Winderman: NBA should make D-League into true minor league

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Somehow, you get the sense the ancillary issues in the NBA’s collective-bargaining agreement aren’t exactly receiving prime focus during these marathon mediation sessions.

At this stage, you basically take the league’s substance-abuse program from the expired CBA, update with a few new pharmaceuticals, and reinsert those pages in a new agreement.

To a degree, that is unfortunate, because these opportunities don’t come around very often.

But because certain issues are tied directly to what is negotiated in the CBA, we could be at a now-or-never stage with some facets of the agreement.

Namely, does the NBA truly want to operate a minor league, or merely continue with the shell of such a structure that is the D-League?

Amid the CBA talks, I had the opportunity to speak to a respected agent about the D-League and he said he wished he could have a spot at the CBA table to forward a few thoughts.

Currently, the D-League resembles little of what Major League Baseball or the NHL feature with their minor leagues.

Instead, the just-concluded CBA includes these mandates in its “NBA Development League” section:

“(1) During an NBA player’s first two seasons in the league (regardless of his age when he entered the league), his team will be permitted to assign him to a team in the NBA Development League. (2) A player can be assigned to the NBA Development League up to three times per season. (3) The player will continue to be paid his NBA salary and will continue to be included on his NBA team’s roster (on the inactive list) while playing in the NBA Development League.”

In other words, no established NBA names, no players with more than two seasons of tenure. No ability to freely move a player back up to the parent team when potentially needed because of the three-stint rule. No flexibility with the NBA roster regarding roster space over D-League assignments.

The agent, who represents a variety of NBA players, including some practically-over-the-hill types, said such a policy robs an NBA team from issuing a de facto minor-league tryout during the season for such a veteran and also has teams shying from adding such veterans because there is no clause for a “rehab assignment” in the D-League.

But the argument goes beyond that. If an age requirement remains a CBA issue, an expansion of the D-League’s uses could allow teams to develop such “underage” players in the D-League, sort of like hockey’s “juniors” system, where players are groomed without the façade of the need for college participation.

Then there is the looming consideration of contraction, which even union chief Billy Hunter has mentioned if the lockout shutters the league for a season. Instead of losing jobs with the shutdown of a team, NBA rosters could be expanded, with more players therefore available to be placed in the D-League, perhaps something along the lines of the NFL’s practice squad, where those additional players first would have to clear league waivers. To pacify agents, those players would still receive full NBA benefits, such as NBA per diem.

So if you lose two teams (30 jobs), but add two additional players to each remaining team (56 jobs), you come out ahead of the game. And considering those players would be on minimum-salary deals, it’s not as if you’re adding significant dollars into the salary pool.

Do that, with players you’ve actually heard of being sent down from the parent team, and you could actually place NBA minor-league teams in real markets, ones closer to NBA affiliates. (Did you know Chicago has three minor-league hockey teams? Chicago Wolves of the AHL, Chicago Express of the ECHL and Chicago Steel of the USHL.)

The problem is the NBA hardly has the time right now for minor issues.

Which, to a degree, is a major shame.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

LeBron James helps Cavaliers hold off Pacers, earn sweep into 2nd round

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) LeBron James made a 3-pointer with 68 seconds left Sunday and the Cleveland Cavaliers hung on for a 106-102 series-clinching victory at Indiana.

James finished with 33 points and 10 rebounds as he became the first player under the current playoff format to win 21 straight first-round games. He also set a league record with his 10th career playoff sweep.

It sure wasn’t easy. After taking a 96-83 lead with 9:29 to go, the Cavs found themselves in a 102-100 deficit with 1:31 left.

But James answered with the go-ahead 3-pointer and Cleveland sealed the win on James’ free throw with 1 second left.

Lance Stephenson scored 22 points and Paul George added 15 but missed a 3-pointer that could have forced overtime in the closing seconds. It’s the first time the Pacers have lost a series 4-0 in their NBA history.

Kyrie Irving added 28 points for the Cavs, who await the winner of the Bucks-Raptors series.

Indiana got back into the game with a 7-0 spurt early in the in the fourth, then methodically continued chipping away at the lead until Thaddeus Young tied the score at 100 with a short jumper and broke the tie on a tip-in with 1:31 left.

But James, whose teams were 51-0 when starting the fourth quarter with double-digit leads in the postseason, made sure the perfect record remained intact.

Cleveland has won seven straight playoff games overall and 11 straight in the first round since James returned to his hometown team.

It was another milestone day for James, who moved past Michael Cooper, Magic Johnson and James Worthy on the league’s list of consecutive first-round wins, and past Tim Duncan for most career sweeps, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

James also went 13 off 25 from the field, tying Kobe Bryant for fourth on the career playoff list for field goals. Each have 2,014 baskets.

Indiana has lost five straight postseason games and six of its last eight.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Will make their 11th appearance in the conference semifinals. … Cleveland has swept all eight series in which it has taken a 3-0 lead. … Tristan Thompson grabbed 11 rebounds Sunday, giving him double digits in all four games. … Deron Williams scored 14 points and Kevin Love had 16 rebounds.

Pacers: George finished with a series-low point total Sunday and was 3 of 9 on 3s after entering the game with a league-high 15 3s in the playoffs. … Teague scored 15 points and was the catalyst in the final spurt, including blocking one of James’ shots. He can become a free agent this summer. …Myles Turner had 20 points and nine rebounds, while Young had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Cleveland gets some extra rest before finding out who it will play in the second round. Indiana embarks on a crucial offseason that could dictate the franchise’s future.

More AP NBA: apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

JR Smith turns it over with behind-the-back pass, Paul George misses rim on tying 3-pointer (VIDEO)

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The Cleveland Cavaliers sweep of the Indiana Pacers was not easy. Sunday’s Game 4 matchup was tight through the first two quarters, and despite the Cavaliers opening up a sizeable lead in the third, it was the Pacers who battled back late to make it a game.

Despite the clean basketball that was played throughout the game, the final minute was one of the weirdest we’ve seen in a swept series.

It started with LeBron James hitting a clutch 3-pointer with 1:09 left in the fourth quarter to give the Cavaliers a 103-102 lead.

The Pacers then turned the ball over with a chance to tie or take the lead with less than 15 seconds to go. JR Smith recovered the ball on the fastbreak, but flipped it behind his back on an ill-advised pass.

That gave the Pacers the ball once more, and Indiana’s Paul George got an open look at a 3-pointer. Unfortunately, it was a clanker that never even drew rim.

Cleveland beat the Pacers, 106-102, to complete the sweep. The Cavaliers await the winner of the Raptors-Bucks series, which is currently tied 2-2.

Rockets’ Patrick Beverley fined $25,000 for incident with Oklahoma City Thunder fan

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Chicago Bulls PG Rajon Rondo had to dole out a nice chunk of change on Sunday. The league fined Rondo $25,000 for attempting to trip Boston Celtics wing Jae Crowder. But Rondo isn’t the only point guard during these playoffs who earned a fine from the league.

Thanks to an altercation with a fan during Game 3 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley also found himself at the wrong end of a $25,000 fine from the league on Sunday morning.

Via ESPN:

In the first half, Beverley got knocked down after attempting a layup and landed at a fan’s feet, identified as Stuart Scaramucci, son of minority Oklahoma City Thunder owner Jay Scaramucci. Beverley got up and immediately started to complain about Scaramucci.

He pointed at Scaramucci as referee Scott Foster and several Rockets went to help him up. After the game, Beverley approached Scaramucci, who was sitting behind the basket, and they got into a heated discussion.

Rockets forward Sam Dekker went to pull Beverley away, and he left the court as fans yelled at him.

A live video of the incident that occurred after the game was posted to social media.

Ah, Patrick Beverley. There’s not enough players in the NBA to have beef with so why not have some with a fan? Or perhaps the son of a minority owner shouldn’t be such a goober and should try to represent the franchise a little better?

Let’s say both?

Houston leads the series, 2-1. Game 4 is on Sunday in Oklahoma City.

Report: Warriors coach Steve Kerr not expected back to coach in first round vs. Blazers

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Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr missed games last year due to a back injury that gave him chronic pain. Kerr also missed Saturday’s Game 3 win over the Portland Trail Blazers due to an unspecified illness, and reports out of Oakland are that Kerr will not return to coach the rest of the first round series.

What Kerr is battling is still unknown, apparently even to the Warriors. According to a report from the Mercury News, Kerr is having trouble walking and has been in excruciating pain.

Via MercuryNews.com:

Vague descriptions like “illness” and “not feeling well,” are usually a sign something is wrong. In this case, according to sources, it is.

At the worst of this current illness, Kerr was in excruciating pain, according to the sources, and he could barely walk. It was scary because it wasn’t a feeling he’s had before.

The worst part, the Warriors don’t yet know what is going. They had to say “illness” because there are no answers yet.

Kerr hasn’t felt well all series, according to people around him, and recently it become unbearable. It is unknown if these issues are even related to his past well-known health problems.

No matter your loyalty, I think we’re all hoping for Kerr to get an answer and feel better soon. If you’ve ever dealt with chronic pain it can be something that not only debilitates your body but grates at your emotional state, too.

Meanwhile, Kerr’s absence is a huge question for the Warriors moving forward. Last season it was Luke Walton who helmed the squad so well it earned him the head coaching position for the Los Angeles Lakers. But this injury comes late in the game for Golden State, and while they may be able to cut through the first rounds of the playoffs without Kerr, there’s no doubt they would rather have him on the bench for later rounds.

In Kerr’s absence, assistant coach Mike Brown took the helm for the Warriors against Portland in Game 3. The Blazers blew a huge lead they held most of the game as Golden State took a 3-0 series lead, 119-113.

Update:

Kerr was apparently feeling a bit better this morning. Some good news!