lot of power but he works at their discretion. There are some owners out there — small to middle market owners who leveraged themselves to buy these teams in the last decade — who want to radically change the economic landscape of the league right now. So far, the harsh rhetoric and the harsh proposals from Stern have been put out to placate those hard liners.

But how far can Stern come off that line? He’s not coming all the way to the players side, certainly. But how far can he come, and on what timeline can he make those steps? As Sheridan notes, issues like a hard-cap are tricky. Do you think the league — coming off a season of the best television ratings and fan interest since the Jordan era — wants a true hard cap that breaks up the Miami Heat? You may hate the Heat, but you watched them in very large numbers. Is breaking up that trio (or forcing the Lakers and Mavs to break up their teams, or squashing what the Knicks are trying to do in New York) really good for the business of the league? Do the smaller market owners care? Is this something where the transition to a harder cap (stiffer fines for going over a luxury tax number, which is the likely compromise) takes place over five to six years not two to three? And we haven’t even touched yet on getting the owners to agree on a revenue sharing deal.

The players are going to have to give up more than they have given up right now to get a deal done. Their best offer is not on the table yet. Neither is the owners. In that sense, there is room or optimism. But when those offers are down on the table, I’m not convinced the gap is as small as Sheridan suggests. Even if I want to believe he is right.

Raptors’ Patrick Patterson taunts Mavericks’ bench after three, Rick Carlisle talks back (VIDEO)

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Toronto handed Dallas its 41st loss of the season Saturday night, which means with the Mavericks’ next loss their streak of winning seasons will come to an end at 16.

Toronto was talking a lot of smack while getting that win. At least Patrick Patterson was when he was draining corner threes in front of the Mavericks’ bench. On the one above, Patterson chirps and coach Rick Carlisle goes back at him verbally. They both pick up technical fouls for their trouble.

I’m surprised this doesn’t happen a little more during games, there’s a lot of talking down there

Serge Ibaka, DeMar DeRozan lead Raptors past Mavericks, 94-86

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DALLAS (AP) — DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka scored 18 points apiece, and the Toronto Raptors clinched a playoff berth after their fifth straight victory, 94-86 over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night.

The Raptors, who came back from 15-point deficits to win each of their last two games, made it a little easier on themselves Saturday. Toronto scored the game’s first seven points and never trailed in dealing the Mavericks’ playoff hopes a damaging blow.

Harrison Barnes scored 23 points for Dallas, which missed 18 of its first 22 3-pointers and finished just 7 of 28 from behind the arc.

Patrick Patterson added 14 points for Toronto, including a perfect 4 for 4 on 3-pointers.

The Mavericks fell four games behind Denver for the final playoff spot in the West.

Toronto led by as many as 16 points in the first half and by 15 early in the fourth quarter before a 10-0 Dallas run made things more interesting.

Dorian Finney-Smith‘s free throws with 7:57 to go brought the Mavs within 79-74, the closest they had been since 7-2 early in the game. But Ibaka made consecutive jumpers to restore a nine-point lead, and Dallas got no closer than six after that.

The Raptors had their biggest lead at 42-26 in the first half. Barnes scored Dallas’ last 11 points of the half to help cut into the lead, but Toronto led 54-44 at the break.

J.J. Barea‘s long 3 at the third-quarter buzzer again brought Dallas within 10 at 74-64.

TIP-INS

Raptors: Coach Dwane Casey said he was hopeful that guard Kyle Lowry would return from wrist surgery before the end of the regular season. “I know he’s doing a lot of conditioning, a lot of work to keep his body in shape,” Casey said. “Just let him rehab, let him do his thing and trust our medical people.” Lowry has missed the last 16 games. . Toronto was also without starting forward DeMarre Carroll due to a sore lower back. P.J. Tucker started in his place.

Mavericks: Seth Curry with 11 points and Yogi Ferrell with 10 were the only other Mavs in double figures. . Nerlens Noel started his second game in a row at center for the Mavericks, who have gone to a big lineup. They’ve moved Dirk Nowitzki to power forward, Barnes to small forward and Curry to point guard.

STREAK IN JEOPARDY

The Mavericks took their 41st loss of the season. Their next loss will end the NBA’s second-longest streak of .500 or better seasons – currently at 16 seasons. Their last sub-.500 season was 1999-00, when they finished 40-42 and Mark Cuban became owner of the team in January 2000.

San Antonio has the longest streak of .500 or better seasons with 20, including this season.

ABOUT THURSDAY NIGHT

Cuban couldn’t resist giving his opinion on Barea’s ejection from the Mavericks’ victory over the Clippers on Thursday night. Barea was called for a flagrant 2 foul for pushing Blake Griffin, a player with a 10-inch height advantage over Barea.

“I just feel bad for Blake,” Cuban said. “It’s hard to come back from a knockout like that. We sent flowers to his family, condolences. I can only guess that he’s going to be drinking through a straw for a long, long time.”

 

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.