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So long as NBA hardliners drive bus, labor talks will crash


When NBA labor talks broke down 17 days ago, the owners blamed it on Kevin Garnett. And Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce, but mostly KG and his legendary glare. The two sides had been making progress in talks, but those three NBA stars came in and drew a hard line at 53 percent of basketball related income (BRI). Those three represented the hardliners driving the bus for the players, and they crashed the talks.

Thursday labor talks broke down and the players’ union blamed it on Blazers owner Paul Allen and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert (on orders from the hardliners at the NBA Board of Governors meeting). The sides had been making progress in talks the last three days, but those two NBA owners came in and drew a hard line at a 50/50 split of BRI. Those were the hardliners driving the bus for the owners, and they crashed the talks.

We — and by we I mean NBA fans and much of the media that covers it — thought the NBA lockout would have come to a resolution by now because, while the hardliners ruled the summer, cooler heads would emerge in the fall. The smart people in the room would not get emotional, they would get a deal done. The majority on both sides were not stupid enough to cost weeks of games, were not stupid enough to kill the momentum built up last season for a couple of percentage points.

We were wrong.

We were wrong because hardliners on both sides are driving the bus. When was the last time something good happened when hardliners were running the show?

This is particularly true on the owners’ side — they blew up this latest progress after they got together and talked as a group last Wednesday and Thursday. Hardliners represent at least a large enough majority on both sides right now all that we see is a couple days of meetings, then the two sides get pissed at each other, storm out of the room and don’t talk for a few days. Well, they talk to the media — as if either side could win the PR war — but not to each other. The NFL owners and union met for 16 straight days to get a deal done; the three days this week were the most the NBA owners and players have met in two years of talks.

Right now, both sides are convinced the hardliners on the other side will crack first. It’s a stupid game of chicken nobody is winning. Nobody.

But to them it is about winning, and it’s about the money that comes with winning. It is about greed. Especially from the owners, who want more profits from the games in their stadiums often built with public funds. The owners have Gilbert saying the players need to “trust him.” Does anybody trust a guy who made his money giving away mortgage loans like candy during the real estate boom?

The owners (both sides, but particularly the owners) want to win so badly and get that money that they are willing to shrink the pie they are fighting to divide up. They are throwing away the salaries and revenue that would flow from games that are now canceled.

They are willing to alienate fans who will be slow to come back — read the comments on this site and others and you will see casual fans who are disgusted. The hardcore fans will come back. The more casual sports fan will grow more and more apathetic and it will be harder and harder to get them to return.

The talks are going to keep crashing so long as the hardliners are driving the bus. And we may see a lot more crashes before the two sides cross the finish line.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.

Celtics draft pick Marcus Thornton gets beer dumped on head during Australian game (video)

Marcus Thornton, Will Cherry

The Celtics drafted Marcus Thornton with No. 45 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. That essentially entitled him to the required tender – a one-year contract offer, surely unguaranteed at the minimum.

Thornton rejected that, which is almost always a mistake.

Rejecting the tender is a favor to the drafting team, which gets to keep the player’s exclusive rights for a year. If Thornton tries to join the NBA now, he’s stuck negotiating with only the Celtics.

By accepting the tender, the player typically gets one of two outcomes. He either plays on that contract and draws an NBA salary or he gets waived. But even getting waived is better than rejecting the tender, because at least the player becomes a free agent and can negotiate with any team.

Players who reject the tender go to another league and play for less money. In Thornton’s case, that mean Australia.

How’s that going?

(Almost) never reject the required tender as a second-round pick.