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David Stern goes on the offensive during media tour

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David Stern is winning the war of public perception.

Regular readers here know how I assign blame for the lockout and missed games, but make no mistake that in the court of public opinion the players are going to be the big losers. We know the players, while the owners are faceless (save Mark Cuban). We know exactly what the players make, and we know we would play basketball for a living for a fraction of that. The “let us play” PR disaster didn’t help matters, but the fact is the players were going to lose the perception battle.

In the last 24 hours David Stern has been on a media tour and gone on the offensive, painting the owners as a completely fair minded group who are stunned that the players don’t want to agree to their terms.

It’s all spin — just as union chief Billy Hunter’s media blitz was — but Stern is better at it. He cherry picks facts, but can do it in a way that he sounds more reasonable than the owners actually have been. Like what he said on the Dan Patrick Show (as transcribed at CSNChicago.com).

I would say that given the fact that the owners have made concessions to the players on no hard cap, on actually keeping all contracts in place that are in place — to pay them out in their entirety — that the players have asked for the continuation of guaranteed contracts and the owners have agreed to that, and that the owners have said, ‘If you don’t like the deal, you can opt out after seven years.’ I think the players — if the rank-and-file — truly understood the dynamics of the negotiations, they would have a completely different picture and they would say, ‘Let’s get back to work.’

“They don’t have anything that the owners want. The old deal expired. There’s no continuing deal. There was a 57-percent deal and if the owners wanted to continue that deal, they could have exercised their one-year option that they had to extend it. But given the fact that the owners believe that the league should be more competitive and that teams should have an opportunity to make a profit, and there should be ways to eliminate the loss that the league has suffered, in order to use those profits to have more revenue sharing, that we needed a new and different deal.”

This gets at the heart of the disagreement right now — the players started their position based on the old labor deal as a base; the owners did not consider that a starting point and made their own starting point with radical demands like rolling back existing contracts (good luck getting the courts to okay that after agents sued) and an NFL-style hard salary cap. That’s what makes Stern great, he sounds very reasonable talking about all the things the owners have given back in these talks. Even though the owners make up that starting point out of whole cloth and gave up things they never had in the first place.

The biggest story out of the media blitz was Stern saying that if there is not a deal by Tuesday he thinks Christmas Day games are in trouble. But here are a few other things he said in the last 24 hours.

From NBA TV: “When you spend the amounts of monies these franchises now cost and the losses pile up because player salaries have gone from the $1 billion we were arguing about in 1999 to $2 billion-plus, I’m not going to say, ‘Oh, we shouldn’t be make a profit.’”

That for the record is complete spin and, frankly, organic male cow produced fertilizer. The amount of salaries the players got doubled because revenue to the league doubled — player salaries were a set percent of league revenues (57 percent at the end) because the owners agreed to that deal. Go ahead and argue that 57 percent is too high, that’s a valid argument, but to say that players salaries doubling was the problem without noting the doubling of league revenues the players didn’t get is misleading. At best.

• In multiple interviews, Stern said that the it was the players legal council (Jeffrey Kessler) was the first to propose the idea of a 50/50 split of basketball related income.

Two quick thoughts. First, the split is only half the question, the other half is how you define the revenue. If you take more expenses off the top (which the owners have proposed) then it is not a true 50/50 split. Secondly, who cares who proposed it if both sides are backing away from the idea anyway?

• Stern talked about teams being able to spread out the contract of a player they waive for non-performance to double its length. I, frankly, like this idea. For example, let’s use Gilbert Arenas and the three years, $63 million he has left on his deal. Under this proposal, if the Magic waived him they would have him on the books for six years at $10.5 million a year rather than three years at $21 million a year. For a lot of teams dealing with guys like Eddy Curry, this is a good way to get rid of him yet lessen the financial blow to the team.

• He also talked about allowing teams to offer one player under contract a special five-year deal that is substantially larger than what other teams can offer. The idea is to give teams a way to retain their stars — if you leave you are going to get considerably less money. It’s a virtual franchise tag.

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.