Blame falls on Stern, owners for loss of NBA games

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The NBA is about to shoot itself in the leg. After a season where the league generated more revenue than ever before, when television ratings were the highest they had bee since the Jordan-era Bulls, the league next Monday will cancel regular season games.

Because they can’t figure out how to divide up the fans’ money. In the middle of a deep recession. It’s idiotic.

There is plenty of blame to go around, but know this — most of it belongs on the NBA owners and Commissioner David Stern. They are pulling the trigger, they will seriously damage the league for years.

Usually fans blame players when professional sports leagues go on strike or are locked out. The players are faces and names we recognize, and we know exactly how much they make — and we don’t relate to those sums. Even the NBA league minimum salary puts a player into the nation’s highest tax bracket.

But we don’t really know who the owners are (outside of Mark Cuban). And we don’t know how much money they make off their teams (which is hard to determine as teams are in tangled financial webs). They are faceless unknowns, big impersonal corporations (except when Dan Gilbert writes letters). We blame the players because we know and understand them in a way we don’t the owners.

However, the NBA players are the ones making the real concessions in these negotiations, not the owners. The players have tried to negotiate in good faith, the league has tried to bury them.

The real labor issue is the definition and split of “basketball related income” or BRI. It’s always about the money. BRI is basically all the money that comes into teams from national television deals, ticket sales, a percentage of in arena concessions and sponsorships, and so on.

In the old deal, the players got 57 percent of BRI in salaries. They have offered to reduce that down to 53 percent according to both the union and league. That is about a $160 million give back of real dollars from the players to the owners next season. David Stern said Tuesday (in a press conference shown on NBA TV) that is not enough.

“In order for us to have the robust revenue sharing that the owners want, and that the players want, we have to be profitable as a league,” said Stern, who has claimed the owners lost $300 million last season (a very debatable figure). “And there’s simply no way that ($160 million give back by players) makes us profitable.”

The owners started these negotiations trying to move the middle — the spot of compromise where a deal can be struck — by making outrageous demands. They wanted to roll back salaries of signed contracts, they wanted an NFL-style hard cap, they wanted no guaranteed contracts, and they wanted the players to only take 46 percent of the BRI. Basically, they wanted everything, they talked about radical changes.

There was Stern on Tuesday talking about all the things the owners have given back in these negotiations — they moved off the hard salary cap, the demand for non-guaranteed contracts and the salary roll backs. All things they didn’t have in the first place, all just give backs on paper. And they upped their offer to 47 percent of the BRI. A whopping one percent.

The players have moved $160 million, the owners $40 million in real dollars.

The middle ground? With the owners starting at 46 percent and the players at 57 percent, the average is 51.5 percent of BRI. The players have moved toward that but stopped because the owners have barely budged.

The owners are not a group trying to make a deal, that’s a group trying to steamroll the opposition. The owners know they have the leverage and they plan to use it. They are led by hardliners that made bad business decisions — overpaying for franchises, bringing in a lot of partners and leverage to do it — then complain they can’t make enough money on it. Certainly they deserve the chance to make a profit, but it’s not the players fault that a bunch of owners have huge debt service payments on their franchises. The owners want to make those payments on the backs of the players.

Stern said that they floated the idea “in concept” to the players of discussing a 50-50 split of BRI under the old definition, but the players rejected it. Sources with the union told Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld that was not how things went at all. Know this — BRI is not total revenue, the owners get to write off expenses off the top, then the rest is divided up. So even that 50-50 is less than half of what the league brings in.

And the league is about to bring in a lot more money. The Lakers local television rights deal is about to jump from around $30 million a year to more like $150 million a year. The Celtics just inked a new deal, as did the Nets with the move to Brooklyn. Then there is the new national television deal in 2016.

The owners are going to see more money, they are just fighting to keep a larger share of it. The good of the game be damned.

In the end, it’s the fans that get screwed over in this. Well, the fans and the arena workers and others who depend on the league and now will be looking or a second job to keep a roof over their heads and food in front of their children. Arena workers are not making big money and they have no way easily replace that income.

Fans should be angry. Just know that it is the owners that locked the doors. It’s the owners not really moving in negotiations. It’s the owners that want to see how the players react when they miss a paycheck or two, so they will drag this out. The owners are trying to steamroll the union, not find a fair deal in the middle.

This lockout is on the owners, make no mistake about it.

Report: Ime Udoka, Ettore Messina, David Fizdale to interview for Hornets job

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The Charlotte Hornets have a new GM in Mitch Kupchak. Upon taking the helm, Kupchak made short work of firing head coach Steve Clifford.

Now, the Hornets need a new coach and they have quite a few names to choose from.

According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Hornets will be interviewing current San Antonio Spurs assistants Ime Udoka and Ettore Messina along with former Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale.

Via Twitter:

All three have extensive coaching experience under their belts. Udoka played in the NBA for seven seasons and has been an assistant coach in San Antonio since 2012.

Messina is a four-time Euroleague champion as a coach, and a two-time winner of the Euroleague Coach of the Year award. He’s coached abroad and in the U.S. since 1989, and he’s been with the Spurs since 2014.

Fizdale coached the Grizzlies for two seasons. Before that he was a longtime assistant coach with the Miami Heat under Erik Spoelstra.

Hornets star Kemba Walker said that who the team chose as GM would influence his decision to re-sign after 2018-19. Walker loved Clifford, so who Charlotte picks as coach could carry significant weight with Walker as well.

LeBron James, Cavaliers hope to even series with Pacers

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — LeBron James has been in this playoff position before, just not in the first round.

With Cleveland down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers in the first round, James was asked if Game 4 in Indianapolis Sunday was a must win.

“It’s the postseason,” said James, who is 10-0 in his career in first-round playoff series with Cleveland and Miami. “Every game is a must win. You want to come in and play well and win no matter what. No matter if you have home-court advantage or if you’re starting on the road, that’s the mindset you have to have. I felt like (Friday) was a must win. We didn’t win, obviously, but it’s the same mindset on Sunday.”

James, who scored 28 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and delivered eight assists in a 92-90 road loss Friday night, rejected what he felt were reporters’ attempts to ask if the other players needed to do more.

“You guys think I’m going to throw my teammates under the bus? I’m not about that,” James said. “Guys just, we have to be better, including myself. Had six turnovers (Friday). I was horrible in the third quarter, couldn’t make a shot. If I had made some better plays in the third quarter, the lead doesn’t skip.”

The Pacers cut a 17-point halftime deficit to six points in the third quarter and finally took their first lead in the fourth quarter.

“We know we all gotta play better as a collective group, no matter who it is,” James said. “We got production to start the game and in the second half there wasn’t much production. We still had a chance to win. We’ve got to regroup and figure how we can be better in Game 4.”

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said the Cavaliers were limited because George Hill‘s back “locked up” in the second half. Hill played only nine minutes in the second half, scoring two of his 13 points. Lue used James and Jordan Clarkson rather than backup point guard Jose Calderon in the fourth quarter. If Hill can’t go Sunday, Lue said he will likely start Calderon.

Hill had an MRI on Saturday, but the results weren’t back. He is listed as questionable for Game 4 with back spasms. Hill was hurt during Game 1 when Trevor Booker set a back screen and felt stiffness before Game 2, but played 20 minutes.

For the Pacers, Bojan Bogdanovic was the difference maker, scoring 15 of his team-high 30 points in the fourth quarter. Bogdanovic struggled shooting the first two games of the series.

Bogdanovic, who made 7 of 9 3-pointers, kept his focus after two quick fouls in the first quarter and had to leave briefly in the fourth when he picked up his fifth foul. The seven 3-pointers tied a franchise playoff record, also held by Reggie Miller twice, Chuck Person and Paul George.

“I thought it was going to be another poor performance from myself, but in the second half I started hitting shots and started feeling (much) better and I think a did a great job (Friday night),” the Croatian forward said.

Bogdanovic said he was most pleased with his defense against James.

“Everybody thought before this season that I cannot play defense,” he said. “I don’t say that I am playing great defense, but I am working hard at trying to make it tough for each offensive player that I am guarding.”

Bogdanovic said he tries to push James so he catches the ball far from the basket.

“Against those type of players you just try to stay aggressive on them,” Bogdanovic said.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan was impressed with his ability to produce both ways.

“You’re taking a pounding if you’re on the defensive end of the floor if you’re guarding LeBron,” McMillan said. “But offensively he found some energy. He got some good looks and he knocked them down.”

The Pacers came back to win eight times during the regular season after being down 15 or more points.

“We’ve been resilient,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “We made an adjustment in the second half and it helped us. But it’s only one game; I’m looking forward to Sunday.”

Rumor: Portland coach Terry Stotts could lose job after being swept out of playoffs

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Regular season: Terry Stotts was mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate after leading the Portland Trail Blazers to 49 wins and the three seed in the West, led by a top 10 defense.

Playoffs: Portland was swept out of the postseason in the first round by Anthony Davis.

The latter part of that is going to lead to some real soul searching and changes coming to the Trail Blazers. That could include Stotts losing his job, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

There is plenty of blame to go around for Portland’s quick exit from the postseason, Stein is right that it’s not all on Stott’s shoulders. In fact, I would argue most of it is not.

However, this is the third time in four years Portland is out in the first round, and it leads to the question “what is it about their style that makes them so defendable and beatable in the playoffs?” This is a little like Toronto in recent years, where despite a lot of talent they were predictable and therefore defendable in the postseason. How much of that falls on Stotts vs. the roster he has to coach?

After a period of reflection in Portland, there are going to be changes in the wake of this sweep. Stotts’ job will be part of that discussion, no matter how good a job he did. The question for Blazers management is, if not Stotts then who is next? Who are they getting that’s better?

That said, if Stotts were to be let go he would hand on his feet very quickly.

After Ricky Rubio’s triple-double, Russell Westbrook promises to “shut that s*** off”

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Ricky Rubio outplayed Russell Westbrook Saturday night in Utah and now the Jazz are up 2-1 in that series.

Rubio did his damage from the midrange — he was 5-of-5 between the key and the arc — on his way to 26 points, to go with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. All series the Thunder have dared Rubio to shoot and to beat them, Saturday he did. It was a stark contrast to Westbrook’s 14 points on 17 shots Saturday with eight turnovers.

When asked about Rubio’s big night postgame, Westbrook was looking ahead to Game 4 and using a little NSFW language (hat tip to Ben Golliver of SI, who loves him some playoff podium video).

There you have it, a personal guarantee.

Rubio struggled some in Game 1, taking 18 shots and mostly the ones the Thunder wanted him to. However, after that he has been better at getting to his spots and taking the shots in rhythm, and it’s worked — he’s averaging 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game this series. OKC has been focused on making life difficult for rookie Donovan Mitchell (with limited success) and it’s freed up Rubio to make plays.

More than just slowing the Spanish point guard, Westbrook and the Thunder need to figure out how to get their offense back on track against a Jazz defense that was best in the NBA once Gobert got healthy last season. Oklahoma City lost Game 2 when their big three — Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony — went 0-of-15 in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, OKC averaged 100 points per 100 possessions (well below their season average of 110.2) and Westbrook shot 29.4 percent. Do that again in Game 4 and it will not matter what Rubio shoots, what matters is the Thunder could be looking at a 3-1 deficit. The Thunder need to even this series before it heads back to Oklahoma City.