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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.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 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.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.

Drake congratulated LeBron James in hallway after game

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Drake is a Toronto native and a huge Raptors’ fan. He’s officially the team’s “global ambassador,” although nobody knows what that actually means.

Drake is also tight with LeBron James.

As LeBron is running down the hall to get to the locker room and celebrate making a sixth straight trip to the Finals Drake stops him to congratulate him. And Drake is one of the handful of guys LeBron will stop and talk to.

Nothing wrong with this, either. Drake has walked a line the whole series — he’s a Raptors fan, he’s trolled LeBron and Kyrie Irving on social media after Toronto wins, but he’s close with Cleveland’s players and has been seen in the Cavaliers locker room plenty the past few seasons.

Some fan bases (we’re looking at you, Philly) would flip out over this kind of divided loyalty, but not Canadians who will just forgive and move on.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.