Derek Fisher speaks to reporters after taking part in contract negotiations between the NBA and the players association in New York

The 15 Footer: Things fall apart, but no one stops talking to notice

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The 15 Footer is a recurring series of fifteen items about the NBA highlighting news of the last week. It is written by Matt Moore, sometimes not badly.

1. It’s not the end of civilization. But you can see it from there. 

I was sure that the Kardashian-Humprhies wedding would be the dumbest story in the NBA this year. How do you top a borderline starter marrying someone who’s literally famous for being famous? Oh, that’s easy. With a 20-year-old affair between a marginal political entity and Glen Rice. It’s like a folktale, really. If the point of the folktale was to make you question what the point of the human race is.

2. Play It Forward Pass

LeBron James’ long-term fascination with football, including this weeks’ video of him playing ball in the street, got me thinking. Would James be better off as a receiver? He’d be physically dominant because of his size and athleticism. He’d likely have wound up as the highest paid receiver. And while football has its own ridiculous set of cliches and standards, particularly regarding toughness, at least James wouldn’t be solely responsible for his team’ fate in the clutch.

In fact, the NFL would do more for James’ overall goals than the NBA. While the money is undeniably better in the NBA, he’d still be one of the most marketable players in the NFL. He’d be part of a closer team, as NFL squads tend to be closer than NBA teams. And the burden for success would be equally shared man to man, instead of heaped on James. Furthermore, James would only have to excel on a handful of plays once a week rather than on 90 percent of all plays 82 games a season and then the playoffs. These things are the same for any athlete, but James is particularly well-suited for the game. And maybe it would have given James a different self-concept where he wouldn’t, you know, go on national television and rip his home state’s heart out. Okay, probably not, but it’s something to think about.

You’re all just sitting there imagining him getting nailed by a safety, aren’t you?

3. The Big 20/20 Hindsight

At some point, Shaq’s not really being helpful. Oh, wait, that’s most every point. His latest brilliant reveal is that he advised the Celtics not to trade Kendrick Perkins, saying he knew he might not return. The assumption here is that Danny Ainge should stop all of his talks and go “Wait a second. The guy who nicknamed himself the Big Aristotle says this is a bad plan. Clearly the great minds of our time doubt this maneuver which provides more flexibility for our team in 2012 in the next big free agency summer. Abandon ship!”

The Celtics traded Perkins because they were leveraging what he would give them last year versus the value of clearing space (and acquiring Jeff Green). Part of that involved a faith in O’Neal to return from injury which didn’t work out. That’s not O’Neal’s fault. The guy’s 39 for crying out loud. But O’Neal’s revisionist history has followed him at every stop in his career. Even in retirement, he’s passing judgment on decisions that were never his to make. But hey, at least he’s willing to fight some people.

4. In some cultures, Zen is a word for jerkface

You would think that Phil Jackson would have more appreciation for other former players. Typically, players act like it’s a brotherhood. Yet for whatever reason, Jackson thought it best to give Jerry West the cold shoulder, eventually driving him out of the organization. Naturally, almost no one is going to think badly of Jackson, even if West’s accusations were confirmed by the Zen Master himself. It’s just the same ol’ lovable Phil, the wisecracking winner.

At the same time, West’s neurotic, fretting manner must have clashed with Jackson’s hole “whatever, man, let it be” approach. (Or, as I like to call it,  “Whatever, man, let Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant handle it.” ) Micro-management is never a quality you look to embrace, and Jackson’s plans worked out pretty well, with the 5 championships and all. You’d just think that he would find a better way to get along with the legends of the game. Red Auerbach, Jerry West, the list goes on. Just odd to see Jackson as a divider between a legend and the franchise he helped build.

5. National Lampoon’s European Vacation Part II

Lamar Odom is often talked about with regards to a failure to capitalize on talent and ability. The fact that his career apex has found him as a dichotomous role player in terms of X-Factor vs. space cadet speaks to this. But what gets lost is that Odom never flamed out of the NBA. He never fell off the radar, never found himself struggling to keep a position, never lost his starting spot due to a better, younger player. He went to the Lakers’ bench because of how their lineups were put together, not because he was a weak point. And most importantly, he’s hung on in the league for an extended period of time.

So news that he’s considering playing in Europe after next season makes you look back at his career with appreciation. He’s not being forced there, and he’ll be able to live in a high lifestyle. He’ll have escapades with Khloe. And he’ll likely end up facing Paul Pierce again, who has talked about playing in Europe after his NBA career is through. Despite having the reputation as not having lived up to expectations, Lamar Odom will be a two-time NBA champion, married to a rich famous person, living abroad and being famous. Not bad for a washout.

6. Socially Media Awkward

I think it’s safe to say that technology has made this lockout dramatically different from the one in 1999. Between the salvos being fired on Twitter, the “whoops” tweet from Roger Mason, and the speed with which lockout news travels, everything is accelerated in the lockout just like it is with any event. The problem is it also creates more communication for there to be rumors about. Like, you know, texts. Derek Fisher later denied the reported texts of him informing players to be ready for a season, but it just adds more noise to the stream.

It’s no coincidence that the most progress was made in the talks when both sides initiated a media blackout. Every time either side speaks to the media, things get worse. As a member of the media, I can recognize this. We only make things worse, in terms of resolving things. It’s our job to find angles that people care about, and two sides squabbling and slamming each other is a lot sexier than “both sides approached the problem in a mature way.” Furthermore, people do care about how the negotiations are going, so those with sources inside the talks are doing their readers a service in providing news. But that doesn’t change the fact that the less word gets out, the better chances there are that actual progress will be made. Once again, the enemies to a season are communication and Dan Gilbert.

7. Glass Half-Empty, Glass Half-Full Of… 

The union apparently informed its players that they could miss up to half a season, which is a real bummer. But on the bright side…

  • If they do play half a season, Greg Oden might play a “full” season.
  • If they do play half a season, some crazy things could happen like the Wizards being good. Just kidding, but JaVale McGee seems to think so.
  • If they do play half a season, Gilbert Arenas might get paid what he’s actually worth for the year.
  • If they do play half a season, teams will be healthier and better rested for the playoffs.
  • If they do play half a season, you can look forward to more gimmicks like this.
8. Maybe He Can Pawn One Of His Six Rings To Cover It
The league fined Jordan $100k, which is pretty impressive. Most people are terrified of Jordan. It’s not clear why, it’s not like he’s super violent or anything. He’s just, you know, the most intense and powerful guy in the NBA. Plus the Mom Jeans. That, too.
At least the league is staying consistent. The worst thing it could do with the hammer it has picked up during the lockout is to use it arbitrarily Using it no matter who violates the gag order is the only way to give it legitimacy, even if the entire thing is a little bit immature.
My biggest question is whether Jordan paid the fine with cash he had on him, or if he had to go back to his gigantic vault of money that he swims in  to get it.
That might be Scrooge McDuck. I get confused sometimes.
9. But Think Of All The Reading They Can Get Done
Ira Winderman talked about the realities of how most NBA players can’t take the financial hit of losing a season, due to their short career span. Winderman hints that this could eventually result in another break in the union, which is what this whole thing has come to be about. Who’s going to break first, the union or the owners? (Hint: It’s not the owners.)
It’s going to be a legitimate test of how much the union really did prepare its players for the lockout. If they’re caught off guard once the checks stop rolling in, that’s a damning sign for how much the players listen to the union’s advice, and will affect their willingness to stick together. That’s why you see all the conversations about staying united and the t-shirts and what not. At least during the lockout, players aren’t prevented from getting another job. They just don’t want to. Would you want to go work at a minimum-wage gig if you were an NBA player?
But let’s be clear. It’s still a decision not to pursue employment during the lockout.
10. A Not-So-Disappointing Turn Of Events
When Suns CEO Rick Welts announced he was stepping down this week, the media reacted with… casual coherence? Rational measure? What? What’s happening? There were no accusations of a rift between Welts and Robert Sarver, no inherent conversation about why he was really stepping down. Welts just decided to take a new job and move because of a relationship. No shocker. Nothing salacious. Just a normal move that would have gone unnoticed were he not known as the gay NBA executive. It shouldn’t be news, but the fact that the news was handled without sensationalism is at least a win for everyone. It’s a loss for the Suns, though, who have gone through a ridiculous amount of turnover over the past four years. Seriously, you’re supposed to wind up in Arizona, I thought.
11. A Necessary Guardian Or An Unnecessary Evil?
Rashard Lewis spoke with ESPN this week and made it clear. The owners decide to sign players to exorbitant contracts, and they negotiate those contracts with agents, not the players. The agents’ role in the economics of the NBA has become more and more into perspective during this process, as agents seek decertification and the power play continues. Lewis’ comments provide a different kind of insight into players. It shows that they would accept less money and that they don’t maintain a blind denial that some contracts aren’t fair. In short, the players know that they aren’t worth the money. But if you’re offered, would you turn it down?
Now, you or I may turn down a job position if we know we can’t fulfill the obligations, but that would never be a contract. That’s the big differential and a cause of debate for the owners. In short, they want to be able to overpay for a player, and then cut him if it doesn’t work out. Players are responding by saying “don’t overpay us and no one loses.” It’s a question of individual responsibility versus systemic failsafes.
12. What About Bosh?
If anyone is going to escape the all-encompassing fire of “The Decision” and the subsequent Heat Wave, it’s going to Bosh. Bosh drew so much fire last year for everything from his attitude to his perceived wimpiness, that at the end, there started to be a move backwards. Bosh actually had a really good Eastern Conference Finals and a pretty decent Finals. It was LeBron that suffered in the Finals. So with Bosh standing up to Skip Bayless and his childish insults this week, and the reception being largely positive, it’s possible that he could grow on that momentum. Maybe Bosh can work off some of his negative image by just being contrasted with some of his critics.
13.  The Inmates Aren’t Running The Asylum, They’re Piloting The Aircraft Carrier
Maybe Robert Sarver and Dan Gilbert are the ones taking possible labor agreements out at the knees. Maybe they’re not. But it’s clear that they have a voice, as their appearance at the meetings proves. And these two aren’t the ones you want running the show. Or are they?
Gilbert has a decent argument towards saying how competitive balance is a problem. You can say Gilbert overpaid for marginal talent and built incorrectly around LeBron, or you can say his market created an environment where he had to. You can say Gilbert had the opportunity to re-sign James, and that he couldn’t, or you could say that the system made it too difficult for him too. You can say Gilbert overpaid for the Cavaliers, or that the current system dictates the price under tangible assets.
The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. But if you can understand anyone wanting stronger ways to keep the talent they draft, you have to sympathize with Gilbert. Unfortunately, if you want an example of how decision making affects teams’ futures, Gilbert’s also the lightning rod.
Sarver on the other hand is a good model of an owner who acted responsibly, nay, cheaply, and still didn’t turn a profit. So the system must be broken. In other words, if a cheap owner in a mid-level-market can’t turn a profit with a playoff team, who can? This again comes to the question of whether player salaries are the entirety of how an NBA business succeeds or fails.
These two should not be driving the wagon. But they do stand as examples of the kind of problems both sides are going to have to solve.
14. Sole Man
Joe Johnson has lots of shoes. Just a reminder.
15. It’s Raining (Threes) In Baltimore
Would an NBA team survive in Baltimore? The basketball scene is pretty strong there. Is it impossible to think that after his playing days are over, Melo might want to invest in a team there? Maybe he and LeBron can go halvsies.

Russell Westbrook on Lakers speculation: “Nah, I like where I am now”

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 08:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Thunder defeated the Suns 122-106.  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.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — No matter what Russell Westbrook does, he cannot escape the rumors that have followed him for years. He grew up in Los Angeles and played college basketball at UCLA—so, it’s only logical that when he hits free agency in the summer of 2017, he’ll look to sign with the Lakers, right?

Westbrook did his best to shut that down on Saturday after practice with the Western Conference All-Stars.

“Nah,” Westbrook said. “I like where I am now. Oklahoma City is a great place for me.”

Westbrook admitted that he grew up a Lakers fan, but said he never thought of playing there as a kid.

“I never thought I’d play in the NBA,” he said. “I was just watching them.”

Westbrook has another full season to go before his contract with the Thunder is up, so it’s going to be a while before there’s any resolution here. A lot, of course, will depend on what Kevin Durant does this summer.

If Durant sticks around and the Thunder make another deep playoff run next season, it becomes more likely that Westbrook will stay. But if Durant goes somewhere else, there’s a good chance Westbrook follows suit. For now, all they can do is deflect the speculation that will be there no matter what they say.

Gregg Popovich says he thinks more about Warriors than any team he ever faced

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Gregg Popovich and his Spurs have gone up against some powerhouse teams in the past 17 years. There were the Shaq/Kobe Bryant Lakers, Steve Nash and the seven-seconds-or-less Suns, The Kobe/Pau Gasol Lakers, LeBron James‘ Miami Heat teams, and the list goes on.

But nobody has given him more to think about than Stephen Curry and the Warriors.

That’s what he said on ESPN Radio Friday, as reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.

“I’ve spent more time thinking about Golden State than I have any other team I’ve ever thought about in my whole career,” Popovich told ESPN Radio on Friday. “Because they are really fun. I’d go buy a ticket and go watch them play. And when I see them move the ball, I get very envious. When I see them shoot uncontested shots more than anybody else in the league, it’s inspiring. It’s just great basketball.

“So I’m actually enjoying them very much. You try to solve them, but they’re in a sense unsolvable because it’s a particular mix of talent that they have. It’s not just that Steph [Curry] can make shots or that Klay can make shots or that Draymond Green is versatile. Everybody on the court can pass, catch and shoot. And they all get it.”

When you think about those legendary teams Popovich faced, they may have been a little less mentally taxing to gameplan for. The Shaq/Kobe Lakers ran the triangle (an offense Popovich was familiar with), but most of what made them great was exceptional talent — two future Hall of Famers at their peaks. The Spurs tried to bully the Suns, and then they developed a motion offense that eventually shredded the Heat.

The Warriors are different, and Popovich gets to a fundamental problem in defeating them:

“They’re talented. But they’re also very, very smart.”

That’s what’s hard to plan for — smart players and smart teams adjust, and the Warriors by design loaded their roster with high IQ guys. If you adjust, they counter. And for the last season-and-a-half, that has worked brilliantly.

LeBron James on Kevin Love trade rumors: “They’re false”

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 8: LeBron James #23 helps Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers to his feet after Love was fouled during the second half against the Portland Trail Blazers at Quicken Loans Arena on December 8, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Trail Blazers 105-100. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — The rumors were out there: the Boston Celtics were interested in Kevin Love and were talking trade with Cleveland.

LeBron James would have none of that.

“It’s false,” LeBron said of the rumors when speaking to the media after the Eastern Conference’s All-Star Game practice Saturday. “It’s the only thing I can look at it and say it’s false. That’s the last thing guys are worried about right now are trade talks from our team.”

That echoed what Carmelo Anthony said. The buzz around Toronto (where the NBA has gathered for All-Star Weekend) that there wasn’t a lot of to the talks and if there was any momentum has stalled out.

Still, there will be talks, and there will be plenty of Cavaliers trade rumors in the run-up to the Feb. 18 trade deadline. Cleveland could use some shooting from the wing and quality depth to provide versatility going up against Golden State or San Antonio in the Finals.

LeBron just wants to make sure the talks don’t impact the locker room.

“One thing about this business is you can only control what you can control. Things that you can’t control, you can’t let it bother you, and I’ve learned that over the years,” LeBron said. “There is so much that goes on in professional sports that if you just focus on what you can control, everything else will take care of itself.”

The Love rumors likely will continue to flare up this week, but they are not going to move him unless another team makes a Godfather offer.

The Cavaliers have been 10.1 points per 100 possessions better this season when Love is on the court compared to off it (and their defense does get marginally better when he plays). When Love, LeBron, and Kyrie Irving are on the court together the Cavaliers outscore opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions. Those are massive numbers.

The Cavaliers are a win-now team, if you’re going to break up part of that trio it has to be for something that makes the team demonstrably better. And that kind of superstar trade is rare at the February deadline anymore.

Chris Bosh: “Just being smart and cautious” pulling out of All-Star Game

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 09: Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat shoots during a game against the San Antonio Spurs at American Airlines Arena on February 9, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — You could hear it in Chris Bosh‘s voice, he wanted to be part of this All-Star Weekend in the city where he first made a name for himself as an NBA player. He specifically wanted to be part of Saturday’s Three-Point Contest as a big man.

Instead, he is out of everything All-Star Weekend due to what team officials said is a strained calf. The announcement came late, Bosh had done the Friday morning media availability and talked like a man going to play, and then a couple of hours later it was announced he was out.

“Yesterday I was upbeat, but it just kind of lingered,” Bosh said. “I tried to treat it and all these things, but it’s just one of those funny things where if you feel like it’s not really turning a corner, you know calves can turn into really major, major problems. Any other circumstance, I’d try to push through it, but it just didn’t make any sense to do it.”

The concern is that this is more than just a calf muscle injury. Bosh missed much of last season with blood clots in his lungs, a life-threatening disease. Those lung clots can be caused by deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot in the leg. The fact the NBA let him out of All-Star Weekend that late (and called Al Horford on vacation in warm Cancun and told him to get to frigid Toronto) is a sign of caution and a little concern by the league.

Bosh doesn’t think this is a repeat of that, although he expects to undergo an MRI soon just to be safe.

I’m pretty optimistic,” that it’s not, Bosh said. “I’m always making sure. When we get back to Miami we’ll do everything we need to do to treat this…. 

“Just being smart and cautious. I’m just taking it a day at a time. I’m trying to make sure that I go and get it checked out. We’re doing everything we need to do here; there’s not much we can do now. Of course, the trainers and doctors will take another look at it and re-evaluate it, and just make sure.”

This is the smart move, what Bosh dealt with last season is not something to ignore and hope it gets better.

That doesn’t mean Bosh likes it.

“I’ve been kinda down the last couple days,” Bosh said. “But I’m here, and I still get to take in everything and enjoy what I can. I was really looking forward to competing (in the Three-Point Contest) because that something unique for me, but there’s nothing I can do.”

The Heat are off until Feb. 19. Bosh said he hopes to be back on the court then, but he doesn’t know.