There’s still hope in NBA talks, but it comes down to money

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Tuesday was not a good day for NBA fans.

If you were hoping for an NBA season that will start on time and have 82 games, Tuesday sucked. What is clear right now is that the two sides are far apart, and that while there is time to get a deal so training camps could start on time the first few days of October, that seems a lot less likely.

That said, there is still time. Almost every negotiation gets solved at the last minute when the pressure is on one or both sides to really reach a deal (like the NFL) and the NBA is not there yet. It will be a few more weeks.

There is still hope — if you believe that the cooler heads among the owners will start to make a push to get a deal done. You’ve seen the breakdown, there are plenty of doves among the owners who don’t want to punish the union and don’t want to lose the season. Right now they are not driving the bus, but that could start to change come Thursday’s Board of Governor’s meeting.

The theme out of Tuesday’s meeting was that this is about the salary cap, not about money (meaning the split of Basketball Related Income). Commissioner David Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver tried to seem confounded that the players considered a hard salary cap a deal breaker and what was tearing these talks apart.

Let’s be honest here — this is about the money. Always, on both sides. Anytime you are told it’s not about the money, that person is lying.

What the owners want is a larger slice of the overall pie — the BRI — and a hard cap that some in that group seem to think will lead to more competitive balance. The easy example is the NFL, with hard caps and a real parity where teams can go from last to first in a year or two with some shrewd moves.

With larger television deals to come and the belief that (like the NFL) parity and close games mean higher ratings, some are pushing competitive balance as an answer.

It’s not. Competitive balance in the NBA is never really going to happen. Because one superstar player can dominate a game and turn any team into a contender. If you have LeBron James you can surround him with pretty blah talent and still reach the NBA finals and have the best record in the league (see Cavaliers, Cleveland). Even if you flatten out the other talent in the league, if you have LeBron/Kobe/Wade/Durant you are going to win a lot of games.

Besides, when was the NBA the most popular and got the highest ratings? During the Michael Jordan era. When the Bulls dominated and the league had the least competitive balance.

What a salary cap does do is push the league toward a more NFL-style, non-guaranteed contract system. A lot of owners like this because it lets them undo their mistakes more quickly. The superstars like the guys mentioned above will still get guaranteed deals, but the guys on the middle and bottom will become much more disposable (as happens in the NFL, when good players get cut for cap and other reasons). A lot of owners want the ability to get out of their mistakes — a get out of jail free card for bad management decisions — and this looks like the fastest path there.

The cap is about money and the redistribution of it to the owners liking.

The players do not want to take a smaller percentage of the overall cut and take on a system where that cut is now not guaranteed. As Henry Abbott noted at TrueHoop, they don’t want to happen to them what is happening to much of the American workforce (where contract work is more and more replacing full time staffs).

The owners themselves are a divided group (even David Stern admitted that to a degree Tuesday) but right now they seem to be committed to the hard cap.

Bottom line — this is about the money. It’s about the cut of money and how much of it is guaranteed.

It’s just that the sums of money we’re talking about are astronomical (more than $4 billion in revenue and $2 billion in salary) to the average fan. And those casual fans are going to be hard to win back if the league actually strikes and misses games in the middle of a recession because they can’t divide that money up. Both the owners and players get that, or at least give lip service to it. So you can hold that out as hope if you want. But I’m losing what little hope I had pretty fast.

Report: Magic’s search firm inquiring about Larry Bird

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Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president.

Not just today, but also in 2012. A year later, he was again running a front office (Indiana’s).

Could he make an even quicker leap back into NBA team presidency – with the Magic?

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This strikes me as more as Orlando’s search firm trying to prove its usefulness than a viable option.

Whether they’re trying to generate excitement, getting used for leverage or actually serious, the Magic keep getting linked to big-name replacements for the fired Rob HenniganDoc Rivers, David Griffin and now Bird. If the Magic are willing to pay major money for name recognition, they could get plenty of people to at least listen. But I’m unconvinced about that spending.

It’d be a little weird for Bird to inherit Frank Vogel, whom Bird fired as the Pacers’ coach. But Bird did everything he could to show that was more about seeking change than losing faith in Vogel.

Report: Larry Bird stepping down as Pacers president

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Larry Bird put his stamp on the Pacers in the last year –  firing Frank Vogel and trading for Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young to join hand-picked Monta Ellis and Myles Turner as Paul George‘s supporting cast on an up-tempo, offensively dynamic team.

The plan fell flat.

Indiana played at a below-average pace and produced a middling offense. The Pacers got swept by the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.

Now, Indiana’s uncertain future – with Paul George a year from free agency and the Lakers courting – gets even more chaotic.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Bird had already resigned once as Pacers president, in 2012. He returned the following year.

Bird’s patience and pain tolerance for the job due to lingering back issues from his playing days has long seemed to waver. I wouldn’t write him off for good.

Indiana promoted Kevin Pritchard in 2012, when Bird previously stepped down. Pritchard previously worked as the Trail Blazers’ general manager, and he’s a qualified replacement.

The work begins immediately with a decision on George. If he doesn’t make an All-NBA team, the Pacers won’t gain as much financial advantage in his contract offer. That could open the door to a trade and rebuilding around Turner — or making a last-ditch push to convince George he can win in Indiana.

Report: Clippers expect Chris Paul to re-sign

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Chris Paul reportedly verbally committed months ago to re-sign with the Clippers. There have been mixed signals about Blake Griffin‘s intention to re-sign.

But they can’t formalize the deals until July, and the Clippers are now one game from another demoralizing first-round exit.

Where do they stand now?

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN:

Sources close to the Clippers say that they expect Paul to re-sign with the Clippers. He’ll be eligible for a five-year contract in excess of $200 million. Griffin’s return is less certain, sources say. This summer is his first foray into unrestricted free agency. Given his snakebitten tenure with the team and the possibility of another early exit, the prospect of exploring what’s out there will be alluring. One premise volunteered in good humor suggests that Paul is more likely to take a slew of meetings in a public process but ultimately re-sign with the Clippers, while Griffin is more likely to mull the decision privately under the guise of night, but announce he’ll be playing elsewhere in 2017-18.

Clippers president/coach Doc Rivers has made clear his desire to re-sign Paul and Griffin, and the playoffs won’t change that. This is the right call. It’s so difficult to assemble a team this good, the Clippers shouldn’t throw it away for the sake of change. Just because the Clippers haven’t gotten the breaks in previous seasons doesn’t mean they won’t get the breaks in future seasons.

But Paul and Griffin – and J.J. Redick, who’ll also be an unrestricted free agent – will determine the franchise’s fate. If they want to leave, they’ll leave.

Can the Clippers lure them back? They apparently think they’ll keep Paul, but there’s an uncertain dynamic in L.A. that Arnovitz explores in great depth. I highly recommend reading his full piece.

Nike, Adidas, Under Armour pass on potential No. 1 pick Lonzo Ball

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NBA teams reportedly aren’t dinging potential No. 1 pick Lonzo Ball over all the wild stuff his dad says and does.

Shoe companies are apparently taking a different approach.

Darren Rovell of ESPN:

An endorsement deal with Nike, Under Armour or Adidas is not in the cards for Lonzo Ball.

Ball’s father LaVar confirmed that the three shoe and apparel companies informed him that they were not interested in doing a deal with his son. Sources with the three companies told ESPN.com that they indeed were moving on.

In his meetings with the three, LaVar insisted that the company license his upstart Big Baller Brand from him. He also showed the companies a shoe prototype that he hoped would be Lonzo’s first shoe.

“We’ve said from the beginning, we aren’t looking for an endorsement deal,” LaVar told ESPN. “We’re looking for co-branding, a true partner. But they’re not ready for that because they’re not used to that model. But hey, the taxi industry wasn’t ready for Uber, either.”

“Just imagine how rich Tiger (Woods), Kobe (Bryant), Serena (Williams), (Michael) Jordan and LeBron (James) would have been if they dared to do their own thing,” LaVar said. “No one owned their own brand before they turned pro. We do and I have three sons so it’s that much more valuable.”

Is there more upside in this approach? Yeah, I guess.

But the traditional shoe companies bring valuable infrastructure and experience. There’s value in forfeiting upside for those resources. Lonzo Ball, who has yet to play in the NBA, is also missing out on guaranteed life-changing money.

On the risk-reward curve, this seems like a mistake.