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.

James Harden is playing with a bruised right knee

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James Harden, Chris Paul, and the Houston Rockets are on a 13-game winning streak. They have a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. But it’s not all rosy in Space City.

Harden suffered a bruised right knee against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, and almost had to sit out the Rockets’ win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters after the win over the Bucks, Harden said that he was in some pain but a doctor told him he would be able to play and that he would not make the condition worse.

Via ESPN:

“I wasn’t feeling well at all, but the doc came in and just told me that there’s going to be pain for a bit, but you can play through it,” Harden said. “It can’t get worse, but it’s going to be pretty painful until obviously you give it some time. Once he said that, I was like, ‘Let’s go.'”

“I wasn’t moving like I usually move, but we won,” said Harden.

If Harden wasn’t feeling well, it sure didn’t show. He had 31 points, although on 8-of-21 shooting against Milwaukee. Chris Paul chipped in with 25 points, six assists, and five rebounds.

It doesn’t sound like Harden will be missing a game any time soon, which is par for the course for him. He’s played in a minimum of 89 percent of his team’s regular season games since entering the league in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Rockets are blasting their way into 2018. They play the Warriors next on January 4.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: ‘It would mean a lot’

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).