Billy Hunter David Stern

Federal mediator to meet separately with both sides Monday

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Federal mediator George Cohen enters the NBA labor picture on Monday.

Which is good, he could help the NBA players and owners break their stalemate. That is, if both sides really want to break it. If both sides are willing to compromise a little more.

Cohen will meet separately with groups from the NBA owners and players on Monday, then on Tuesday he will lead a joint bargaining session with the leaders from both sides. But he has just that one day with both sides in the room to break the logjam.

Then the owners will take a break from negotiations for two days because the NBA’s Board of Governors will meet in New York. That is the NBA owners official title as a group, and they will spend a day discussing revenue sharing then another day on the labor negotiations.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has said his gut tells him that if a deal is not reached Tuesday then the Christmas Day games are in jeopardy. My gut tells me that is David Stern thinking he likes the terms for a deal right now and is trying to put pressure on the players to agree to a deal.

Bringing in Cohen should help, everyone who has worked with the man seems to respect him. He has been involved in some of the biggest labor disputes in the nation recently — like the FAA vs. air traffic controllers — and he brings a wealth of knowledge to the table.

But picture him like a marriage counselor — if both sides want to make it work, a counselor can help a couple through a rough patch. But if one or both sides simply want out, there is nothing the counselor can do to change that.

Right now, the two sides seem close on the issue of dividing up basketball related income (BRI). And Cohen might be the guy who can help solve some of the system issues with the luxury tax and contract lengths that seems to be the current sticking points of talks.

But only if both sides are willing to give a little more. And right now the hard liners on both sides seem to be driving the bus. Right off the cliff, but they are driving the bus. On the players’ side that is big names like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce who have tried to make 53 percent a rallying cry for players and a line in the sand. (The players got 57 percent of BRI in the old deal, their last formal offer was 53 percent, the owners last formal offer was 47 percent for the players.) On the other side, the owners are a mixed group but there are some real hard liners who don’t want to move off 47 percent.

We fans keep waiting for the level heads to prevail in these talks, to say that their differences now are not insurmountable and not worth cancelling more games and maybe a season. Maybe Cohen can appeal to those people. Maybe. If they are really listening.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.