Mark Cuban, David Stern

Hunter references a shifting power structure within ownership.


Billy Hunter provided enough soundbytes on his appearance on Bill Simmons’ podcast to keep folks entertained for a few days. The “we don’t want to be totally exploited” is the header. Also of note is the reveal of Mark Cuban’s “Game Changer” proposal which proposed no cap and just an aggressive luxury tax. The union and big spender owners of course loved the idea, the small-market guys vommed on it, Hunter said. 

But lost in all this was a quiet story Hunter provided which gives more information into the dynamics of the lockout than maybe anything else that has come out. It’s begins at around the 23-minute mark of the podcast

Two quotes of importance from the segment where Simmons asks Hunter about 

“We did a deal at the twelfth hour, but it was only at the twelfth hour that David and the owners were willing to compromise. I think now there’s a different group of owners that make up NBA so consequently I think they’re a lot more dug in. And they don’t owe their success I think as much to David as before.” 


“I think the reason why  David is being so stubborn is because David has a new crop of owners. He’s got all these guys who have come in who are extremely successful, who have made billions of dollars, who have a different perspective. … With the downturn of the economy in 2008, I think some of the owners probably suffered some significant losses in their ancillary businesses and so consequently they think they should make it up on the backs of these franchises.”

Those two bits are going to quietly slip by in the midst of the conversation about leverage, and his relationship with David Stern, and whether the owners were sold on losing a season from the beginning. But then, these two quotes tell us more about the dynamics inside the room than anything else we’ve heard. 

A common element in previous shifts within the Board of Governors resided in the fact that so many of the owners went with Stern. Jerry Buss has seen David Stern build him an empire, and vice versa. There’s a mutual trust there. Donald Sterling was brought into the league by his friend Jerry Buss, as told in David Halberstam’s “Breaks of the Game.” Peter Holt has lead the BoG for years, and has always followed Stern’s leadership, which is what made his recent appearance as a mega-hawk so surprising. Glen Taylor is a long-time friend of Stern’s. In short, during the last deal, there were owners who had seen their investment triple under Stern’s watch and his growth of the league in the 80’s and 90’s. 

But the new owners are entirely different. Many of them are younger, many of them are more cutthroat, and most importantly, none of them owe Stern anything. Instead, they look at the system he’s helped build which has resulted in financial losses on top of the beatings they’ve taken in other areas and resent it. Players have more earning power than ever, but franchises are losing money. If you don’t trust in Stern, if you don’t believe that David knows best, what do you do? 

You revolt. 

There should be one voice in the room, one head, one leader for the league’s efforts, the man who knows more about the league and its issues than anyone. But instead, versus the boogeyman image some, particularly agents through their favorite outlets, are pushing, Stern is being undercut. He was taken out because he was sick. But those meetings went on and Dan Gilbert and Peter Holt were not only allowed but encouraged to put the hammer to the union in last Thursday’s trainwreck with Stern on the sideline because of this new push. In essence, it’s no longer “Father knows best,’ it’s “Stern will get us what we want or we’ll go get it ourselves.” 

That, pieced together with the appearance of Paul Allen, paints a dangerous picture for the future of these talks and the league. 

If you want peace in a troubled region, what you first need is political stability. If you want success and profit in a business, what you first need is leadership and direction. But instead, the NBA is a cartel acting as a group. And within that group there are competing interests within competing interests. There are hawks who just want revenue sharing, doves who want revenue sharing, hawks who want system changes without revenue sharing, and doves who want everything to stay the same. 

Now, Hunter’s statements are spin, meant to prod the media into interpreting the league as unstable and plagued by infighting. You know, articles like this one. But this wouldn’t be written if the events of the past six months hadn’t come through. Everyone outside of the room knows that losing a season is suicide, it’s a lose-lose situation and worst of all, unnecessary. But it’s being pursued, and, again, according to Hunter, it has been pursued since 2007. 

This lockout is about a lot of things. It’s about LeBron. It’s about ego. It’s definitely about money. It’s about opposing paradigms. It’s about business. But it’s also about shifting paradigms and a league which Stern no longer rules with an iron fist. The owners may be confident in Stern’s ability to do his job as commissioner. But they’re more confident in their ability to exert their will and make the world they want it to be. 

Look at their wealth. Why wouldn’t they?

The common refrain is that this is small-market vs. big-market. Hunter was very particular to use the market terms, especially with Simmons who is a big market fan who most often supports big market initiatives. But this conflict is more aligned with new money vs. old money, and suddenly moderates like Jerry Buss are advocating revenue sharing, and both Mark Cuban and Wyc Grousbeck have conflicting reports about their status as hawks or doves. They smell the winds of change, and they want to be on the winning side. 

They just haven’t figured out that everyone’s losing this. 

51 Questions: Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

Michael Malone
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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

One incident sums up how bad things had gotten in Denver under the Brian Shaw regime — breaking a fourth-quarter huddle in the final game of February, Nuggets players chanted “1-2-3-six weeks!”

The players didn’t like the coach, some of them didn’t like each other, and with six weeks and 24 games left in the season they had checked out. The young players (and some of the veterans) partied so much Shaw canceled shootarounds because guys couldn’t roll in for them in the morning. Shaw had lost the team long before when he’d tried to fit square pegs into the triangle holes of his offense, and it spiraled out of control from there. The culture in Denver was broken.

Mike Malone was brought in to repair that culture.

The Jeff Van Gundy disciple has shown he can do that before. Malone was starting to build something in Sacramento (they started last season 9-6 before DeMarcus Cousins got sick), where he was asked to repair a franchise culture that by the end of the Maloof era was something akin to the Lord of the Flies. Malone also turned out to be the one coach who had gotten through to Cousins. Even with his defensive mindset and Cousins in the paint, Malone had the Kings playing at the eighth-fastest pace in the league in pace, but the Kings’ owner wanted to play faster (and maybe didn’t want to miss out on the chance to hire George Karl), so Malone got sacked.

The question becomes, is Malone alone going to turn things around in Denver and bring them back to relevance?

Not alone, and not just in one season, but he will get them on the right track.

The first step to show management was behind Malone was the trading of Ty Lawson. No doubt when focused Lawson is a quality point guard (as Houston likely benefits from this season), but he was part of the problem in the end in Denver, to the point of picking up two DUIs in six months (he checked into a rehab facility after the second one). He had mentally checked out and his example was an issue the Nuggets needed to change.

That turns the keys for the offense over to rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who impressed a lot of people at Summer League after bailing on SMU to play in China last season. But he’s still a rookie with a long way to go — as the 15 turnovers in his first two preseason games attest. Things that worked in China and Summer League don’t fly against an NBA defense.

With Mudiay at the point and a team that plays half its games at high altitude, Monroe wants to take advantage of that and get out and run. Expect the Nuggets to get back to their traditional up-tempo games, but with some things Malone loves to run (such as the Rick Adelman corner action).

But for Malone, all things — including good transition basketball — starts with defense. You have to get stops and steals to run well, and the Nuggets were 26th in the league in defensive rating last season (105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). In the first two Nuggets preseason games, that was the Nuggets focus (with mixed results).

Malone’s challenge starts with getting Kenneth Faried to buy in and play as hard on defense as he does on offense — something Faried has never done. Faried has been a defensive minus since he entered the NBA and that becomes one of Malone’s first major projects (even if it’s just to boost Faried’s trade value). Faried, who clashed with Shaw over his role, has said he’s felt energized under Malone, now the coach just has to steer that energy to the defensive end of the court.

Malone will be searching for the right center to put next to Faried, and I expect that will mean a lot of Jusuf Nurkic (who is young and shows it at times). But also expect to see some small-ball lineups with Faried at the five. Something like Mudiay, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Faried. A lineup with some athleticism and shooting that could put up points, but would they get any stops? If Gary Harris slots in for Foye, does that help the defense (Harris is guy Nuggets fans may see more and more of as the season goes on).

The roster is a work in progress, and if you were to bet on the Nuggets doing one thing this season, it should be making trades. Things are going to change.

There are nice pieces on the Nuggets, but not enough of them and with some real questions about how it all fits together. This is not a playoff team this season, not in the West.

But it’s a team that Malone could have playing a lot better late in the season than at the beginning, once some of those questions start to be answered, and the young players gain experience. That should be the goal in Denver. Begin to change the culture, get buy-in on the system, get guys playing hard again rather than dreaming of Cancun vacations by February. Change can be incremental, but Malone will start the change.

Then in a couple of years, you’ve got the team you want.

Well, so long as the Nuggets ownership doesn’t get impatient and decide it needs to change directions again.

Another Pelicans center down: Omer Asik out three weeks

Omer Asik, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver
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The Pelicans will have to play Anthony Davis at center now.

With backup center Alexis Ajinca already sidelined, starting center Omer Asik suffered his own injury.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that center Omer Asik is expected to miss the next three weeks with a right calf strain. The injury occurred during Wednesday’s practice.

If that three-week timeline is firm, Asik would miss two regular season games – at Warriors and at Trail Blazers.

Davis figured to be the most natural fit at center in Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo scheme. What happens if the Pelicans excel with him there and then stumble once Asik and Ajinca return? Because New Orleans had Bird Rights for Asik and Ajinca, re-signing them made some sense. And once they’re re-signed, Gentry must find a role for them. But that could get harder if it becomes obvious the team is best with Davis at center.

As long as Asik and Ajinca are out, Kendrick Perkins probably moves into the rotation. Jeff Adrien could also see minutes at center. Suddenly, Adrien, on an unguaranteed contract, has a much better chance of making the regular-season roster. Ryan Anderson probably plays more at power forward, too, with Davis logging more time at center.