Owners, players to meet together with mediator Tuesday

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Tuesday is the latest key day in a long line of key days that has led us down a path where two weeks of the NBA season have been lost and more are threatened.

Tuesday NBA owners and players will sit down with the respected George Cohen — director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service — who will try to help bridge the remaining gap and get the two sides to make a deal that could save the majority of the NBA season. He cannot force the two sides to agree a deal, but sometimes a neutral third party can get the two sides to listen, to see things in a different light. He can help build a consensus.

But he can only help them reach that consensus if both sides really want to reach a deal.

By all accounts the two sides are not that far apart — just a handful of percentage points (six on formal offers, three on informal) on how to split basketball related income (although each percentage point does represent about $40 million, so it’s a lot of money). There also remains a divide on the system issues, specifically how stiff a luxury tax there should be and length of contracts. There is a lot of work yet to do.

The damage and risks are mounting for both sides. The longer the lockout drags on, the more money lost, eating away at whatever dollars they think they are gaining through taking a hardline stand in negotiations. The longer this drags out the more damage the two sides do with fans.

Contrary to what the owners and players think, there will be no winners in this negotiation. Not with games missed. Sure, the owners will come out with a lot more money in their pockets than they did before this lockout started (something true even if they took the players offer of 47 percent of BRI). But the damage of perception has already started and is only going to get worse. Casual fans see millionaires and billionaires fighting over how to divide up $4 billion of the fans’ money during the worst recession in America in generations and they are disgusted. As they should be. While the negotiations have their own internal logic, from the outside the entire process comes off a stupid.

Union president Derek Fisher seemed to acknowledge that, as quoted at the Land O’ Lakers blog at ESPNLosAngeles.com.

“But relatively speaking, we know where the NBA, where this business, the game of basketball, those opportunities that have been afforded to us that other people can’t necessarily relate to, so we get that part of it. So that’s not why we’re not trying in any way, really, to look for sympathy or empathy from our fans in that regard. We don’t need them or want them to feel sorry for us because we’ll make less money because we’ve given up more percentage. That’s not what this is about.”

The bigger issue for the owners and players is not a lack of empathy for their cause, it’s that feeling of disgust fans have with the process turning to apathy. That will happen more and more as this process drags out. Fans will move on and be slow to return. Maybe Cohen can get that through the thick skulls on both sides.

We’ll see. Because the “at least they are still talking” optimism has worn out. Even with a mediator in the room.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon skies to finish amazing alley-oop (VIDEO)

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Aaron Gordon may not have had the best dunk contest this year — apparently drones and dunks don’t mix well — but the guy can still get up and finish with the best in the league.

As he did on this alley-oop against Detroit.

Elfrid Payton had to throw a lob that would get over Andre Drummond, but how many guys in the league can get that high, reach back and finish that? Damn.

Former Hawk Pero Antic’s celebration accidentally punches teammate in face in Eruoleague (VIDEO)

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Former Atlanta Hawk Pero Antic is now playing for Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce, in case you were not aware.

Fenerbahce was facing Anadolu Efes in a EuroLeague game, it was tight late and former NBA player Ekpe Udoh was at the free throw line for Fenerbahce. He missed his second shot, but the rebound caromed out-of-bounds off an Anadolu Efes player. Antic was pumped.

Maybe a little too pumped.

Ouch.

That was Nikola Kalinic, by the way, the guy Antic now owes dinner to. Kalinic would like the dinner more than the hug and kiss he got from Antic right after the play.

Also, Anadolu Efes held on to win 80-77.

(Hat tip to Ball Don’t Lie.)

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.

Take a look back at just how great Shaq was with the Lakers (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.

His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.

Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.