NBA owners, players could reach deal this weekend if they really want to

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David Stern is trying to create an artificial deadline. The players are bringing in the big names and big guns to hear where things stand and show union unity. Half the NBA owners will be in the room. The owners moved off their insistence on a hard salary cap but added a bunch of strings.

Now things are serious.

Negotiations that will start Friday and run through the weekend are big — reach a handshake deal and the season will start on time Nov. 1. Miss it and you can expect regular season games will be missed.

Can they do it? Could they reach a deal? Yes.

But only if both sides want to badly enough to really give up something of value and compromise. I’m not convinced that desire is really there.

This fight is all about money — the definition and split of basketball related income (BRI). Everything else is secondary. The owners most recent offer gave the players 48 percent, the players have not come down off 54 percent although they have hinted they would go to 53 percent. Even then, this is a $200 million a year difference.

But Chris Sheridan thinks this gap could be bridged with a deal that would keep player salaries flat next year and grow them from there. He says what matters is the money over the life of a six-year deal.

From what I can gather, it is looking more and more like a deal is going to be cut in the 51/49 or 50/50 range when it comes to the split of basketball related income…

That would give the players $13.84 billion in salaries and benefits over six years, an average of $2.307 billion per season. It is a far cry from what the players were getting percentage-wise under the old deal (57 percent), but it is palatable enough — no matter how it is categorized percentage-wise — to ensure a high probability that it will pass a ratification vote.

Then they just need to figure out the cap structure, an amnesty clause and the rest of the system. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo has an interesting quote today from one of his sources.

Stern’s “going to make a real hard push to get a deal this weekend,” one team president told Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday. “If the union makes a slight move, David will move.

“But the players have to blink first.”

Stern does not have the iron fist over this ownership group that he has had in the past — younger owners who paid a premium for their team and leveraged themselves to do it are driving a hard bargain. That is why Stern needs to players to blink first on Friday — he needs to show the hardliners that he has won, that he has gotten as good a deal as he can get without hurting the product with lost games.

Then those owners have to give something to union chief Billy Hunter that he can take back to his charges and say they have something that can work.

That means no salary rollbacks. That means salaries cannot be decoupled from league revenue — with the league makes more money the players need to make more money. It means there needs to be a soft salary cap in style, even if the punishments for going over the cap make it essentially a hard cap.

The bottom line is Hunter needs to be able to say “we gave up a lot of money, but we’ve set up a system that allows that money to increase and will allow player movement.”

All of that points to where the deal will eventually land. The league had nearly $4 billion in BRI last season, so each BRI percentage point is about $40 million. The owners claim losses of $300 million last season. If they get a 50/50 split that is seven percentage points gained, about $280 million. There is a deal in that area, one that can keep vestiges of the old system that Hunter can sell.

The real question is this — will enough of the owners say that is good enough and sign off on such a deal? Not all will, some want to break the union, but is this good enough for most? On the other side, can Hunter and union president Derek Fisher sell a system where the percentage of what the players take in is down but the real dollar amounts are similar? Can he sell this as a soft cap when it was much harder than it was before?

Both sides can if their constituencies are willing to get a fair deal to get the season going again. I’m just not convinced both sides are there and willing. I think there is some fights left. I hope to be wrong.

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.

Watch Paul George lose JR Smith, put Cavaliers guard on skates with crossover

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Game 4 between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers was hotly-contested in the first half. The Cavaliers led, 58-52, after two quarters.

But one special play came when Indiana’s Paul George put JR Smith on his heels, with the Cavaliers guard reeling back some 10 feet after a pull-back crossover left George alone at the 3-point line.

Via Twitter:

You might say George pushed off with his left hand, but you could also point out that Smith then turned a flop-like head kick into an actual blown defensive assignment.

Cleveland completed the series sweep on Indiana with the win, 106-102.

Kobe Bryant’s new Canvas video is brought to you by the letter O (for Obsession)

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Kobe Bryant’s Canvas series returned to our television screen on Saturday. The Sesame Street-like videos center around finding a place to draw motivation from in order to, as the most recent video says, dominate the will of your opponent.

They’re … weird.

They are also extremely Kobe-ish in that they stay true to the former Los Angeles Lakers great’s internal vision of how to play basketball.

The last one we saw was all about finding a musecage, and using your dark thoughts to propel you to win. This one is all about obsession, and how that emotion separates those who like to win from true competitors.

I’m personally all for these videos. They are maybe a little cheesy, or single-minded, but that’s sort of the point. It accurately reflects Kobe, which is something you don’t often see from retired players trying to transition their brand from player to former player.

Isaiah Thomas scores 33, Celtics beat Bulls 104-95 to tie series

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CHICAGO (AP) Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points, and the Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 104-95 on Sunday to tie their first-round playoff series at 2-all.

Boston blew a 20-point lead, but Thomas keyed a third-quarter run that put the Celtics back on top after Chicago briefly went ahead.

Gerald Green made four 3-pointers on his way to 18 points, helping the top-seeded Celtics return the favor in Chicago after dropping the first two games at home. Al Horford added 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Boston.

Jimmy Butler carried the Bulls with 33 points and nine assists. Nikola Mirotic and seldom-used Isaiah Canaan each scored 13 points, but Dwyane Wade finished with just 11.

Canaan made his first appearance since April 10, with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg searching for help at point guard with Rajon Rondo missing his second straight game because of a broken right thumb.

The Celtics led by 20 in the second quarter and were still up 10 in the third when Chicago scored 12 straight. The Bulls went ahead 65-63 on Robin Lopez‘s hook shot with 4:35 left in the quarter.

Thomas answered with back-to-back layups and scored 10 points in a 12-0 run that gave the Celtics a 75-65 lead, and they withstood a push by the Bulls early in the fourth.

With Thomas and Green each scoring 16 in the first half, the Celtics carried a 57-46 lead into the break.

Butler led the Bulls with 17 in the half. But the offense struggled in a big way with Rondo unavailable. Jerian Grant started and went to the bench after about five ineffective minutes. Michael Carter-Williams then picked up two quick fouls, forcing the Bulls to go with Canaan in the first quarter.

The Celtics, meanwhile, led 41-21 early in the second quarter. But things started to turn after Canaan stole the ball from Marcus Smart and scored on a layup.

Smart feigned throwing the ball at Butler. The two came nose to nose, resulting in technical fouls for both players, and the Bulls started to shoot their way back into it.

Mirotic hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight in the quarter. Bobby Portis cut it to 52-42 with his basket late in the half, and Butler hit two free throws with 22.6 seconds left to make it 57-46.

RONDO FINED

The NBA fined Rondo for attempting to trip Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder from the bench in Game 3. Crowder jawed at the Bulls’ bench after hitting a jumper and Rondo extended his leg as Crowder walked by.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Thomas was just 1 of 9 on 3-pointers but made 12 of 13 free throws.

Bulls: Butler made 19 of 23 foul shots after failing to get to the line in Game 3. … Canaan was inactive for the first three games.