Don’t think for a second owners’ latest offer is what fans want

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Let’s be honest about what you really like — trades and teams full of stars.

You like seeing basketball, too, which makes the new offer from NBA owners appealing to fans. Because it means 72 games and a full playoffs, basically a normal season. I want to see it in place for the same reasons.

You may get it (not that we have any say) but know that the owners offer — the parts the players are opposing of it particularly — goes against what fans have shown they want.

The owners have preached “competitive balance” and sold it sort of like the NFL’s parity. The NBA is never going to have the parity of the NFL (because the stars of the NBA control the game much more and are so much better than their peers). But that’s not really what is at the heart of all this. Small market owners watched LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony control the process, take all the power and force their way where they wanted to be. The owners want that power back.

I know what is coming in the comments — you say you want that, too. You’ll say that you want Grizzlies to be able to compete with the Lakers every year. You say you don’t want the Knicks to make all the big trades. You’ll say you want sanity in the system.

The numbers tell a different story. The numbers being every measure of fan interest we can find, whether it is television ratings or Internet traffic or ticket sales.

You love trades and free agency — there is a reason traffic on this and every other NBA web site peaks in July, not during the finals but during free agency. You love rumors. Love them. You love to read about and talk player movement. We all love to play armchair GM. There is a huge traffic and interest boost in February as the trading deadline nears for the same reason.

This new deal from the owners is designed to restrict the kind of big trades you clearly want to see (hence more restrictions on tax spending teams). Sure, there will be plenty of smaller trades and we can get excited about Sasha Vujacic getting moved for cash considerations. But the small market owners want to keep their stars. Those are the guys that sell tickets and bring in sponsors and boost local television ratings and they don’t want them all going to New York and Los Angeles and Miami.

Thing is, you love teams loaded with stars. You may say you hate the Miami Heat, but you watched them and bought their gear in record numbers. Ratings were up last season and the Heat and Knicks were the primary reasons. When you talk about the golden age of the NBA, you talk about the Jordan era when the Bulls dominated the league, or the 1980s when the Lakers or Celtics won eight out of nine titles. That’s when the ratings were highest.

What’s frustrating about the lockout is they figured out the money part of the lockout, mostly. That was supposed to be the hard part of getting a new NBA labor deal, but the players have gone all the way back to a 50/50 split of revenue, giving enough money back to cover what the owners said they lost (even if we don’t buy their math).

We’ll see what happens with the offer the owners made. We may get our wish and get basketball. But know that while David Stern and Adam Silver are selling this deal as good for the fans, it really isn’t. It’s just very good for the owners.

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.

Take a look back at just how great Shaq was with the Lakers (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.

His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.

Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.

 

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”