Players sound pessimistic on chances for deal anytime soon

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Thursday in Las Vegas, players union president Derek Fisher and executive director Billy Hunter are going to face some tough questions from their rank and file constituents in a closed meeting — it will be 77 days since the lockout started and the players feel like negotiations are at square one. Basically because they are.

Talking in Las Vegas after some “lockout league” games (the Impact Competitive Training Series) players sounded like guys ready to except at least some games gone and maybe a full season.

They sounded pessimistic. Take this quote from union vice president Roger Mason, as reported by Ben Golliver at Eye On Basketball.

“I’m an optimistic person at heart but what would make me think that we would have a season? Right now it’s looking like we’re going to miss training camp and some preseason games. Unless some things change, we could lose the season….

“I think there was a false sense of optimism leading into yesterday’s meetings,” Mason said. “That was a little tough because once we went to the meeting (Tuesday) it was really more of the same. The NBA and the owners want to change the system and they also want to make economic changes. We understand the landscape that the world is different so we’re willing to sacrifice and give money back. But a system with a hard cap is something we don’t want to do.”

Suns swingman Jared Dudley spoke to the Salt Lake Tribune and said Mason told him in the latest round of talks the players lowered their offer on the percentage of “Basketball Related Income” they get down to 53 percent. In the last labor deal they got 57 percent, they made an offer of 54.3 percent. That would be hundreds of millions in salary givebacks by the players in the future. But the players will not do that and accept hard cap, which they see as a push toward non-guaranteed contracts. (Which could have unintended consequences for the league.) The owners are staying strong on wanting a hard cap.

What the players want to hear from Hunter and Fisher on Thursday is a plan of action.

I expect Billy [Hunter] to be open, talking to us about what we’re going to do from here on. Because obviously the owners and David Stern have made their standpoint, so we have to make ours. I don’t know what we’re going to do.

Dudley said union decertification — actually breaking up the union to allow players to sue the league on anti-trust grounds, which is what the NFL players union did at the start of their lockout — is still on the table. You can bet it comes up in Thursday’s meetings as some prominent agents are pushing for it. The league has already tried to stop that by a pre-emptive lawsuit asking for a ruling that the lockout is legal.

Hunter has said he wants to hold off on decertification, but the players are getting antsy and with agents pushing it well could happen.

None of this is good news. Things are going to get worse before they get better.

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.

Take a look back at just how great Shaq was with the Lakers (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.

His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.

Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.

 

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”