David Stern

NBA owners take big risk playing fans for fools

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It would take some real fools to shut down their $4 billion a year business in the middle of the worst recession in generations because the more than $1 billion over six years they just got back from the workers was not good enough.

However, the NBA owners are not fools. They think you are.

The owners — and these lost games are on them far more than the players — think that no matter what, you’ll come back. Maybe right when the season starts (something many of us hard-core fans admit), maybe when the playoffs start, maybe in a year or two, but you’ll be back. You’ll come back fast and in large numbers, dwarfing the more than $4 billion in revenues the NBA got last season.

That is one a dangerous game they are playing.

If they get their way, the owners will get a larger share of that money you are going to spend. Make no mistake, this about money. You can call it the “system” of what kind of salary cap or luxury tax structure the league should have, but in the end it is about how much money goes into whose pocket.

Monday the first two weeks of the NBA season were canceled. We hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but most of the people I spoke with inside and around the league expected we would end up here. Everybody hoped against hope the common sense would ride to the rescue and the league wouldn’t shut its doors after a season of unprecedented momentum. But nobody is surprised.

We’re not going to have NBA basketball until Nov. 15 at the earliest, and possibly much later as both sides seem to be digging in now for a long haul.

But the owners are playing a risky game. One that could damage their franchises and product more than they can imagine. More than they seem to understand.

This is about the owners — enough of them are pushing for radical changes to the league’s financial structure that lost games seemed inevitable from the start. They won the lockout but want a route. Stern stood before the cameras and talked about how much the owners have given back — taking salary rollbacks and a hard salary cap off the table. But those were never theirs to give. They were not things the owners had, they were things they wanted. The owners paid 57 percent of their earnings to the players in the last labor deal and their first offer to the players in the new talks was 39 percent. That was unreasonable. The 47 percent they are offering now is as well. But they have the leverage and they have hardliners, so they are not giving more. Meanwhile the players are trying to stand firm at getting 53 percent.

The two sides were just a couple percentage points apart on BRI and couldn’t find a middle ground. It’s stupid the two sides talked instead about the “system issues” of the salary cap and luxury tax Monday, but that is just the owners trying to get a deal that protects them from themselves and their franchises’ poor decisions. They know they will hand out more bad contracts and want the ability to get out of them faster.

Monday night there was anger and the frustration out on the Internet when Stern walked out of a posh New York hotel Monday night and said the first two weeks of the NBA season are lost.

The owners — and the league’s players — had better pray that anger sticks around for a while. If the lockout drags out and that starts to turn to apathy, then the league is really in trouble.

Anger shows that the fans care. Love and hate are different sides of the same coin. Passion for the game, the players, and their favorite franchises has fans shelling out big money and screaming at their televisions for games in February. They want basketball — few fans really care how the BRI is split or how regressive the luxury tax is. They just want their basketball.

But as this lockout drags out that will start to change and the league will pay for it.

Hardcore fans will come back. But the longer this drags out the more money that casual fans spend on the NBA will find its way into other entertainment ventures. And those fans will be slow to come back.

The longer the NBA stays locked out the more apathy sets in among the fan base. And that is far worse for the league and revenues than anything. Hate of the Heat and LeBron James fueled record ratings last year, apathy kills that momentum.

And all that revenue the owners are fighting to get will evaporate (within weeks), as the fans are slow to return.

It’s all foolish.

Spurs honor Kobe Bryant in his last game in San Antonio (VIDEO)

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 30:  Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands next to Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs on March 30, 2006 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Spurs won 96-85. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has gone all around the NBA, but some stops are more emotional than others. His final trip to San Antonio certainly qualifies — the Spurs and Lakers have played each other in the playoffs eight times in his career, including twice in the Western Conference Finals (the Lakers won both times). The only player who has rivaled Bryant’s longevity is Tim Duncan, and the Lakers and Spurs were the two most dominant teams of the 2000s, winning nine of the 12 championships from 1999 to 2010 between them.

So, of course, the Spurs had an elaborate tribute video planned for Bryant. The video ran two and a half minutes and featured narration from Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Watch it below:

Report: Clippers’ Austin Rivers has broken hand, out 4-6 weeks

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Austin Rivers #25 of the Los Angeles Clippers scores on a layup past D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 105-93 win at Staples Center on January 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.

The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.

Warriors hold off late Thunder run to remain undefeated at home

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For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.

But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.

Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.

The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.

Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.

Kevin Durant brushes off free-agency speculation: “Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision”

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 05:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives on Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 5, 2015 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.

Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.

Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:

“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:

“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?

“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”

On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.