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Top agents tell clients to reject any more givebacks in labor deal

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Top NBA agents may be throwing a monkey wrench into the NBA labor negotiations on the eve of the biggest day of negotiations.

Six of the top NBA agents — who are no fan of union chief Billy Hunter and have been worried the union is giving up too much in negotiations — sent a letter to their clients Monday urging them to demand a full vote and reject any labor deal that gives up any further percentage points on basketball related income (BRI), reports Ric Bucher at ESPN.

The letter advises the players not to ratify any deal that includes a reduction in basketball-related income beyond the 57 percent or any other systematic changes from the last collective bargaining agreement, which expired July 1.

The letter sent Monday by the agents does not mention decertification, nor does it suggest that their clients break from the union. It simply — but pointedly — advises them to request ample time to review any labor deal the union might present for ratification and to demand that the entire union membership be given the chance to vote on it.

Other reports suggest that the letter says that the union has already come down to 52 percent in talks and that the players need to reject anything lower than that or that plus major changes to the current soft salary cap system.

The timing of this letter clearly is meant to give the NBA union some leverage in the talks on Tuesday. Part of that is the last line of the letter:

“Remember, it is not about when or how fast a deal is reached, it is about taking the time to secure the best deal.”

Part of it also seems to be agents warning players not to get taken to the cleaners just to get a deal.

In the last labor deal the players got 57 percent of the league’s BRI in salary. Owners have said that is the main reason they lost $300 million last season (although that number is certainly debatable). In recent negotiations, the players have dropped as far as 53 percent (and hinted they would go lower) and the owners have suggested they would go only up to 48 percent to the players. That is still a huge gap of about $200 million in the first year of the deal alone.

If the players reject going down even that far, the owners would harden their stance as well.

And then we would be headed to court — many of these same agents had pushed for the NBA union to decertify as the NFL union did at the start of its lockout, then file anti-trust lawsuits. Some still want to go that route. The courts did not rule in favor of the NFL union on the lockout and the head of the NFL’s players union, DeMaurice Smith, came to a NBA players union meeting to warn them against going the decertification path. Still, that option is on the table and the league filed a pre-emptive lawsuit to try and cut that path off at the knees.

While this latest letter from the agents does not call for decertification, it is from the same aggressive school of thought that thinks the owners can be backed off their demands.

The agents also clearly fear a deal they don’t like being forced down their throats. They want time for their players to review the deal (which really means time for them to find out about it). This is not what happened in the last lockout, ESPN reports.

When the union and owners struck a deal to end the lockout that delayed the start of the league’s 1998-99 season, players were given barely more than 24 hours to review the owners’ proposal and find their way to New York, where they had to be present to have their vote count in a show-of-hands format rather than by secret ballot, sources say. A total of 184 votes were recorded — the deal was ratified 179-5 — but that represented less than half the players eligible to vote.

The agents do not have a seat at the negotiating table — which frustrates them — the question is how much influence they carry on the outside. It can be considerable in some cases, but could they threaten a deal they don’t like? Hard to say.

Not sure we’re going to have to cross this bridge for a while, but it is out there.

ESPN reports the agents who sent the letter as:

Arn Tellem of Wasserman Media Group; Bill Duffy of BDA Sports; Dan Fegan of Lagardere Unlimited; Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports Management; Leon Rose and Henry Thomas of Creative Artists Agency; and Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports and Entertainment.

Drake to introduce players for All-Star Game Sunday

Drake stands in front of Canada's bench before the Celebrity Game, part of NBA basketball's All-Star weekend, in Toronto on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
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You knew Canadian hip-hop star Drake was going to be involved directly in the All-Star Game in a way more than just having his back-and-gold OVO owl gear sold at the Air Canada Centre. Now we know how.

Drake will introduce the NBA All-Star players Sunday.

Drake has experience with this, he has introduced the Raptors — for whom he is a “global ambassador” — before.

This works for me. However, just to be clear, Drake is going to be introducing the players and Sting will headline the halftime show Sunday. Because nothing says NBA and millennials like “Fields of Gold.”

LeBron James says he’s undecided on 2016 Rio Olympics

US forward LeBron James celebrates after
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TORONTO — LeBron James has played in three Olympics, won two gold medals (and a bronze), and has done his duty representing his country internationally.

But it’s why he might skip this summer’s Rio Olympics that turned heads in the last couple days — he is reportedly pissed that Kobe Bryant will not be making his farewell with another gold on the international stage.

As you might expect, LeBron was asked about that during All-Star media day Friday in Toronto. Also, as you might expect, he dodged the question, saying he doesn’t know what he’s going to do this summer.

“Well, for me, I haven’t quite decided if I’m on the fence of going or not,” LeBron said. “But I’ve always loved representing my country. I’ve been playing in the Olympic games since 2004. So, no, I haven’t made a decision yet.”

My guess is LeBron’s body would love him to take the summer off — he’s played in five straight Finals with an Olympics in that mix — but his brand managers (and Nike) would love to see him play.

With him, the USA will win a gold medal. Without him, the USA will win the gold medal. The Americans are clear and away the best team in the world and only they can beat themselves. LeBron’s leadership can help make sure that happens, but it’s not required.

In the end, LeBron needs to do what’s required to bring a championship “to the ‘Land.” The playoffs, and how he feels after them, will likely determine where LeBron is in early August more than anything else.

Jerry Colangelo: Don’t be surprised if Sixers add more voices, experience to front office

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 7: Jerry Colangelo (R) is introduced as special advisor to managing general partner and chairman of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers by general manager Sam Hinkie (L) and owner Joshua Harris (M) on December 7, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — Everyone wants to be like the Golden State Warriors. Jerry Colangelo, the Chairman of Basketball Operations for the Philadelphia 76ers, wants his Sixers to be more like the Warriors, too.

Not on the court in style of play (although he’d like all those wins). He means in the front office.

The Warriors front office is a place where a diversity of opinions — from the legendary Jerry West to assistant GM Kirk Lacob, through the analytics team, and on down the line — debate everything with each other and GM Bob Myers. Every idea is welcome, but you need to defend it. Out of those sometimes fierce debates has come an NBA championship roster.

That’s what Colangelo wants to bring to Philadelphia.

“(Golden State) proves the point,” Colangelo said after a ceremony the naming of the Hall of Fame Finalists Friday in Toronto. “If you have the right mix of people you can have a collaborative effort because people respect one another, and usually that comes from people who have had experience, who’ve been around the track. You add all of that to the mix and it could work.”

The Sixers may be looking to add experience and voices, Colangelo admitted, while not saying specifically what that would mean for analytics-driven GM Sam Hinkie’s role.

I think that any time you have an opportunity to enhance your organization, and you bring people in to accomplish that, you consider it. Big time. You really do,” Colangelo said. “And I think in our case we have a very bright young guy in Sam Hinkie, who holds the title of president and GM, and in his space he’s really strong. One could build a case for saying you’d like to have more people added who have experience in other aspects of those jobs. That’s the kind of conversation that’s going on. 

“The first step was me being asked to come in, because of my experience, to maybe help and add to the mix. And the question you’re asking is, ‘is there a need or requirement for someone else?’ Maybe. Probably. That’s all being discussed….

“I’m just saying adding people to the front office. And that’s not demeaning who we have. You want to be strong. If your goal is you want to be in the Finals… you have to take all the steps required to become that. I’d like to hear people say ‘they’ve got the strongest front office in the league.’ That’s a goal. That’s an objective. So it’s going to require more people to make that happen. That’s all.”

This doesn’t mean the Sixers will completely abandon Hinkie’s draft-for-the-future plan — they likely will have three, maybe four, first round picks this season, and multiple ones next season as well. The Sixers aren’t going to just trade those away to become average. That’s not smart. But they have already shown how some experienced, veteran players on the court — Ish Smith, in particular – can lead to significant improvement.

The goal is to do the same with their front office.

That style of management — listening to a diversity of opinions and voices — can certainly work, not just in basketball but in any business. However, at the end of the day, someone has coalesced those voices and have the hammer to make a decision based on those debates.

“If there’s a pecking order, it’s going to start with ownership and it’s going to funnel down,” Colangelo said.

The question is who Sixers owner Joshua Harris gives the hammer to? Colangelo seems to have it now.

Bottom line is expect more changes in the Sixers front office.

“I don’t think we’re where we might be six months from now. I don’t know,” Colangelo said.

C.J. McCollum to replace Chris Bosh in three-point contest

PORTLAND, OR - FEBRUARY 10:  C.J. McCollum #3 of the Portland Trail Blazers shoots against Jason Terry #31 of the Houston Rockets on February 10, 2016 at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. 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: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)
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TORONTO — Portland’s C.J. McCollum was joking with the media Friday when asked who he thought would win the All-Star Saturday three-point contest.

“Not me, since I wasn’t selected for it… I’m really disappointed right now,” McCollum said, then started laughing.

Now McCollum can pick himself — he’s in the competition.

Miami’s Chris Bosh has pulled out of Sunday’s All-Star Game and Saturday’s three-point contest due to a strained calf muscle. Al Horford of Atlanta will replace him in the main event Sunday.

McCollum is in for the three-point contest (he was already in town to compete in the skills competition that evening). McCollum is shooting 39.2 percent from threes this season and has made 125 of them, ninth-most in the league.

But he knows he’s in for stiff competition in the three-point contest with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, J.J. Redick and a host of other sharpshooters.

“No, it’s a tough field,” McCollum said  “You look at JJ [Redick], you look at Steph, two really good shooters. [Redick] jumps really high. I don’t know if he’s going to change his shot. Steph [Curry] has a shot he can use and a quick release. Who else is in it? Bosh, [Khris] Middleton, [James] Harden, Klay [Thompson]. Klay has a good jumper. I think him, Middleton, those guys that don’t jump as high they have a good advantage.”