Owners, players can’t agree to meet; start of season doomed

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UPDATE 8:50 pm: If you were holding out hope for a last minute settlement to save the full NBA season, you should grab another beer. Or towel to cry into.

NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver basically confirmed the leaks from the union we passed along before (just keep scrolling down) — the league is not going to discuss money beyond the 50/50 split of basketball related income that was the last informal offer from the owners. Howard Beck at the New York Times has the quotes.

“What we told the union was that we were not prepared to negotiate over the B.R.I. split beyond the 50-50 concept that had already been discussed,” Silver said, referring to the N.B.A.’s acronym for basketball-related income.

Silver added, however, that the league was “prepared to continue negotiating over the many other issues that remain open” — such as the salary-cap system, the luxury tax and the length of contracts.

Be clear — not being willing to negotiate on the money is not being willing to really negotiate. The salary cap and everything else is secondary and tied to the BRI split. If you’re not talking BRI, you’re not really talking.

7:09 pm: Monday is the deadline — no handshake agreement by then and NBA commissioner David Stern said the first two weeks of the regular season would be canceled.

It’s going to be real hard to come to a deal if they don’t meet.

And it looks like they may not before the deadline. Thing is, there’s no reason to meet if neither side has moved from where they were when negotiations broke off last Tuesday. Apparently they haven’t.

Ken Berger at CBSSports.com has these details.

The National Basketball Players Association requested a meeting with league negotiators for Monday before the first two weeks of the regular season are canceled and could not agree with NBA officials on the parameters, a union source told CBSSports.com.

NBA officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the information released by the union, which is now planning regional meetings Saturday in Miami — in conjunction with the All-Star exhibition game involving LeBron, Dwyane Wade and other stars — and Monday in Los Angeles. NBPA executive director Billy Hunter is expected to fly to the West Coast Sunday.

According to the union source, the league would agree to a meeting Monday — the deadline set by commissioner David Stern for canceling the first two weeks of regular season games — only if the players agreed beforehand to accept the NBA’s offer of a 50-50 revenue split. The union declined, the source said, believing it could not negotiate a fair deal for the players if it gave up the right to negotiate before the meeting even began.

While there has been some contact between lower level staff, the decision makers have not spoken since Tuesday’s sessions. They did not meet Friday and Saturday is a Jewish high holy day observed by a number of people on both sides of the table. Theoretically they could meet Sunday and Monday, but it doesn’t sound promising.

The issue remains how to divide up “basketball related income” (BRI), which is all the money that flows into the league from ticket sales, national television contracts, jersey sales and so on. In the former labor deal, the players got 57 percent. They have now offered to come down to 53 percent, but the owners started with their position being the players should only get 39 percent (that was more than a year ago). Formally, the owners have come up to 47 percent (under the old definition of BRI, the owners want more expenses taken out of it). However at the end of last meeting, Stern said he offered a 50/50 split, which was really a range from 49-51 percent. Stern says the union rejected that, the union says it informally suggested a range from 52 to 54 percent that the owners rejected.

If the owners refuse to even talk if the players don’t come off that number, then we’ve got a stalemate and games will be lost.

I’ll continue to say this — it is on the owners to give more. Real dollars now, not what they have been. The owners tried to move the center on these negotiations by asking for things they were never going to get — salary rollbacks, a hard salary cap, etc. Now they try to pretend they have given up a lot in these talks by taking those things off the table, but they haven’t. You can’t give back things you never had to start with. If they took the players deal at 53 percent the owners would save about $160 million next season and more than a billion over the life of a six-year deal (assuming some revenue growth). That’s real dollars the players have given up off the old deal. I would like to see the players give a little more (52, maybe 51.5 percent) but now it is on the owners to come up to that level.

I’ll also stick with my prediction — this gets solved around Halloween and we’ve got NBA games around or not long after Thanksgiving.

But it looks more and more like it will be a black Monday.

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.

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?

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.

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.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.