NBA lockout Stern Hunter

NBA owners, players back at bargaining table Thursday

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This is good. There is a growing sense of optimism from both the NBA owners and players sides that a deal is there to be had — and now they are both actually working hard toward it.

Less than 11 hours after they walked away from the bargaining table at 3 a.m. Thursday morning, representatives of the NBA owners and players returned to the conference room of a fancy New York hotel to complain about their financial pain.

Sure, there’s some irony there, but in a 15-hour session yesterday the two sides made progress on key system issues. Issues such as contract length, the mid-level exception and other issues that will be the framework of a new labor deal saw progress.

How much progress depends on who you ask. You’ll hear “some” in certain quarters, “significant” in others. Either way, it’s progress and we’ll take it. Especially after talks blew up last Thursday and a storm of pessimism swept over the NBA landscape.

But know there are three key hurdles yet to clear.

First is the luxury tax. The owners want a more punitive tax to keep the highest-spending teams in line, the players do not. Zach Lowe sums it up well at Sports Illustrated.

Sources close to the talks indicated last Thursday that the league had softened the tax ratios, but that the multiplying penalties for routine payers remained. A source close to the talks tells me that remains true today-that the league has stood by the multiplied penalties for teams that pay the tax three or more times during a five-year span.

Second remains the split of “basketball related income, or BRI, which is the revenue that flows into the league. There are those that believe that if a system framework can be put in place, the BRI will slide right into that and not remain such a huge issue. Or to be honest, if the players feel they can get enough give from the owners on the system issues they’ll come down closer to or at the 50 percent the owners want. The players’ only real leverage is to give up points of BRI to get system gains. That’s what they are trying to do, but the players have yet to come down from 52.5 percent of BRI — which is a $100 million difference from the owners offer. That’s a lot of cash. This will not be that easy to close.

Finally, whatever deal is struck is going to leave both sides unhappy. Which is how a good negotiations usually ends. But both Commissioner David Stern and union head Billy Hunter are going to have to sell this deal to their hardline constituents. When larger groups have gotten involved in the past is when talks have blown up. That is a risk again.

But, for the second straight day they are talking. Which is good.

Spurs demolish Thunder to take Game 1 of second-round series

SAN ANTONIO,TX - APRIL 30: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs scores over Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during game one of the Western Conference Semifinals for the 2016 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 30, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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The second round was supposed to be when things got exciting. Instead, the San Antonio Spurs put on an absolute clinic at home, blowing out the Oklahoma City Thunder, 124-92 to take a 1-0 series lead.

Just about everything went in for San Antonio, particularly for LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, who combined for 63 points. How dominant were they?

Aldridge in particular got anything he wanted against the Thunder. Oklahoma City’s stars were quiet, with Kevin Durant scoring just 16 points and Russell Westbrook 14. San Antonio controlled the game from the start and Oklahoma City never recovered from the opening punch.

It’s hard to imagine Durant and Westbrook are this ineffective again, and hopefully the rest of this series will be a little more competitive. But the Spurs did what the Spurs do, and did nothing to shake the feeling that they’re the favorites to win the west, now that Stephen Curry‘s status is unknown.

Hawks get another playoff shot at King James and Cavaliers

at Philips Arena on April 1, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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ATLANTA (AP) A year ago, Atlanta’s magical season ended with a resounding sweep by Cleveland in the Eastern Conference final.

Now, the Hawks have another shot at LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

Feeling confident after an opening-round victory over Boston, the Hawks returned to practice Saturday to begin preparations for the best-of-seven series.

Game 1 is Monday night in Cleveland.

The Hawks were the top-seeded team in the East last season after a record 60-win campaign. It didn’t do them much good against the Cavaliers, who steamrolled Atlanta in four straight games.

Even though they slipped to 48 wins and fourth in the conference, the Hawks actually sound a bit more confident heading into this matchup, largely because of their improved defense and rebounding.

Report: Warriors to replace Luke Walton from outside the organization

MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 12: Interim Coach Luke Walton of the Golden State Warriors talks on the sideline during the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center on December 12, 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
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For the second consecutive year, the Warriors have lost their lead assistant to another team. When the Pelicans hired Alvin Gentry during last year’s playoffs, Steve Kerr promoted Luke Walton to associate head coach and added former journeyman big man Jarron Collins to the bench. Now that Walton is headed to the Lakers as their next head coach, the Warriors will go outside the organization to find a replacement, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein. And one name that will likely not be in the mix is David Blatt, who very nearly became an assistant under Kerr in 2014 before being offered the Cavaliers’ head job.

Given Walton’s success this season as interim head coach while Kerr recovered from back surgery, this will undoubtedly be the most attractive assistant job in the league.

Report: Luke Walton’s Lakers contract is for 5 years, $25 million

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 13:  Interim head coach Luke Walton of the Golden State Warriors leads the team against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on January 13, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Warriors 112-110. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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In the last few years, NBA head coaching salaries have skyrocketed, and new Lakers coach Luke Walton is no exception. According to the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike Bresnahan, Walton is getting $25 million over five years, which is the same as Steve Kerr’s deal with the Warriors, now-former Knicks coach Derek Fisher’s deal in New York, and Fred Hoiberg’s deal with the Bulls.

This kind of money has become standard for head coaches who don’t also have front-office power. Tom Thibodeau and Stan Van Gundy both get between $7 and $8 million annually to do both jobs. Given how good Walton’s current situation with the Warriors is, the Lakers probably had to be on the high end of the coaching spectrum to get him to leave.