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How a hard salary cap could hurt team play in the NBA

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We know what a lot of you think — the NBA is filled with a bunch of ball-hogs playing isolation hoops every time down. There is no team play.

Wrong. Certainly not true of your NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, where teamwork make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Or there is Phil Jackson, who has more than two handfuls of rings as a coach because he got players to buy into and follow his system (which involved a lot of passing and off-the-ball movement). Basically, if you think the NBA is all isolation, you are still stuck in the 1990s listening to Right Said Fred.

But a hard salary cap in the style that NBA owners want could change that.

Right now the owners are demanding a hard cap in addition to a larger part of the overall pie, which is why labor negotiations have stalled out. Owners — or at least some of the owners, it’s pretty clear there are divisions — want a system that looks a lot more like the NFL. There would be a hard salary cap and your biggest stars (Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant) would get a large chunk of that along with guaranteed deals.

But the average or bottom rung players would have non-guaranteed deals. They could be cut on a whim, for play or for salary reasons. Much how NFL rosters work. The owners like that because they could get out of bad contracts faster and rebuild more quickly.

But this is the NBA — you get paid for scoring. Veteran center Jermaine O’Neal, talking with J.A. Adande of ESPN, said putting guys on non-guaranteed deals would lead to guys looking out for themselves and not the team on the court.

“So do we accept a deal that totally butchers our game? Because what they don’t understand, if you take out mid-tier deals and say, ‘Fend for bare minimum at the bottom,’ they’ll be individualizing our game so severely.”

That’s something I hadn’t thought about. Take away guarantees, turn most rosters into extremes of max guys and minimum guys, and you’ve got a squad full of guys trying to get their numbers to get paid. I saw that dynamic in play with the Clippers before, when Donald Sterling didn’t extend the contracts of any of his free-agents-to-be and it was every man for himself.

In baseball, a guy wanting to get paid is going to try and get more hits and field more balls, which helps the team. In football, a running back will bust it on every play to get his future payday and linebackers will be trying to get more tackles. All that is usually good for team play. But in the NBA, if everyone is out to score team play is crushed. And the team loses a lot more games.

It’s called unintended consequences — actions taken can have reactions nobody expects. A hard cap could have an impact on the NBA in a way a lot of owners looking at their bottom line don’t see.

And we’d all suffer for that. As if the lockout wasn’t enough.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: