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.

Paul George says he “Didn’t know I was gonna be traded”

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As I have pointed out before here on NBC Sports, I really do love watching NBA marketing unfold in front of me. Some of it — like Kobe Bryant’s weird post career legacy massaging — is downright impressive.

Other instances are not quite as sly.

Enter newest Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George and his latest sponsored Instagram post.

In a recent video posted to his page, George put up a training montage set to an Eminem song that was essentially an advertisement for the gym and trainer he had been working with over the summer. The gym’s own page also features several of these videos. So far, pretty common stuff.

That is, until you read the Instagram caption and see what George had to say about his training. Let’s see if you can spot the issue.

Screenshot via Instagram:

Of course, the issue here is that George essentially took away the leverage the Indiana Pacers would have had if his trade request hadn’t somehow been made public. Repeatedly.

George knew he was going to get traded because Indiana had no choice but to trade him. Saying otherwise is a hilarious and transparent attempt to reshape recent history.

This is perhaps my favorite result of the platitudes drilled into the heads of players by team PR guys and agent media training. That is, when you talk nonsense for so long and during each and every interview — we just dug deep, it’s a game of inches, you have to want it more — sometimes you just don’t know when to stop trying to spin the story in your direction. Especially because the mantra of media training is to be boring and try say nothing, which is hard if you have something to prove or an opinion to change.

Between this and Kevin Durant openly admitting to having a burner Twitter account (which no doubt sparked a flurry of emails and calls between agents and their clients) this is shaping up to be one of the best NBA seasons in recent memories and that’s just from a new media standpoint.

Gordon Hayward says Isaiah Thomas “ultimately helped win me over”

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Gordon Hayward is now a member of the Boston Celtics, and we are all excited to see how the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference last season checks out with a newly revamped roster.

Of course, Boston has been the subject of much media attention after signing Hayward and trading Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. I think there should be some skepticism about how quickly Boston will be able to put things together, but this is a team of former and current All-Stars so they will likely be at least a Top 4 team out East.

Meanwhile, Hayward has written a new blog post on his personal website about the summer, taking on such subjects as the move to Massachusetts, video games, and what to expect this season.

One of the more interesting things that Hayward wrote about was just how much of an influence Thomas had in his decision to come to Boston. Hayward addresses Thomas’ influence in a section dedicated to him finding out about the trade to Cleveland.

Via GordonHayward20.life:

He didn’t just help recruit me to Boston—he was a big piece of that recruitment. He had talked a lot about city and how it was different to be a Celtic. He talked about the intensity of playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, playing at the Garden in the playoffs, and how much fun it was, and how much fun he had playing in Boston.

All of that ultimately helped win me over. And by the time of the trade, I had already started to build a little bit of a relationship with him.

The rest of Hayward’s post was about the subjects mentioned above, but it ended by saying that he understands the history of the organization and that he feels like he has not reached his full potential just yet.

Obviously, in signing him this season that’s exactly what the Celtics and Danny Ainge are hoping.

NBA implementing ‘Zaza Pachulia,’ ‘James Harden’ rules

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NEW YORK (AP) — NBA referees will be able to call flagrant or technical fouls on defenders who dangerously close on jump shooters without allowing them space to land, as Zaza Pachulia did on the play that injured Spurs star Kawhi Leonard in last season’s playoffs.

Officials will also make sure jump shooters are in their upward shooting motion when determining if a perimeter foul is worthy of free throws, which could cut down on James Harden‘s attempts after he swings his arms into contact.

Leonard sprained his ankle when Pachulia slid his foot under Leonard’s in Game 1 of Golden State’s victory in the Western Conference finals. After calling a foul, officials will now be able to look at replay to determine if the defender recklessly positioned his foot in an unnatural way, which could trigger an upgrade to a flagrant, or a technical if there was no contact but an apparent attempt to injure.

“It’s 100 percent for the safety of the players,” NBA senior vice president of replay and referee operations Joe Borgia said Thursday.

The NBA had made the freedom to land a point of emphasis for officials a few years ago, because of the risk of injuries. But the play got renewed attention during the playoffs because of Leonard’s injury, and also one in which Washington forward Markieff Morris landed on Al Horford‘s foot in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal, knocking him out of a game the Celtics rallied to win.

Officials can still rule the play a common foul if they did not see a dangerous or unnatural attempt by the defender upon review. Borgia said Pachulia’s foul would have been deemed a flagrant.

With the fouls on the perimeter shots – often coming when the offensive player has come off a screen and quickly attempts to launch a shot as his defender tries to catch up – officials will focus on the sequencing of the play. The player with the ball must already be in his shooting motion when contact is made, rather than gathering the ball to shoot such as on a drive to the basket.

“We saw it as a major trend in the NBA so we had to almost back up and say, `Well, wait a minute, this is going to be a trend, so let’s catch up to it,”‘ NBA president of league operations Byron Spruell said.

Report: Cavaliers signing Kendrick Perkins

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Kendrick Perkins spent fewer than four months with the Cavaliers, including the 2015 playoffs. But nearly a year later after Cleveland let Perkins walk in free agency, LeBron James was still bemoaning Perkins’ absence.

Are the Cavs righting a wrong?

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Kendrick Perkins joined the Cavaliers at LeBron James’ minicamp in Santa Barbara, Calif., and will come to training camp next week, sources told cleveland.com.

The Cavs now have 18 players with standard contracts, and 15 – the regular-season limit – have guaranteed salaries. I doubt Cleveland wants to waive the two without guaranteed salaries, Kay Felder and Edy Tavares, either.

In other words, Perkins is a longshot to stick into the regular season.

Perkins was washed up when with the Cavaliers two years ago. The 32-year-old who sat out last season hasn’t produced on the court in several years. He’s tough and well-liked in the locker room, which might give him a chance of sneaking onto the regular-season roster.

But the Cavs should focus on developing toughness and chemistry among their rotation players. Perkins is just a crutch, most likely one who’ll be yanked away by cut-down day a few weeks from now.