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.

Only two of 38 rookies surveyed say No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz will have class’s best career

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The 76ers drafted Ben Simmons No. 1 last year, believing he’d have the best career of anyone in his draft class. This year, Philadelphia traded up to draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 for the same reason.

Their fellow rookies – Simmons missed all of last season due to injury – aren’t nearly as enthused.

John Schuhmann of NBA.com conducted his annual rookie survey, polling 39 players who weren’t allowed to vote for themselves or college or NBA teammates. Thirty-eight responded to the best-career question:

Which rookie will have the best career?

1. Lonzo Ball, L.A. Lakers — 18.4%
Jayson Tatum, Boston — 18.4%

3. Josh Jackson, Phoenix — 10.5%
Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas — 10.5%

5. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento — 7.9%

6. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia — 5.3%
Harry Giles, Sacramento — 5.3%
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 5.3%

Others receiving votes: Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn; John Collins, Atlanta; Jonathan Isaac, Orlando; Luke Kennard, Detroit; Kyle Kuzma, L.A. Lakers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah; Malik Monk, Charlotte

Simmons might not have come to mind to players at the rookie photo shoot, which was for the most recent draft class. And rookies have tended to pick someone other than the No. 1 pick for this question. Anthony Davis in 2012 was the last No. 1 pick to lead voting. Simmons tied for fourth at 6.7% last year – behind Brandon Ingram, Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield. Even Karl-Anthony Towns landed behind Jahlil Okafor in 2015.

But so few votes for Fultz – the consensus top prospect in the draft – is fairly stunning.

Dennis Smith Jr. received the most votes for Rookie of the Year, but at just 25.7%. A large majority of rookies picked someone other than the Mavericks point guard.

Lonzo Ball (71.8% for best playmaker) was the only player to receive a majority of votes in a category. Luke Kennard (48.6% for best shooter) and Smith (43.6% for most athletic), who each tripled second place, came close.

LeBron James reemerged as rookies’ favorite player after a three-year run by Kevin Durant. Maybe that Warriors backlash if finally catching up to Durant?

Kendall Marshall, Marshall Plumlee headline Team USA’s AmeriCup roster

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AmeriCup, previously called the FIBA Americas Championship, lost its luster when FIBA decided the continental tournament wouldn’t double as World Cup qualifying.

But the U.S. is still sending a team, coached by Jeff Van Gundy. The roster (team last season):

  • Billy Baron (UCAM Murcia, Spain)
  • Alec Brown (Windy City Bulls)
  • Larry Drew II (Sioux Falls Skyforce)
  • Reggie Hearn (Reno Bighorns)
  • Darrun Hilliard (Detroit Pistons)
  • Jonathan Holmes (Canton Charge);
  • Kendall Marshall (Reno Bighorns)
  • Xavier Munford (Greensboro Swarm)
  • Marshall Plumlee (New York Knicks)
  • Jameel Warney (Texas Legends)
  • C.J. Williams (Texas Legends)
  • Reggie Williams (Oklahoma City Blue)

The Americans should still be favored, though obviously not as overwhelming as they’d be with NBA players, in a field also comprised of Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Uruguay, Panama and U.S. Virgin Islands.

This will be a good benchmark, as the U.S. might take a similar roster into World Cup qualifying.

Report: Tampering investigation stems from Magic Johnson’s TV interview

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In April, new Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and discussed then-Pacers forward Paul George:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

Now, the Lakers – at Indiana’s request – are being investigated for tampering.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

The investigation, which has been going on since May, stemmed from comments Magic Johnson made on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

This doesn’t mean the Pacers believe Johnson tampered with his televised comments. It seems as if that was the last straw following numerous rumors about George going to Los Angeles.

However, there’s a case Johnson’s televised remarks alone would constitute tampering. The Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits “assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind (whether disclosed or undisclosed to the NBA), between a player (or any person or entity controlled by, related to, or acting with authority on behalf of, such player) and any Team (or Team Affiliate)” – and even attempts to solicit assurance of intent or understanding – when the player is still under contract with another team. Johnson sure appeared to do that.

But it’d be shocking if Johnson or the Lakers were punished for the interview alone. Indiana probably needs more evidence.

Then again, the arbitrary way the NBA enforces tampering, who knows?

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.