Monday’s probably it for the 2011-2012 NBA season

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This isn’t scare-journalism. I’m not being sensationalist, over-dramatic, or jumping to conclusions. I have ducked and dodged this scenario for as long as possible, believing there was always another chance, always another bargaining session, always another scenario that could happen to avoid it. But I can’t get around it any longer. They’ve broken me, and I’ve come to the conclusion based on everything in the past two days that it is inescapable.

The 2011-2012 NBA season is really, actually going to be cancelled. You may be saying “I knew this for months!” or something similarly cynical, but no one knew. They were talking. Not as early as they should have, but they were talking. No one knew how it would end. But here we are. We’re not going to have a season.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute, for all of us, before I continue.

The players’ union is set to pursue decertification after rejecting the league’s latest offer. I’m not going to rehash the issues or break down the MLE. I’m not going to point out how the players are just seeing what’s directly in front of them instead of the whole board and how, regardless of their consideration of threat, the offer must get worse from here on out to recoup the owners’ losses. I’m not going to rail on the owners for their continued program of bullying, intransigence, obtuseness and outright disdain for the lives, jobs, and joy of millions of people.

Let’s instead start here:

What I know for sure: David Stern didnt arbitrarily arrive at 72-game offer. To have a season, Im told, Stern insists on at least 70 games. League VERY unhappy w/50-game sked in ’99. Sources say Stern has conveyed to union deal must come soon so 2011-12 game count can start w/a 70-game season.

via Twitter / @ESPNSteinLine: What I know for sure: Davi ….

You may be one that responds with “Of course the league is leaking such thing to the media! He wants to put pressure on them to take the deal!” And that’s fine. That’s what this has come to. It’s down to whether you believe the league is bluffing or not. The players either think Stern’s bluffing, or don’t care. But to step back and look at it, it’s hard to believe the league has come this far down the path of playing “chicken” with any intention of swerving. This whole thing has been lead by forces which are irrational. They’re squabbling over a sign-and-trade for tax teams which has been used three times in ten years, for crying out loud. They’re arguing over table scraps, after they’ve taken half of the players’ food to begin with.

And for the players, there’s no one to say “step back and see the whole board.” The union’s entire plan has been predicated on living day-to-day, moment-to-moment, game-to-game. They’re taking it one game at a time, and it’s killing them.

“How about this deal?”

“No, we don’t like that. Rejected.”

“How about his deal?”

“No, we don’t like that. Rejected.”

“OK, this is our last offer before things get monumentally worse for everyone because we can’t control the forces on our side.”

“No, we don’t like that. Rejected.”

There’s no sense of what comes after they reject this, because the players are reacting emotionally to what’s right in front of their faces. The people who usually are looking out for them long-term? Those are the agents, who are looking at this long term, they’re just looking at it long-term for all players and all agents, ever, not for this group. Based on an infinite time-table, nuking the entire thing and risking everything on a decertification and lawsuit ploy that according to experts has a snowball’s chance in hell of working, and even less of a chance of being sustainable through the appeals process for the players who won’t have the funds to fight this thing to the need, that ploy is still preferable to the agents that swallowing this deal. Fighting is better than not-fighting and coming back in seven years. For the players, they don’t see that. They just see a group of owners who don’t care about their injuries, their wives and kids, their livelihoods, their game, and have bullied, pushed, prodded, and insulted them for two years. They’re reacting emotionally.

“You want a fight? Fine. Let’s fight.”

No one’s thinking rationally, no one’s thinking clear-headed, no one’s thinking big picture. It’s the Cold War, only without the economic and geographic realities to keep the two sides separated. The owners think the players will buckle, the players think the owners are bluffing. Each side’s going to die in this, everyone’s going to lose.

Except hockey. Hockey should make out pretty well.

In July I thought it would be settled by early November. In October I thought maybe Christmas. Now I can’t see it. The optimists are out of hope. Hope is stupid. The only thing being driven here is power and money and ego, and there’s nothing to derail the train. The only way to prove to the other side that they’re not afraid to kill the season is for both sides to kill the season.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe cooler heads will prevail at the players’ meeting Monday. Maybe the threat of decert will magically scare an organization almost entirely lead by lawyers into continuing negotiations on their offer. Maybe … maybe… maybe…

I’m out of maybes. The league’s out of maybes. The players are out of maybes. All that’s left is the press of a button, a mushroom cloud, and a nuclear winter for professional basketball. I’m not even angry anymore. I’m out of energy to be livid at the owners, frustrated with the players, disappointed in leadership. I’m just sorry for every parking lot attendant, concession worker, six-year old fan who would have seen his or her first game, every lifelong fan with season tickets, every writer looking forward to doing what they do best, every player whose career gets irreparably damaged, every community who gets a chunk of their economy removed, every blog writer and every fan, everywhere.

It all ends Monday.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

image

The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.