Derek Fisher, Spencer Hawes, Maurice Evans

Choice before players: Take Stern’s offer or decertify

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David Stern threw down the gauntlet — here is our deal. It’s a 51-49 band on basketball-related income and other things the owners can live with. Come Wednesday, this offer will vanish and the next offer will be much worse. The owners are done negotiating.

Stern said it wasn’t an ultimatum, but he is wrong. That’s exactly what it is. He knows the players have only one leverage card to play in these talks. Which leaves the NBA players’ union with two realistic options:

One: Take the deal.

Two: Decertify.

Either give in to what the owners want, otherwise risk blowing up the entire season and go after them hard in the courts with decertification. I’m not the only one seeing it this way, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo does as well.

And union president Derek Fisher suggested the players are not taking Stern’s deal.

“Right now, we’ve been given the ultimatum, and right now that is not acceptable to us,” Fisher said.

Stern’s proposal — which were suggestions from the federal mediator, according to Stern — called for a 49-51 percent band of sharing on basketball-related income (which is really a 50/50 deal that can slide a little either way), along with a mini mid-level of about $2 million for teams paying the luxury tax, no sign-and-trade for taxpayers, a $1 repeater tax (teams that pay the tax multiple years) and more.

Fisher said that never really came from an official offer of the mediator. He said he never heard that offer in the room. He said the players made an offer they thought was fair.

“We’ve made moves that are extremely significant … we made an offer that was a very fair at about 51 percent …” Fisher said. “We’ve been consistent, if we move on ecomomics we need a fair system our players can live in.”

All of this is moot.

If the players are serious about fighting hardball with hardball, if they are serious about leverage, they have to at least seriously threaten decertification. It is the one thing that scared the owners enough that they filed a pre-emptive lawsuit trying to block decertification.

Some agents are polling players on that right now, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo. Some players are on board with decertification (dissolving the union) right now:

source:

It would take a petition with 30 percent of the NBA’s players, about 130 guys, to start the process of decertification. Then there would be a 45-day period before the petition would be voted on (if the National Labor Relations Board doesn’t delay that vote). In that time, the threat of decertification might provide leverage that would get the union a better deal. Maybe. If you think Stern will back down. But it doesn’t feel like it because the hardline owners will not let him. If no deal, the players would need the vote of 230 players to blow up the union completely. Then the players could sue the owners on anti-trust grounds

If you put it to a vote of the entire players’ union right now, they likely would take Stern’s deal. He is counting on that, he is counting on the pressure working. Union leadership feels they have given everything they can, coming down from 57 percent of BRI to 51 percent in their latest offer. But they feel the owners are not meeting them halfway on system issues (such as the luxury tax and exceptions to it). They feel the owners are being unfair. Which is true, but moot.

Right now, union leadership is not taking Stern’s deal. And if not, decertification of the union looks more like a viable option for the players. The threat of it could force the owners to the table. Or, it could destroy the entire season. It’s a risk.

But it’s one the players have to take unless they want to give in.

Paul George says “I’m ready” to challenge LeBron James for supremacy in East

CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 29: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks for a pass while under pressure from Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on February 29, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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LeBron James is the best basketball player walking the face of the earth. The only guy who could start to challenge that supremacy the past couple of years has been Stephen Curry, and last season’s NBA Finals answered that question for now.

In the Eastern Conference, for years now it has been LeBron James and his team then a step back to everyone else — LeBron has been to six straight NBA Finals, four in Miami and the last two in Cleveland. Most pundits (myself included) think that’s going to be seven in-a-row because the Cavaliers are clear and away the class of the East.

Paul George says he and the Pacers are ready to change that narrative. Here is what he told Michael Lee of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“Honestly, I look at us challenging them. I’ve been in the East and I’ve been No. 1 with LeBron being on a team,” George told The Vertical in a recent telephone interview, harkening back to when the Pacers finished with the best regular-season record in the East in 2013-14, the season before his gruesome Team USA leg injury….

“I’ve always matched up with him like, ‘I know he can do this, I know he can do that,’ ” George told The Vertical about James. “Not in an awe fashion, but it’s more so, ‘I’m not supposed to win these games. This is supposed to be the best dude in the NBA. I’m trying to challenge him. I know what I’m up against.’ Now it’s, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready for you. I’m a veteran. I know you, you know me. Let’s meet here, let’s get this job done.’ I’m prepared. I’ve had time to figure this out. I’ve had time to lick my wounds. I’m ready.”

Good for George — this is exactly what you want an elite competitor and top player to say heading into the season. He sees Everest in front of him, and he wants to climb it.

I’m also higher on the Pacers than most; I think they are a top-four team in the East that can finish top two. They upgraded at the point with Jeff Teague, plus they added the underrated Thaddeus Young (although they will miss Solomon Hill) and depth up front with Al Jefferson. I don’t get Larry Bird pushing Frank Vogel out the door at all, but Nate McMillan is a solid NBA coach to take his place. I think the Pacers are taking a step forward this season, maybe a fairly significant one.

But they’re still not in the Cavaliers’ class.

The East is still Cleveland then everyone else. Last season Toronto won 56 games and had its best season in franchise history, and they were still a step or two below the Cavaliers. No team in the East — not the Raptors, not the Celtics, not the Pacers — are making up those steps. Unless injuries or something else unforeseen brings the Cavaliers back to the pack, the Eastern Conference once again will look like Secretariat at the Belmont.

Russell Westbrook says he will not kneel for national anthem “as of right now”

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook spins the ball as he poses for photos during the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day in Oklahoma City, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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Without question, some kneeling/raised fist protests of the National Anthem are coming to the NBA once preseason games start in a couple of weeks. Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers has already come out saying “there’s no more American thing to do than to protest.” Teams are discussing the need for social change.

While the NBA has a rule that players must stand for the anthem, the NBA and players’ union are already discussing exactly how and if that rule should be enforced.

While some players will kneel, Russell Westbrook will not be among them. Probably. Here’s is what he told Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript.

Obviously, Westbrook is leaving himself some wiggle room here. Also, if there is one NBA star you can expect to be blunt about the situation when talking to the media, it’s Westbrook (when he feels like opening up to the media, anyway).

I expect few if any of the NBA’s top stars — the guys with the biggest international brands — will join the protests. However, there certainly will be players taking part. For a league that sees itself as progressive — and has a more politically progressive fan base compared to other American sports — how the league handles this will be watched.

Timberwolves coach and president Tom Thibodeau thanks Kevin Garnett after retirement announcement

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics sits not he bench prior to Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs against the New York Knicks on April 28, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Tributes have poured in all over the NBA world since Kevin Garnett announced his retirement on Friday afternoon — from other players, commissioner Adam Silver and media members who covered him. Garnett and Tom Thibodeau have a lengthy history together: Thibodeau coached Garnett in Boston as an assistant under Doc Rivers, and they won a championship in 2008. This spring, Thibodeau took over as head coach and president of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team that drafted Garnett, saw his best years and saw him end his career. Thibodeau released a heartfelt statement on Saturday congratulating Garnett:

“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank Kevin for all of his great accomplishments and contributions to the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves organization, and for me personally with the Boston Celtics. Kevin combined great talent with a relentless drive and intelligence. I will always cherish the memories of the way in which he led the Celtics to the 2008 NBA Championship. His willingness to sacrifice and his unselfishness led us to that title. Kevin will always be remembered for the way in which he played the game. His fierce competitiveness, his unequalled passion for the game, and the many ways in which he cared about this team was truly special. KG is without question the all-time best player to wear a Minnesota Timberwolves jersey, and he is also one of the best to ever play this game.”

It’s a shame that Thibodeau didn’t get to coach Garnett again in Minnesota, but the team is in good hands with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Pacers unveil 50th anniversary patch for their uniforms (PHOTO)

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 28:  Leandro Barbosa #28 of the Indiana Pacers looks on against the New Jersey Nets at Prudential Center on March 28, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. 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 Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
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The Indiana Pacers have been a franchise for 50 years — 10 in the ABA and 40 in the NBA. To celebrate this anniversary, they’ve unveiled a new patch that they will wear on their uniforms this season. You can check it out below:

It looks pretty sleek, combining the Pacers’ logo with the zero in “50.” It’s subtle and well-designed.