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.

Report: Phil Jackson thought Carmelo Anthony was trying to sabotage him

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In March, Kristaps Porzingis offered a strong endorsement of the triangle.

That put him between then-Knicks president Phil Jackson and forward Carmelo Anthony.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to an NBA source, Anthony was furious to read Porzingis’ positive sentiments on an offense he disdains.

“Melo really chewed him out, lit into him,’’ the source said.

Actually, some Knicks officials believe Anthony’s influence on Porzingis has been detrimental and a key reason why Jackson became adamant about removing him from the roster any way he could.

“Phil thought Carmelo was trying to sabotage him,’’ an NBA source said.

Jackson tried to pressure Anthony out of New York, tweeted criticism of Anthony, sidestepped Anthony’s requests to meet, seemingly pushed an anti-Anthony narrative, publicly called Anthony a ball hog and used racially insensitive language to discuss Anthony’s friend, LeBron James.

But Anthony was trying to sabotage Jackson?

It’s unhealthy for a team’s president and highest-paid players to be on such different pages, but it’s also unhealthy for a team to be caught up on an antiquated offensive system. Anthony acquiescing to Jackson might have made the Knicks’ better in the short term. But if he widened the fractures that eventually caused the Knicks to split from Jackson, Anthony did the team a favor in the long run.

Report: Masai Ujiri’s salary about half what Phil Jackson’s was

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James Dolan isn’t fixing the Knicks’ biggest problem – James Dolan.

But the owner took a step in the right direction a few years ago by pouring a ton of money into the front office. Of course, Dolan did it in the worst way. Offering a five-year, $60 million contract, he didn’t target general managers with proven track records of success. He hired front-office novice Phil Jackson, whose tenure was a wreck.

With Jackson out, will Dolan get it right this time?

The Knicks are reportedly interested in Raptors president Masai Ujiri, but it will be more complicated now, because Ujiri just signed a contract extension and the Knicks are still paying Jackson.

But can New York lure Ujiri from Toronto?

Michael Grange of Sportsnet:

As a source close to MLSE ownership told me Wednesday morning: “Don’t even waste your time on this.”

But as one NBA source put it: “This is not fake news, the Knicks will be coming hard.”

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Ujiri signed a five-year extension worth $32 million last September

Bruce Arthur of the Star:

All that just makes the Knicks more desperate for a new saviour, and league sources indicate the Knicks are already confident Ujiri is coming to New York.

Despite the contract, sources indicate Ujiri can leave if he wants to leave. It’s really up to him.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

As for reports that the Knicks were interested in Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, sources told ESPN that the Knicks have a deep respect for him, but he’s under contract and thus would require permission to speak to and compensation — likely draft picks — which the Knicks would be very reluctant to consider.

Dolan has the fortune to offer Ujiri a significant raise and buy him out of his Raptors contract. Money goes a long way in these negotiations, though it’s unclear how much Dolan would spend on a less-flashy name – and whether the Raptors want more than just cash.

Sending Toronto first-round picks as compensation would hurt the Knicks, but not as much as hiring another incompetent front-office head.

Will Ujiri land in New York? There are so many mixed signals, but it appears the Knicks at least have a chance.

Report: James Harden recruited Chris Paul to Rockets throughout season

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Chris Paul to the Rockets seemed to come out of nowhere.

It didn’t.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

According to one NBA executive, James Harden, the Rockets’ all-star guard, had been recruiting Paul throughout the season. An executive from another team said Harden had already told a fellow NBA player that Paul’s going to Houston was a done deal.

This is how the league works now. James Harden continues to be a enthusiastic recruiter, and that’s a huge asset to the Rockets. It goes toward explaining why Houston general manager Daryl Morey has bestowed so much faith in Harden.

The NBA has simply decided nothing players do constitutes tampering. So, Harden was free to convey Houston’s message to Paul – and this went beyond the typical bonding of two stars. The Rockets had to orchestrate a complex series of transactions, including getting Paul to waive most of his trade bonus, to make the deal work. Harden was part lead recruiter, part middleman communicating with the front office.

Getting Paul was truly the Harden-Morey partnership at its finest.

Report: Thunder have planned Blake Griffin pursuit for months

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The Clippers sound confident about re-signing Blake Griffin in the wake Chris Paul going to the Rockets.

But L.A. will have competition for the star forward – from the Nuggets, Celtics (depending how their primary plan goes), Heat and Griffin’s home-state Thunder.

Royce Young of ESPN:

It’s a shame for the Thunder they backed off their plan to sign Griffin last summer, signing Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to contract extensions, only to resume it a few months later.

Letting Adams and Oladipo hit unrestricted free agency would have given Oklahoma City an additional $22,514,699 in cap flexibility while maintaining Adams’ and Oladipo’s Bird Rights. That alone wouldn’t have been enough to offer Griffin a max salary, but dumping Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler and either Doug McDermott or Domantas Sabonis would’ve projected to get the Thunder there. In that scenario, Oklahoma City could have also exceeded the cap to re-sign Adams and Oladipo after inking Griffin.

Alas, the Thunder are now limited to dumping contributors that make the team appealing to someone like Griffin in the first place or executing a sign-and-trade. But a sign-and-trade gets complicated. Adams’ salary alone isn’t enough to return Griffin on a max, and it’s not even clear the Clippers – with DeAndre Jordan – would want Adams (though losing Griffin could initiate an even greater rebuild that includes trading Jordan). And again, the Clippers reportedly want to keep Griffin rather than go this route.

This was all foreseeable, though some surprising factors worsened the consequences of the extensions for Oklahoma City.

Griffin seemed more certain last summer to stay in L.A. The 2017-18 salary cap appeared on track to be higher. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement won’t raise cap holds for first-round picks until next year. So, Adams’ deal projects to save the Thunder just $6,425,000 over the next four years relative to a max offer sheet – a paltry sum in the face of the potential cap flexibility lost this year by extending him instead of waiting to re-sign him.

The Thunder making moves earlier than necessary and salary-cap developments turning those plans especially imprudent – where have I heard this one before?