Report: Garnett, Kobe, Pierce shut down 50/50 talks before deadline on their own

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you know, in a way, I’m kind of glad for stuff like this. I mean, the lockout had become downright depressing. Both sides were “miles apart” but “ready to make a deal.” We’ve lost games, good games, which may or may not be rescheduled. Both sides seem more interested in rhetoric than progress, and it’s become about ego as much as it is about money, both of which are pretty disgusting in the times we live in.

But this? This is pretty funny. Not “JaVale McGee said the players were folding to a half-dozen reporters with tape recorders in their hands right in front of his face and then denied it on Twitter before Derek Fisher smacked him down” funny, but it’s pretty funny. And once again it shows that the players, despite being in most people’s minds on the side of right in the dispute, are woefully out of their league.

The first news came out of a Bill Simmons column. Those are typically filled with little nuggets of insider information, particularly about the NBA, nestled in with the reality television and mid-90’s prison break drama movie references, but it’s hard to catch them, so they’re not treated as news, since Simmons isn’t a news reporter or breaker. But it was enough to make people stop and go, “Wait, what?”

From Grantland:

Should someone who’s earned over $300 million (including endorsements) and has deferred paychecks coming really be telling guys who have made 1/100th as much as him to fight the fight and stand strong and not care about getting paid? And what are Garnett’s credentials, exactly? During one of the single biggest meetings (last week, on Tuesday), Hunter had Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce and Garnett (combined years spent in college: three) negotiate directly with Stern in some sort of misguided “Look how resolved we are, you’re not gonna intimidate us!” ploy that backfired so badly that one of their teams’ owners was summoned into the meeting specifically to calm his player down and undo some of the damage. (I’ll let you guess the player. It’s not hard.) And this helped the situation … how? And we thought this was going to work … why?

via Bill Simmons Avoids a Few Subjects Before Making His Week 6 NFL Picks – Grantland.

Because we’re prideful, Bill. And often times, very dumb with our decision making.

That was going to slip through the cracks, though. A vague reference without naming names in Simmons’ column wasn’t going to penetrate. But this will. From TrueHoop:

As Stern has recounted a dozen times since, not long after what was supposed to have been the hallway conversation that saved the season, something odd and wholly unexpected happened. There was a knock on the door where Stern was selling his owners on the idea. The players wanted to talk.

When they convened, instead of the union’s head, Hunter, or their negotiating committee of Maurice Evans, Matt Bonner, Roger Mason, Theo Ratliff, Etan Thomas and Chris Paul, representing the players were Fisher, Kessler, and three superstars who had been to very few of the meetings at all: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant.

A bad sign: Pierce was still wearing his backpack.

The players had two pieces of news that shocked the league: 50/50 was not good enough. And there was nothing further to discuss.

via TrueHoop Blog – ESPN.

Abbott goes on to note that those players had not been to every meeting the players were invited to, much less the sessions the two sides had held privately. And that the owners were bewildered by what in the name of Stern just happened.

In essence, you have three veteran players intervening on behalf of the union, shutting down talks when a potential deal was within reach.

Now, some things to remember:

  • 50/50 is not a real compromise. It’s a win for the owners. Saying they started at 46 and compromised at 50 is like if I were to go to a BMW salesman and offer $500 for a brand new car, him giving the list price, and then me claiming that $5,000 was a compromise. It’s not. It’s a win. But the union recognized that this deal would keep most if not all of the essential things they wanted and would let them live to fight another day.
  • Talks didn’t end at this point. There was more to it. A deal could have been salvaged. Who knows, if the owners had said, “Fine, how about 51 percent?” the players might have shaken their hands and walked out the door. But we’ll never know, because it was partially on the owners to respond, and they responded by saying “Well, I guess we’re done here. Guess we’ll go extort the money we want from you via economic siege.”
  • But you know what’s hard for an owner to do? Take you seriously as a bargaining entity when the same four people you’ve been meeting with from two years vanish into a hotel while three players without a law degree between them come in to tell you what’s what. And one of them is Kevin Garnett, who has the emotional temperance of a wolverine jacked up on Red Bull and mescaline. None of the players should have gone in without Hunter or Fisher. None of them would have helped, they would have only hurt. There’s leadership, and there’s a misunderstanding of the negotiation process. And the players plunged into a big pool of the latter.  But if you’re going to go that route, you want the most stable, well-reasoned, cold-blooded guys you can find. Pierce? Sure. Bryant? Absolutely. And Garnett is known for being very personable off the court. But from these reports, it sure seems like he went dog-off-the-chain like it was Game 7 of the Finals. His intentions were noble. His approach was regrettable.
This, combined with the JaVale McGee saga from Friday, paints the picture that the players are out of their depth. Some of the players know what’s going on. Their union is doing the best it can to keep it together. They’re blasting Stern in public while trying to reach a deal to get the players paychecks. Hunter reportedly gave his blessing to the confrontation as a tactic to try and blow the owners back off their hard line, something he’s struggled with. But as it stand, it does not come off as an impressive show of strength. It seems like a Jr. High protest.
The owners waged this lockout, have drug their heels to get the deal they want, have exerted every influence they have to “crush the union” as reports suggested they wanted months ago. But the players? They’re running headlong into the owners’ swing.

 

Close-knit Pacers’ bond gets tested with season on the line

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indiana Pacers have been winning together, losing together and fighting together all season.

Now they need to demonstrate their resilience once more as they try to save their season by rebounding from an emotional loss to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Nobody thought we’d be in this situation,” Victor Oladipo said, referring to the playoffs. “It’s important for us to stick together now because we’ve seen where it can go, where it can take us and it’s great.”

The immediate problem is recent history doesn’t bode well for the underdog Pacers, who trail 3-2 with Game 5 set for Friday in Indianapolis.

Cleveland swept Indiana in the first round last year, winning four games by a record low 16 total points. James has won 10 straight close-out games and has never lost a first-round series. Indiana, meanwhile, is trying to reach the conference semifinals for the first time since 2014.

But the Pacers don’t care about stats, projections or conventional wisdom – as they’ve proven repeatedly this season.

Following last summer’s Paul George trade, Indiana seemed bound for the draft lottery. Instead, general manager Kevin Pritchard cobbled together a rare combination of proven, often overlooked veterans, emerging stars, good shooters and willing defenders.

It turned out to be a perfect fit.

Indiana won 48 games, six more than it did with George last season, and is a win away from forcing the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs into a decisive seventh game.

Cleveland has learned one lesson the hard way: The fifth-seeded Pacers won’t go away. They won 12 times after facing double-digit deficits and eight times after trailing by 15 or more during the regular season.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise Indiana has erased double-digit deficits in four straight game and wound up taking the lead or having a chance to win late in all four in this series.

“That team does not quit,” James said, moments after his buzzer-beating 3-pointer gave Cleveland a 98-95 win to salvage a win Wednesday after Pacers wiped out a 12-point second half to deficit to tie the score in the final minute.

Playing hard until the final buzzer has become the norm for these Pacers.

And they’re savoring every precious second, too.

Nate McMillan recently called this one of the most enjoyable seasons he’s had as a head coach because he knows what he’ll get every day – energy from Oladipo and Lance Stephenson, steadiness from Darren Collison and Corey Joseph, leadership from Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic and an eagerness to develop from Myles Turner and other young players.

With each player embracing their role, the Pacers have formed a cohesive bond.

Six players actually approached Pritchard before the trade deadline and pleaded with the GM not to make any moves because they wanted to close out this season together. Pritchard said it a first for him, and kept the team intact.

“It kind of is like a college team bond,” said Young, one of the six players who approached Pritchard. “Typically you have a lot of NBA teams that don’t bond as well as you do in college when you’re living with each other and you’re around each other all the time. You know in the NBA, you spend time with your family, things like that.

“This team we all hang out together, we go to dinner together on the road. We do everything together.”

The difference has shown.

After enduring an early and sometimes uneven learning curve early this season, the Pacers finally got in sync in early January and played better than anyone, perhaps even McMillan or Pritchard could have anticipated.

From Jan. 6 through the end of the regular season, they went 29-15 and allowed 101.3 points per game and didn’t lose more than two in a row.

They moved up three spots in the Eastern Conference postseason pecking order and headed into their latest round against James having won three of the four regular-season matchups. The Pacers even routed the Cavs on their home court in Game 1.

Since then, though, the series has been all-out slugfest and James has gotten the knockout blow in three times.

Now, with their season on the line, the Pacers need to provide a unified front one more time Friday night just to keep this season alive.

They’re ready.

“Sure, we’ve still got something to prove. No one believes we can beat Cleveland,” Bogdanovic said. “It’s about trust in what we’ve got in each other.”

More AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Report: J.B. Bickerstaff agrees to three-year deal to coach Memphis Grizzlies

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We heard rumblings that the Memphis Grizzlies were looking to remove the interim distinction from J.B. Bickerstaff’s title and make him acting head coach. Now, the team has made their move.

According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Memphis agreed to a three-year deal with Bickerstaff on Thursday, making him the new head coach of the team.

Bickerstaff, 39, was previously the associate head coach of the Grizzlies under David Fizdale. Fizdale was fired in November, and Bickerstaff took over as interim head coach.

This has been a long time coming for Bickerstaff, who was a longtime assistant coach in Charlotte, Minnesota, and Houston. Bickerstaff took over the Rockets job in 2015 when the team fired head coach Kevin McHale.

The task ahead of Bickerstaff will not be easy. Next season he will get Mike Conley back from injury, but the roster is still in the process of being rebuilt and Marc Gasol, 33, seems like constant trade bait. The Western Conference is tough, but finally Bickerstaff gets his shot at the big job on a permanent basis.

Enes Kanter helps pardon Thunder fans who left playoff game early (VIDEO)

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Enes Kanter may be leaning toward opting in to his $18 million player option with the New York Knicks this summer (I would) but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still have love for fans in Oklahoma City.

In a video posted to social media on Thursday, Oklahoma City mayor David Holt and Kanter appeared together to give pardons to the Thunder fans who left early during the team’s Game 5 win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony staved off elimination with their win against Utah, giving the Jazz a 3-2 series lead as they head back to Salt Lake City on Friday night.

Kanter, who played for the Thunder from 2015-2017, says he is still friendly with many of the players on the Oklahoma City roster. Kanter also played for the Jazz for the first three-and-a-half years of his career.

Via Twitter:

I personally don’t understand leaving a game early. Your car is trapped underground or is parked six miles away on some back alley, you’re not leaving any game quickly. The train is going to be jam packed and will sit at the stadium station for like 28 more minutes after you board, no matter when you board.

Don’t leave games early, folks. Try to haggle with the people working the concession stands to give you another soft pretzel for free. Get your money’s worth.

Giannis Antetokounmpo slashes Celtics, forces Game 7 in Boston

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The Milwaukee Bucks needed a big game from Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday night. Boy, did they get it.

After a disappointing in Game 5 in Boston, Antetokounmpo was fearsome in his return to the Bradley Center for Game 6. The Bucks were able to keep their defensive intensity up, and we got the game most of us expected from Antetokounmpo in a return to his home court: complete domination on the biggest stage.

The game started out much the way we’ve seen in this series — sort of kooky. It was another low-scoring affair as the first half closed with Milwaukee leading, 49-38. The Celtics couldn’t get things rolling offensively, and were saved by baskets in the paint in the first quarter. Boston scored just 15 points in the second period, saving themselves with makes from beyond the 3-point line.

The real story of the game came in the second half. Antetokounmpo would not let up from the gas, scoring both as the Bucks center and on the break. Milwaukee’s franchise player matched up against Al Horford all night long, and the battle between the two was intense. Both seemed to want to muscle each other, and for different stretches they both got the better of each other.

Boston battled back, eventually tying the game at 61-61 with 4:21 to go in the third. The Celtics’ charge was led by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Horford, all three of whom allowed Boston to make up a 14-point deficit. Boston played carefully, allowing their young wings to do the work. Despite not having a fastbreak point until late in the third, they also didn’t have their first turnover of the second half until there was little more than three minutes to go in the same quarter. Antetokounmpo, who couldn’t let Boston’s run continue after the tie, turned on the jets to close the quarter and Milwaukee entered the fourth period with a 9-point lead they would never cede.

The fourth quarter was much of the same, with the matchup between Antetokounmpo, Horford, and Horford’s backup in Aron Baynes. Several times, Antetokounmpo ran full speed after starting with the ball on the opposite free-throw line, going right at either Horford or Baynes. But the Bucks star wasn’t completely selfish. He managed to stave off tunnel vision, at times finding teammates on his spins to the bucket.

A lot of talk was made about Antetokounmpo’s poor performance in Game 5, a career playoff-low of 16 points on just 10 field goal attempts. The Greek Freak made sure that didn’t happen again, finishing the game with 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting, adding 14 rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton were amped up as well. Both finished with 16 points, and as a team the Bucks scored 25 points on the break, with 50 points coming from the painted area, topping Boston in both regards.

For the Celtics, Tatum led the way with 22 points on six-of-14 shooting, adding three rebounds and three assists. Terry Rozier continued his playoff emergence, scoring 18 points while nabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists. Boston shot just 27.8 percent from the 3-point line.

Game 7 now heads back to Massachusetts, where we will see if Antetokounmpo can keep his foot to the floor and drive the Bucks past the second-seeded Celtics on Saturday.