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.

Rajon Rondo says he will not play in Game 5, doesn’t sound optimistic about quick return

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He tried. Rajon Rondo has seen the Chicago Bulls struggle the last two games without him as a strong defender and stabilizing influence at point guard — something nobody thought Rondo would be mid-season — and he wanted to get back on the court for Game 5 against the Celtics. He took some steps toward getting ready to play.

But it’s not happening, Rondo said at shootaround Wednesday. From Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com and K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

And it’s not just the fractured thumb.

If the Bulls are going to win this series, they are going to have to do it without Rondo.

Isaiah Canaan will get the start in Game 5, and he will set a lot of screens in a 1/3 pick-and-roll to try and get Isaiah Thomas switched on to Jimmy Butler. Canaan can do that. He had fallen way out of the rotation and is really a two-guard not a point, but with the terrible play of Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams, coach Fred Hoiberg took a gamble. It worked, at least for one game. Canaan with the other four Bulls starters — Butler, Dwyane Wade, Nikola Mirotic, and Robin Lopez — were +12 in 11 minutes together in Game 4, and played well on both ends of the court. But Canaan was buried on the bench for a reason, he shot 36.4 percent on the season, 26.6 percent from three, and he’s not a great defender. The Celtics will be prepared for him in Game 5.

Hoiberg’s best option is to lean on a no point guard lineup when it matters most, with three wings who can handle the ball in Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and probably Denzel Valentine. That could be a challenging defensive lineup and Boston will try to get the lightning quick Isaiah Thomas switched onto Wade or Valentine (neither of which can guard him). Also, this lineup would be draining and put a big load on Butler, but he could handle it for critical stretches of the game.

Cleveland OKs last chunk of financing to upgrade Cavs’ arena

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cleveland officials have committed the final chunk of financing for $140 million in upgrades planned at the Cavaliers’ home arena.

The makeover of Quicken Loans Arena would include more space for dining and gathering.

The cost of renovations to the concert and sports venue is being split by the city, the team, Cuyahoga County, and a convention and visitors bureau. The final total is expected to be roughly double the initial $140 million price tag, mostly because of interest over the next two decades.

Cleveland’s share is an estimated $88 million over 11 years, starting in 2024. Mayor Frank Jackson signed off on that Tuesday.

The county already approved the deal and agreed to sell bonds for the project.

The team committed to extend its lease at the arena to 2034. It is expected the team will make a bid to host the NBA All-Star game once renovations are complete.

Did Russell Westbrook really block a teammates shot to get ball back during Game 5?

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Well, this video plays right into the hands of the anti-Westbrook crowd.

The knock on Russell Westbrook‘s season-long triple double and MVP candidacy is that he is chasing stats, padding his numbers at the expense of efficiency and making the Thunder a better team. Basically, he’s looking out for himself and to heck with his teammates.

Which leads to this fourth-quarter video from Game 5.

It sure looks like Westbrook blocks Jerami Grant‘s shot to get the rebound (we only have the one camera angle here).

I would argue that this was just Westbrook being uber aggressive — the only way he ever plays — and he was going hard for the rebound and not noticing it was his teammate about to get the ball. Westbrook just wants the ball and gets it. But he also wants to win and would not have taken the ball out of Grant’s hands had he seen who it was in time to react.

Game 5 — where the Rockets eliminated the Thunder — was a microcosm of the Westbrook debate. Westbrook finished with 47 points on 15-of-34 shooting, but was 2-of-11 in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma City was +12 in the 41:52 that Westbrook played, but was -18 in the 6:07 he sat. You can read whatever you want into those numbers.

Much like the video above.

Former Pacers’ star Danny Granger on Paul George: “you can’t fault him if he leaves Indiana”

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There was a time when Paul George was an up-and-coming but raw young player on an Indiana team led by Danny Granger. It was when Granger went down injured that George was thrust into a larger role, where he thrived in the trial by fire.

Granger knows what it’s like to be the star player of the Pacers, and he knows George, so on Bill Reiter asked Granger his thoughts during an episode of CBS’ “Reiter Than You” and Granger’s answer was not what Pacers fans wanted to hear.

“You look at him in that press conference (after losing to Cleveland) and his face and the dejection on it – the guy wants to win. Money don’t make everybody happy, but winning and success and your craft, that does fill a void that a lot of these players have. So you can’t fault him if he leaves Indiana, I’ll tell you that.”

Oh, Pacers fans will fault him. Even if he’s traded.

Pacers’ decision maker Larry Bird isn’t going to do anything until he sees if George makes an All-NBA Team, because if he does Indiana can offer him the new “designated player” contract this summer worth around $80 million more guaranteed than any other team can offer. George will not walk away from that.

However, if, as expected, George doesn’t make an All-NBA team, Bird is going to have to revisit the idea of trading George, who can be a free agent in 2018 — and the sense around the league is he will walk away at that point if the Pacers are not contenders. (There are a lot of Lakers’ rumors there, but whether George would leave a team where he is dragging lesser players to a low playoff seed and a first-round exit in Indiana for the same situation in his old hometown is up for debate.)

Bird isn’t going to deal George for pennies on the dollar at this point — think the Kings’ trading DeMarcus Cousins — but if some team comes through with a legitimate quality offer of young players that can help jump start the rebuild in Indiana, he may have to jump at it.

Either way, Granger is right that you can’t blame George for wanting to move on, but plenty of fans will anyway.