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.

LeBron James, do you owe Cleveland anything? “I don’t owe anybody anything”

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It will be the biggest off-court topic of the NBA season: Will LeBron James stay with the Cavaliers after this season?

Right now, LeBron doesn’t know the answer to that question for sure. I’m sure he has ideas, but he wisely leaves all his options open, then can make a call next summer when the time comes.

When that time does come, does he owe his hometown Cleveland anything? LeBron answered that question in the latest issue of GQ, and he answered with an emphatic no.

“LeBron James owes nobody anything. Nobody,” he said. “When my mother told me I don’t owe her anything, from that point in time, I don’t owe anybody anything. But what I will give to the city of Cleveland is passion, commitment, and inspiration. As long as I put that jersey on, that’s what I represent. That’s why I’m there — to inspire that city. But I don’t owe anybody anything.”

That’s not what Cavs fans may want to hear, but it’s also spot on. LeBron has given this franchise everything he has, he has brought them the first title the team has had in 50 years, and nobody sane can question his passion or how hard he plays.

LeBron could well get to his eighth straight NBA Finals, feel he’s on a team that can push the Warriors, then look at his options — the Lakers and a young core that doesn’t defend well, for example — and think maybe he’s best where he’s at. Perhaps he teams up with another star in Los Angeles or somewhere else. If LeBron called up 28 teams and said “I want to come there” those teams would make whatever moves they needed to for the deal to happen. (I say 28 because the Warriors wouldn’t, and even they’d think about it.)

LeBron has the leverage, and he is always a guy who keeps his options open. He will be asked about his future in every road stop, he will dodge the questions, and we’ll try to read the tea leaves, but as of right now LeBron doesn’t know for sure what LeBron will do next summer. Neither do we.

Report: Final season of LaMarcus Aldridge’s contract extension just $7 million guaranteed

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Spurs big LaMarcus Aldridge, who will earn $21,461,010 this season, agreed to exercise his $22,347,015 player option for 2018-19 in conjunction with signing a two-year, $50 million contract extension.

As usual, the devil is in the details.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Guaranteeing Aldridge just $7 million in 2020-21, when he’ll be 35, is obviously to San Antonio’s advantage relative to fully guaranteeing his extension. But it sets up an uneasy choice for the Spurs. Their three options for Aldridge will be:

  • Pay him $24 million in 2020-21 to play for them
  • Pay him $7 million in 2020-21 not to play for them
  • Pay him $2,333,333 in each 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 not to play for them

There’s a solid chance that none of those are appealing.

Some speculated San Antonio extended Aldridge to facilitate a trade, removing uncertainty stemming from Aldridge’s player option. Though the Spurs now can’t trade him before the deadline, they could move him in the offseason.

But that 15% trade kicker is a significant inhibitor. His salary is already lofty for his age. An increase would only dissuade teams.

The simplest explanation is probably correct: The Spurs value the stability of their core, no matter how old it is, over flexibility.

Thunder give P.J. Dozier No. 35, Kevin Durant’s old number

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The Thunder signed P.J. Dozier, who went undrafted out of South Carolina, to a seemingly innocuous two-way contract.

Then, they let him pick No. 35 – previously worn by Kevin Durant.

Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:

Honoring Reggie Lewis seems like a valid reason for Dozier, who probably didn’t want to get swept into what has become a minor controversy.

Personally, I don’t mind a player wearing any unretired number. Even numbers that will clearly be retired can be fair game until the jersey goes into the rafters. This is a non-issue to me.

But people care about this stuff. Many see it as a sign of disrespect to Durant, who left Oklahoma City on bad terms when signing with the Warriors. The Thunder lose deniability about not caring, considering they told Dion Waiters he couldn’t wear No. 13, which was previously worn by James Harden.

Will Oklahoma City eventually retire Durant’s No. 35? He spent a fantastic eight years there (and another season with the Seattle SuperSonics before they moved). Time will ease the bitterness of his exit. It’s certainly possible he’s honored that way.

In the meantime, let Dozier wear No. 35 in peace. It should have nothing to do with Durant.

Cornrowed Joel Embiid calls minute limit f—ing BS

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76ers center Joel Embiid made clear yesterday he disliked the minute restriction placed on him, which Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said would keep Embiid below 20 minutes per game.

Today, sporting a new hairstyle, Embiid upped the rhetoric.

Embiid, via Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“That’s f—ing BS,” he said after practice Tuesday. “I wish I was playing more minutes. I think I’m ready for more than I don’t know whatever number they have.”

“I think the concept of minute restrictions is kind of complicated,” Embiid said. “I don’t think there should ever be minute restrictions. I think it should always be about how my body feels and how it’s reacting.”

“They know that I’m frustrated, but once again you’ve got to trust the doctors,” Embiid said. “They care about me. It’s all about the long-term view.”

“Like I always say,” he said, “you’ve got to trust the process.”

We’ve been here before – an injury-prone Philadelphia center rocking cornrows (at least Embiid went all the way with them) and Embiid lashing out at his minute limit.

Embiid is incredibly competitive, and he can’t just turn it off. It’s an attribute that contributes to his on-court excellence.

Embiid appears to have just enough trust-the-process perspective here, but Brown will also likely have his hands full keeping Embiid from getting too frustrated throughout the season.

At least Embiid has his contract extension and isn’t restless to get on the court and earn his big payday.