Derek Fisher, Billy Hunter

Agents not looking to blow up players’ union, says agent

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If you’ve followed the lockout at all you’ve heard the refrain: The agents all hate union head Billy Hunter. They want to be aggressive and use decertification — destroying the union to save it. They will run over Hunter to get what they want.

That’s never really been true, not totally anyway. What NBA player agents want out of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is pretty simple — a system that lets them get their players as much money as possible, and they want basketball back. They want to get paid, they want their players to get paid, and they want that to happen soon. Do what it takes to end this thing.

But they are not looking at a coup, according to powerful agent Mark Bartelstein — one of the agents allegedly planning to force decertification down Billy Hunter’s throat. Bartelstein spoke with Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated.

“There’s an inaccurate perception out there that there’s this group of agents — including myself — that have decided to quote-unquote blow up the union, or destroy the union, and nothing could be further from the truth. That’s not true at all. I know that I, personally, and other people have engaged and try to engage with Billy and [NBPA lead attorney] Ron Klempner and everyone at the players’ association throughout this process.

“I’ve been the first one to say that Billy is in a very, very difficult position. He’s in a very tough position, because the NBA has taken an extremely hardline stance from Day 1. The initial proposal [from the owners] … was Draconian to say the least, and Billy is in this position where he’s trying in good faith to get a deal done, but you can’t negotiate by yourself.

“And so in my prior thoughts and with people that I’ve conversed with, I’ve tried to help the union, to explore different ideas and different ways to try and bring this thing to a positive resolution — a resolution that’s not only good for the players, but good for the game. If there’s a game that’s good for the players, then ultimately they’re going to benefit because the game is going to grow. That’s been the goal all along. It has not been to take down the union or anything like that. There’s never been a conversation like that.”

Agents motives are not that hard to discern — they want the NBA to grow, they want a system where their players can get paid well. Because that’s good for the agent’s bottom line, too.

A hard salary cap could be hard on agents — it will depress salaries of the NBA’s middle class and mean fewer guaranteed contracts. So it’s not a huge leap of faith when we read reports about agents considering forcing a decertification vote — that’s the sledgehammer. Even though it failed for the NFL, some out there think it will give the union leverage over the owners because of the anti-trust lawsuits that would follow.

Just know that if decertification comes, the season is in serous jeopardy. To throw it to the courts now would be to blow everything up and start over. It would get much worse before it got better.

Hunter and union president Derek Fisher tried to use claims of outside influence by agents to solidify union ranks, but that is only a short-term strategy. A lot of players like or at least trust their agent on business issues, if Hunter is stumbling the words of agents will resonate with players.

Go read what Bartelstein told Amick, you’ll see what he and other agents are thinking.

Watch Kyle Lowry’s tip-pass alley-oop to Jimmy Butler in USA win

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There were a lot of ugly things for Team USA in its exhibition win over Venezuela — the 4-of-25 shooting from three comes to mind. There was more, it was not a strong offensive performance from Team USA.

But like usual, we can overwhelm teams with athleticism, and that means wins and highlights. Like Kyle Lowry‘s tip-pass alley-oop to Jimmy Butler.

Or DeMar DeRozan‘s late-game windmill dunk.

Kyrie Irving helps USA to ugly 80-45 win over Venezuela

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 26:  Kyrie Irving #10 of the United States Men's National Team looks to make a move with the ball against the China Men's National Team during the first half of a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at ORACLE Arena on July 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 13 points, DeMarcus Cousins powered a dominant performance in the paint, and the United States pulled away from Venezuela for an ugly 80-45 exhibition victory Friday night.

Coming off three straight flashy victories in Las Vegas and California, the United States shot 42.4 percent from the field and committed 13 turnovers in by far its worst offensive performance of its five-city tour in preparation for next week’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics. But the Americans used their superior athleticism to limit Venezuela to 24 percent shooting and owned the interior with a 54-29 rebounding advantage.

Returning to Chicago for the first time with the U.S. national team, Bulls star Jimmy Butler was cheered every time he was announced at the United Center. He had four points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes in his first start with Team USA.

Butler had one of the few electric plays for the U.S. when he ran out on the break and dunked Kyle Lowry‘s tip pass in the fourth quarter. DeAndre Jordan also had a vicious dunk off a lob from Kevin Durant, and DeMar DeRozan drew chants of “USA! USA!” with a windmill jam in the final minutes.

Klay Thompson also scored 13 points, and Cousins finished with seven points and 12 rebounds. Durant had nine points of 3-of-9 shooting.

John Cox scored 14 points for Venezuela, which will play the U.S. again on Aug. 8 in the Olympics.

Irving and company were greeted with a round of hearty cheers when they came out for pregame warmups. Fans lined the side of the court where the Americans had their layup line, and Anthony and Durant posed for pictures with a couple of eager boys.

Before Butler’s introduction drew the most applause of the night, former Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau received a thunderous ovation when he was announced with the U.S. coaching staff. Thibodeau took a year off after he was fired by the Bulls in May 2015, and then was hired as Minnesota’s coach and president of basketball operations in April.

The star power also extended to the sideline near the U.S. bench, where former Olympians Scottie Pippen and Dwyane Wade watched the action attentively. Wade was joined by his wife, actress Gabriel Union, hours after he held his introductory press conference for his new contract with his hometown Bulls.

Pippen played on the 1992 Dream Team that rolled to gold in Barcelona, and also helped the U.S. win gold in 1996. Wade was on the Americans’ gold medal-winning teams at each of the last two Olympics.

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

Monty Williams is back coaching with Team USA, ready to get back on NBA sidelines

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 18:  Draymond Green #14 of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team drives against assistant coach Monty Williams of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on July 18, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Watching Monty Williams back on the court at the USA basketball camp/practices in Las Vegas, you could see he was at home. He’s easily the best 44-year-old defender on the planet — he went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and the rest, was physical, and made them work for buckets. Then he’d instruct. He’s just a natural.

Back in February, Williams’ wife was killed in an auto accident. It devastated the devout family man, in ways it’s hard for us to understand who have never experienced it. He walked away from coaching the rest of the NBA season with the Thunder, and nobody questioned it for a second.

Now, after getting his feet wet with Team USA (where he is an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski), he told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman he is ready to get back on the sidelines.

“I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to; my kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back. I’m so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”

He is one of the better respected assistant coaches in the league, and a guy who will get another shot at a top spot someday. Soon. Can’t wait to see him back on the sidelines.

Ben Simmons says he plans to work on shooting, handles, getting stronger before camp

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons cheers from the bunch during the first half of the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.

Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.

He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.

New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.