Tuesday’s labor talks could salvage season, but don’t bet on it

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The days of “at least they are still talking” being good enough are over.

Just the fact that NBA owners and the players union were sitting down in the same room together was progress enough for a while (because that was an improvement). No longer. Unless Commissioner David Stern and union director Billy Hunter leave a New York hotel Tuesday smiling and talking of serious progress toward the framework for a deal, there is no real chance of the NBA season starting as scheduled Nov. 1.

And it’s hard to see how the two sides — which have been meeting for two years without a deal — are going to suddenly find common ground in one day. Everyone needs to give up more to make a deal work but neither side seems willing to do so. Stern cannot just try to break the union, he has to give the players some victories that they can call a win and a fair deal (why else would they vote to ratify it?). The players — who have already given back more than $150 million a year in total salaries — will have to accept some additional spending restrictions by the owners (a more severe luxury tax on big spending teams) and more.

Both sides said after Monday’s smaller group meeting that Tuesday shapes up as the critical day. A number of owners and players will be in the room and will try to find their way to the framework of a deal.

If they don’t, expect an announcement from the league quickly that all of the NBA’s preseason games have been cancelled (already all games before Oct. 15 have been called off). A second announcement postponing the start of the NBA’s regular season will not be far behind. (It will take about a month from the day a handshake deal is reached to when the first NBA regular season game tips off, and right now there are 28 days left until the scheduled opener.)

The big issue remains the split of “basketball related income” or BRI. In the last labor deal the players got 57 percent and the owners blame that split for why they lost $300 million last season (a number in dispute). In their most recent discussions, the players have reportedly come down to 53 percent, but the owners are only offering the players about 48 percent. That is roughly a $200 million gap in year one of at least a six year deal. The bigger key is aggragate dollars over the life of the labor deal, but if the two sides are that far apart in year one it’s not going to get any better for them in year five. (I still expect the final deal to be around 51/49 with the players getting the larger share).

Beyond that there are issues of system — should there be a hard salary cap (the owners have backed off an NHL-style cap demand) or more like a soft cap that existed before? What kind of exceptions to the cap should their be and how many (for example, teams likely will have one “Bird rule” exception per year, where they can go over the cap to keep their own free agent)? What will the luxury tax structure be? None of this has been agreed to, either.

Then there are the outside pressures, like agents who are considering forcing decertification of the union against Hunter’s wishes, something reported by Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo. This would be the nuclear option, essentially agents trying to oust union chief Hunter and throw the issue to the courts. If there is no deal Tuesday, you can expect some agents to push for this.

With all that, it’s hard to see how the framework of a deal can be reached Tuesday. The gap is too wide and neither side seems willing to build a bridge. The owners have the leverage right now and seem intent on using it to get a resounding victory, even if that means games are lost.

It’s hard to see how the full NBA season can be salvaged out of all this. But if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen Tuesday.

Joel Embiid frustrated, wants more post touches, to play back-to-backs

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Joel Embiid remains a frustrated man.

He wants to be unleashed on the NBA, and he feels he’s being held back.

Part of that is not playing in back-to-backs — Embiid started Friday night against Boston but will sit out by plan Saturday night against the Raptors in Toronto. Embiid knows the plan to help protect a body that has played only 31 games in three seasons before this one and was not cleared for most of training camp, but that doesn’t mean he likes it, as he told Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“I just want to feel like an NBA player,” Embiid said.  “I feel like I’m not an NBA player because I can’t play back-to-back.”

I get his frustration, but can you blame the Sixers for treating the guy like he’s made of glass at this point? Hopefully, later in the season, he can be cleared to play on both ends.

His second frustration came from the loss to the Cavaliers on Friday — he wants more post touches. In the video above he is clear, “I didn’t get the ball enough in the post.”

He’s right here. Embiid had three post-ups all game, one in each of the game’s first three quarters (stat via Synergy Sports). Embiid is efficient in the post — he has shot 9-of-12 on those plays overall this season and the Sixers score 1.33 points per possession when he does. Especially against a team going small — the Cavaliers start Kevin Love at center — Embiid should be fed down low.

Instead, look at his shot chart from Friday night.

Part of this is on him with all the threes, but they have to utilize him better. It’s part of the Sixers growing pains that will come this season.

Nets’ national anthem singer kneels to finish performance

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NEW YORK (AP)—  The national anthem singer at the Brooklyn Nets’ home opener took a knee at the end of her performance.

Justine Skye was nearing the completion of the song Friday night when she went to one knee for the finish. There were some cheers, but appeared to be more boos from the crowd at Barclays Center to see the Nets play the Orlando Magic.

NBA players have continued to stand during the playing of the anthems, as required by league rule.

Mavericks’ rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. misses game with knee swelling

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.

Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.

The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.