Owners, players reportedly closer to figuring out money split

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It’s all about the money. Both sides have tried to tell us that the NBA lockout was about other stuff, but make no mistake it is all about the money.

And they may be closer to figuring that out.

Multiple reports out of Wednesday’s eight-hour plus bargaining session in New York have said that the sides have gotten closer to figuring out the split of basketball related income (BRI, which is basically the revenue the league brings in). That is the core issue in the lockout. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo said it most clearly.

As long expected, the two sides have moved closer to a “50-50 split, give or take a point with ranges based on revenue performance,” one source said.

While the league’s owners and players made progress in Wednesday’s 8½-hour mediation session, one source involved in the talks was hesitant to characterize it as a “breakthrough” moment, saying system issues could again derail talks.

The two sides will be back at it in talks starting at 2 p.m. Eastern in New York.

Previously the owners had offered the players a range of BRI, between 49 and 51 percent, based on the level of revenues that came in (the more revenue, the higher the percentage for players). The players countered with a 51 to 53 percent split offer.

Reports suggest the two sides are back to discussing ranges in that ballpark and made progress. Those ranges are not far apart and there clearly is a deal that can be made there.

There are two key challenges here.

One is Commissioner David Stern and union chief Billy Hunter being able to sell their constituencies on this. Hardline owners have wanted to keep the players below 50 percent of BRI. Hardline players — led by stars like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett — have said they will not go below 53 percent (the players had 57 percent in the last labor deal). Both sides will have to be convinced this is the best deal and one they should approve.

Secondly, there are system issues to be dealt with and the luxury tax remains the key one. That, too, is about the money. In the old system, there was a dollar for dollar tax on salaries over a certain threshold (last season $70 million). The owners want to dramatically increase that fine (start at $1.75 to $1 and increase the tax 50¢ every $5 million over) in order to stop teams like the Lakers and Mavericks from spending so much. The players see it as a de facto hard salary cap designed to depress salaries and force more non-guaranteed contracts. Which is exactly what it is. The two sides need to find a middle ground on this issue as well.

The progress the two sides are making is incremental. But that is a lot better than the progress they were making before federal mediator George Cohen stepped in the room.

Russell Westbrook on Rockets laughing at Andre Roberson missing free throws: ‘Probably the guys that don’t play’

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The Rockets bench made a big production when an intentionally fouled Andre Roberson kept missing free throws in the Thunder’s Game 4 loss to the Rockets yesterday.

Russell Westbrook stuck up for his teammate.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Westbrook:

I didn’t see it. I didn’t see it at all. Probably the guys that don’t play, probably over there the ones laughing, if I had to guess.

Good guess. It appears Montrezl Harrell and Bobby Brown – whose only playing time this series came late in Houston’s blowout Game 1 win – led the jeers.

But the most important thing for the Thunder is Roberson making his free throws. They need him on the court to defend James Harden, which exposes him to hacking. If Westbrook deflecting attention onto the Rockets’ benchwarmers helps Roberson at the line, great. But if not, the Rockets will keep having reasons to laugh.

Magic Johnson winks at bringing Paul George to Lakers

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Paul George-to-the-Lakers rumors have swirled for a while.

New Lakers president Magic Johnson will only fuel them.

Asked how he’d interact with the Pacers star to avoid tampering if they ran into each other, Johnson said on Jimmy Kimmel Live:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

In explaining how he’d avoid tampering, Johnson probably tampered. Accidental tampering appears to be his specialty.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement says team employees can’t permissibly “induce, persuade, or attempt to entice, induce or persuade, any Player who is under contract to, or whose exclusive negotiating rights are held by, any other Member of the Association to enter into negotiations for or relating to his services or negotiate or contract for such services.” But the league arbitrarily enforces tampering, so who knows whether he’ll be punished?

Johnson almost certainly could have gotten away with the hypothetical conversation he laid out. But going on television and describing it — even as fantasy, even not directly to George — could constitute tampering in itself,

If Johnson helps attract George to Los Angeles, it’d well be worth it. At least he’s trying something.

Report: Austin Rivers returning for Clippers-Jazz Game 5

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There have been bigger injuries in the Clippers-Jazz first-round series: Blake Griffin‘s toe, Rudy Gobert‘s knee and Gordon Hayward‘s stomach.

But Clippers guard Austin Rivers has yet to play due to a strained hamstring.

It sounds as if that will change tomorrow.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This is neither as big a deal as the Clippers will make it out to be nor as meaningless as Rivers’ many detractors will claim.

The 6-foot-4 Rivers will provide an important defensive upgrade on the perimeter. The Clippers haven’t successfully hidden Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton, allowing Utah too many quality looks. Here how the Jazz have shot when defended by each, per NBA.com:

  • Crawford: 18-of-36 (50%), including 7-of-17 on 3-pointers (41%)
  • Felton: 13-of-24 (54%), including 5-of-8 on 3-pointers (63%)

Rivers needn’t be great to help behind Chris Paul and J.J. Redick.

Rockets bench hams it up over Andre Roberson missed free throw (video)

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Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.

Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.

It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.