How far are the NBA and players, really? Well, it depends…

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This much is clear — the NBA and its players union are much closer to a deal today than they were a week ago.

Tuesday’s intense negotiations may have ended with threats of the first weeks of the season being canceled, but it also saw real progress. First, they are finally talking about the real issue at the heart of these talks, the split of “basketball related income.” (BRI is made up of all the money that comes into the league — national television contracts, ticket sales, etc.) In the just expired labor deal, the players got 57 percent of BRI.

In terms of formal offers on the table, the two sides remain divided on the BRI split of with the players staying at 53 percent and the owners offering the players 47 percent. But in reported “informal concepts” discussed the owners offered closer to 50 percent while the players (who have already surrendered $160 million a year in these talks) held firm at 53 percent.

What does that really mean? ESPN’s Larry Coon — the best writer on NBA collective bargaining agreements out there — breaks down the numbers.

Three percent. It’s the difference between an opening tipoff and an empty arena. For both sides, the negotiating process boils down to a simple question — should we accept the offer on the table, or can we do better if we say “no” and wait?

For the players, the cost of saying “no” can be easily quantified. The owners have offered the players 50 percent of BRI. This season’s BRI is expected to be around $4 billion, so the owners are offering the players a $2 billion slice of the pie. The players are holding out for a 53 percent share, so they’re looking for $2.12 billion.

That’s $120 million that separates them. Of course, that’s just in year one. Over the course of a six-year agreement, assuming four percent growth per year, the total is closer to $796 million.

Now, nearly $800 million apart is a lot closer than they were, but it is still serious bank.

Coon’s assuming something there I’m not willing to easily concede — how the two sides define BRI. There was the definition of BRI that was in the old labor deal (which Stern said the owners 50 percent offer was based on). But the owners have made previous proposals that would take $350 million a year off the top of BRI for expenses such as NBA building renovations or the NBA’s international outreach efforts. How many of those expenses work their way back into the proposal will define how big the total pie will be, and that impacts how the sides want to define it.

Coon also makes this point with his numbers — by mid-December both the owners and players will have cost themselves all the money they stand to gain from holding a hard line on this deal.

The players are holding out for an additional $120 million in 2011-12, but holding out costs them $82.4 million per week. They would lose everything they stand to gain this season in less than two weeks. On Monday the league is expected to announce the cancellation of the first two weeks of the season, which will cost the players $164.8 million. Over a six-year agreement, the players would burn through the $796 million in a little under 10 weeks.

Then there’s the fan anger impact on money — if the NBA misses games, will fans come back? Some will be offended and walk away from the sport, the die hards will return no matter what. The real question is this: If the league is playing regular season games by Dec. 1, in time for the Christmas showcase day and the All-Star Game, will fans even notice they were gone? Will there be a significant ratings dip, or with the fans focused on the NFL and college football will they not care until later?

There are a lot of questions out there and no easy answers. Which makes it hard to see why talks on Sunday — if the two sides even have them — could lead to a deal on Monday. There is still a gap between the sides that is not easy to bridge.

Did Russell Westbrook get mad at Steven Adams for not taking potential triple-double-clinching shot? (video)

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Russell Westbrook chases triple-doubles.

That hardly makes him unique. He’s just close enough to the feat more often than other players, so he chases them more often.

But he still chases them.

Late in the Thunder’s 108-91 win over the Warriors last night, Westbrook was heading toward his final line of 34 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. His teammates shot off his passes on three of Oklahoma City’s final four possessions before he took a seat (including one assist). The exception came when he passed to Steven Adams, who passed rather than shoot – clearly upsetting Westbrook.

Was Westbrook mad because he missed his chance at a triple-double? Maybe.

Was Westbrook mad because Adams passed as the shot clock neared expiration? Maybe.

It could be both!

Watch Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry on Golden State’s bench. They clearly found something funny.

Report: Teams are calling Clippers about DeAndre Jordan trades

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Injuries have ravaged the Clippers. They started the season 4-0 have been without three starters from opening night: Milos Teodosic (plantar fascia injury, he is still in a walking boot), Danilo Gallinari (strained left glute), and now point guard Patrick Beverley is out for the season after microfracture surgery on his knee.

All this has led to the Clippers losing nine in a row before beating the Hawks Friday night. All the weight of the offense has fallen on Blake Griffin‘s shoulders, and while he’s been good most of the game in the fourth quarter his numbers have plummeted, and the Clippers have stumbled.

It’s left the Clippers with a couple of hard questions.

Do they need a coaching change? There was a sense from sources around the league that Rivers is already on his way out — he was stripped of GM/president powers over the summer — and what kept him around was the couple of seasons at $10 million a year on his contract. That’s a lot of money for an owner to eat, even Steve Ballmer, but the time may be coming as a way to shake up the team.

The other, what to do with DeAndre Jordan? They could not work out a contract extension with him (Jordan was acting as his own agent), and one of the league’s top traditional centers is a free agent next summer, but new head basketball guy Lawrence Frank said they want Jordan to be a “Clipper for life.” Does Jordan want to be a Clipper for life? Do the Clippers really want him back, and if so at what price? Does a Clipper franchise trying to get approvals for a new arena in Inglewood want to rebuild now, because it does not help that process? If it’s time to move on and rebuild, do they need to trade him now?

Teams are calling about Jordan, reports Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

DeAndre Jordan, who can become a free agent after the season, has been coming up in trade conversations, with multiple teams talking potential trades. Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank said last month that Jordan will be a “Clipper for life,” muddled matters, as does the limited number of teams who need a center and the size of Jordan’s contract ($22.6 million).

Jordan is an All-NBA center, a defensive force in the paint who sets a strong pick, rolls hard to the rim, can finish with the best of them, and is averaging 10.4 points (scoring and attempts are down without Chris Paul feeding him) and 13.4 rebounds a game. Jordan knows who he is and plays within himself.

It’s not hard to imagine how he could help teams such as Cleveland, Washington, Milwaukee, and a host of others. The question is what would teams be willing to give up to get him — they have to send back salary to match, but will not want to give up assets that help them win now. The Clippers will be looking for good young players and picks back in the package, which makes it hard for a team such as Cleveland to put together a package.

But before they discuss trade scenarios, the Clippers need to figure out what they want to do. Life has come at them fast this season and led to a lot of big-picture questions that Frank and Ballmer need to answer.

Lonzo Ball finishes one-handed alley-oop on Willie Cauley-Stein (video)

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So much attention is paid to Lonzo Ball‘s father, jumper and passes. Those are the major storylines for the Lakers rookie.

But he has such a diverse skill set, and this is absolutely part of it. Ball is a savvy off-ball cutter in the halfcourt with the athleticism to get above the rim and finish alley-oops.

But finish them over 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, who was tracking the play (though slightly late)? That’s an eye-opener, even in the Kings’ 113-102 win.

Marc Gasol makes 3/4-court shot just after buzzer (video)

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When Marc Gasol‘s 3/4-court attempt went through the net, it seemed to barely matter the ball left his hands just after the first-quarter buzzer. After all, the Grizzlies led the Mavericks by 15, anyway.

Turns out, Memphis really needed that basket.