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Are things looking up in labor negotiations or not?

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Nature abhors a vacuum. So do news agencies, blogs (including us) and apparently agents.

So the fact that there has been no talk from the principles involved in a series of owner/player meetings —  a six-hour meeting last week, a more than five hour meeting Wednesday and another planned for Thursday — has led to all sorts of speculation. Some optimistic, some negative, and some from people still looking for Billy Hunter’s head on a silver platter. All of it just filling the void. A lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Frankly, we don’t know. Not yet.

That said there is a more optimistic vibe of late. A feeling that at least the talks are serious and maybe some ground is being covered.

That said, lots of things are blowing up. Which includes a tweet that showed up on union vice president Roger Mason’s twitter Wednesday night.

Looking like a season. How u

That abbreviated message was up about half an hour before Mason took it down and claimed his twitter account was hacked. Right. People gullible enough to send money to that poor Nigerian prince who keeps emailing are not buying that. Everyone who tweets something they don’t like says they were hacked. (Now, some people do get hacked, we just tend not to believe it.) Pretty soon Mason had these tweets up in response.

Today’s meetings were cordial and there is a pure since of urgency on both parts to end the lockout. However, there is still a HUGE gap..

Tomorrow we have more meetings and I’m hoping there is progress. Today’s meetings did nothing to make me feel more optimistic.

My guess, Mason was either texting or direct messaging someone on twitter and messed up (something not that hard to do from a phone program). That’s the consensus out there.

But that does mean we are really close to a deal? No.

And we should add that agents (used to being in the middle of negotiations involving their livelihood, they don’t like being on the sidelines) are showing more and more frustration with union director Billy Hunter. Many think he is without a plan. A number of agents wanted to go the aggressive, decertification route from July 1 and have been frustrated with Hunter’s more patient approach.

Now, decertification would be a scary thing for all involved. Sam Amick explains why at Sports Illustrated.

The pressure is indeed building, but these last eight days have been good for the union head. Two small-group sessions featuring Hunter and Stern are already in the books, with another scheduled for Thursday and possibly another on Friday. Hunter will need to deliver results in the coming weeks or risk a mutiny, but the incremental progress has continued if only because the two sides are talking again…..

Decertification remains an option, no matter how tricky it might be, but the message sent by taking that route will have changed dramatically if that’s the path the players choose. On July 1, it would have been a punch-first strategy intended to help the union and the players gain a badly-needed edge. From here on out, it would be a clear indication that Hunter’s approval rating was at an all-time low and an almost-certain sign that the season would be lost.

We’ve long said that by mid-September we’d see a sense of urgency and start to get a feel for where things really stand, if things are really that bleak. Well, we do see a sense of urgency. As for if things are looking up in the lockout, well, they are at least meeting. Stay tuned to see where things really stand in the next few weeks. And how Hunter acts may be the best indicator.

Monty Williams is back coaching with Team USA, ready to get back on NBA sidelines

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 18:  Draymond Green #14 of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team drives against assistant coach Monty Williams of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on July 18, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Watching Monty Williams back on the court at the USA basketball camp/practices in Las Vegas, you could see he was at home. He’s easily the best 44-year-old defender on the planet — he went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and the rest, was physical, and made them work for buckets. Then he’d instruct. He’s just a natural.

Back in February, Williams’ wife was killed in an auto accident. It devastated the devout family man, in ways it’s hard for us to understand who have never experienced it. He walked away from coaching the rest of the NBA season with the Thunder, and nobody questioned it for a second.

Now, after getting his feet wet with Team USA (where he is an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski), he told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman he is ready to get back on the sidelines.

“I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to; my kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back. I’m so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”

He is one of the better respected assistant coaches in the league, and a guy who will get another shot at a top spot someday. Soon. Can’t wait to see him back on the sidelines.

Ben Simmons says he plans to work on shooting, handles, getting stronger before camp

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons cheers from the bunch during the first half of the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.

Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.

He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.

New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.

Report: Warriors sign JaVale McGee to make-good training camp contract

JaVale McGee
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JaVale McGee is getting another shot in the NBA.

He played just 34 games off the bench for Dallas last season. He played 23 games the season before that due to injury.

But the Golden State Warriors are thin up front — Zaza Pachulia will get the bulk of the minutes at the five (when the Warriors use a traditional center), and there is the often-injured Anderson Varejao behind him. The Warriors could use another big. So they are giving McGee a look, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

This is a low-risk move by the Warriors, and it’s worth the gamble. Vintage McGee, for all his Shaqtin’ a Fool flaws, is far more athletic and a better rim protector than any of the guys the Warriors now have at the five. If it doesn’t work out — and the odds are it will not — they cut him, if it does they pay him a minimum deal.

I hope he makes it, just because the league is more fun when McGee is in it.

Russell Westbrook laughs off question about Kevin Durant

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant #35 discuss play during the first half against the Los Angeles ClipperLos Angeles Kingsat Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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At some point, Russell Westbrook will sit down with members of the media and discuss Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder, how he felt about the move, and how it impacted him both personally and professionally.

But not right now. He remains silent.

This Vine making its way around, where Westbrook laughs — probably at the question, although read into that whatever you want — when asked about Durant sums up where we are.

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

In the full Facebook clip, Westbrook walks away, too. It’s his right. He can talk about it on his schedule.