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Dear Mr. Thomas: A response to Etan Thomas’ Op-Ed


Etan Thomas published an op-ed on ESPN.com on the state of the labor talks, discussing 23… pause… questions surrounding the lockout. There’s a lot of quality things in there, but as always, there are two sides to every story. Except the story that Dan Gilbert, Paul Allen, Robert Sarver, and Michael Jordan should not have been involved in this process in any direct manner. That story’s pretty air-tight. Same for KG. But anyway, here’s some answers for Mr. Thomas and his questions. So I’m not block-quoting the entire material and stealing ESPN.com’s pageviews, I’d recommend opening it one tab and this in another.

1. Well, probably for players to stop commenting publicly on Twitter that they’d take it. Or stop telling the Washington Post that if they’re not going to get a better deal than 50/50 in the future that they should take it, like John Wall did. Or stop making it clear they’re not paying attention to the labor stuff by telling reporters “I’m not paying attention to the labor stuff.” And if you want the real answer to that question, maybe ask your agents why they think they can manipulate the union through the media the same way by putting in scare elements that don’t exist in the proposal like the D-League element. How’s about that?

2. Come on, now Mr. Thomas. If there’s one thing we’ve learned throughout the history of the NBA, there is always an owner overwilling to pay for a terrible player/team, much less a good one. Even with the restrictions, the big spender teams will still spend. And lots of smaller ones will too because they’ll think that championship is right there and that will make it worth it. Its’ a disincentive. Not a wall. The flex-cap? That’s a wall. They said they wanting to curtail spending. They came off the hard cap. It’s a ridiculous concession, I’ll agree. But let’s not act like the players or anyone else can predict how the owners will spend, especially when in the past it’s been “lots, in bad ways.”

3. I don’t think that’s what they think at all. Considering Adam Silver came out last time and said it was a hard pill to swallow, directly, in those words, they’re more than aware of how bad it is for you. That’s part of the power play. Let’s not act like they d think you’re too stupid to understand it’s a worse deal. They just don’t care. They’re being malicious, not short-sighted. That’s you guys. You’re the flip. Well-intentioned, not seeing the whole board.

4. Not for nothing, but I’m of the opinion that something described as an “exception” shouldn’t be used regularly. It should be used for certain circumstances. But I’m willing to bend there. The point with it only being for teams not in the tax (or cut in half as is currently reportedly proposed) would ring true here if you hadn’t just said no one would be in the tax. So which is it? No one will spend in the tax, or no one will use the MLE because they’re in the tax? Because otherwise, that MLE still exists as an option, just less of one. I’m not trying to tell you it’s great, or that it should have been cut as it has. I’m saying don’t spin that it’ll never be used. That’s rhetoric and everyone is sick of that from both sides.

5. Yes. And they were idiots for thinking that. Good for you guys for blasting the G.O.A.T. because he sold you out. It’s a disgraceful turn for someone there should have been no misconceptions about regarding his character off the floor. Great basketball player. But for that guy, who has been a part of a dozen horrible basketball business decisions to come in trying to bully you just because you had his posters on your wall when you were kids is an insult to your intelligence and conviction.

6. He expected you to take the deal because he’s exerting leverage. And considering the option of “bad deal nor or worse deal later” is still a choice, it’s reasonable for anyone to expect you to take the deal, opt-out in six years, and live to fight another day. It’s understandable you want to fight. But you’re making this personal from Stern, and it’s on that level that they’ve managed to get you on tilt throughout this process. The more you react emotionally as a union, the worse it’s gotten. If you want to get leverage back, raging at the machine is not the path.

7.  Again, because that makes logical sense. I likened it this week to people being upset that an innocent man wouldn’t take a plea bargain. Everyone thinks “if you’re going to be convicted anyway, you take the deal, spend less time, and go on with your life.” But the innocent man can’t accept that, because he’s innocent. The problem is that you’re not going to prison. You’re still getting paid a great wage for your work, still going to have another chance at changing things back in six years, still going to be some of the best paid entertainers in the world. It’s not fair. But it’s logical to take the deal. If you don’t, that’s fine, but don’t get indignant that fans and media want you to save that nose just because you hate the face.

8. Woah, woah, woah, there, Mr. Thomas. This has made me nuts all week. The sports media has never  been as friendly to you as they have been throughout this process. You don’t want people questioning why it is that you’re paid as much as you are to play a game? How about you not question the hard work that has proven to be responsible on the part of a group of journalists who wanted to cover you guys actually dribbling and shooting instead of wandering in and out of meetings in sweaters and hoodies? (Not you, Mr. Thomas, your taste in suits has been impeccable. Speaking of which, where’d you get that vest last week?) The NBA media has repeatedly pointed out to the public you’re not the ones who started this, you’re not the ones being unreasonable. So why do you insist on repeatedly coming after them just because it’s convenient? It’s cheap, easy, and reeks of hypocrisy after your comments about not coming after athletes in labor talks just because they’re paid well.

9. But you won the last labor deal, according to anyone who considers such things. And the 2005 showdown. Your point is valid, but that speaks more to the nature of business than anything. Also, if you knew this was how it would be from so far back, why are you so woefully unprepared each time it happens?

10. Done. Great idea. No kidding. If they’re so bad at making money with the NBA, they should get out of the “making money with the NBA” business.

11. Mostly because that’s a drop in the bucket and most of those contracts aren’t negotiated by agents who (very successfully) blow up the costs. If you want to aim for cutting costs instead of player salaries, you should have gone with “how about not overspending on our buffet meals,” or “how about we ride coach,” or “quit giving the media pre-game meals.” Are you happy, Mr. Thomas? I’m now going to get the crap beat out of me by beat writers everywhere.

12. Not a bad idea. Unfortunately not enough media will cover it, rendering it without power. You need an icon, and sadly, you guys are it and you make too much to curry the public’s favor. It’s unfortunate, but it’s how it is.

13. Um, well, yes, that’s how that would work, there, Mr. Thomas. It’s not exactly rocket science.

14. There are quite a few who think the players also make up that 1 percent and that’s not helped by some of the political statements of your colleagues, or the lack thereof, despite the massive amount of charity work and funds you and your colleagues have raised. Speaking of, you are aware of how much charitable work and funds are lost every day the lockout continues, right? You didn’t start it, but if you want a reason to end it, I’d implore you to consider that as one. Greater good, sir.

15. There are, and not to try and speak for the Occupy Wall Street Movement (the only thing I occupy is my couch with my kid when “Sesame Street” is on), but the reality is that the Occupy Wall Street Movement is at least on its surface fighting a perceived oppression and corruption. It’s hard to ague the NBA players face either when the worst case scenario here is that you still make hundreds of thousands of dollars per month. It’s just a rough comparison. It’s not without merit, though, at least on an intellectual level.

16. If this was Nike being occupied, how would you and the players feel?

17. There have been studies that say that won’t happen. They’ll always come back. The economic terrors that face us don’t make people turn on sports, it makes them turn to it as a distraction. Considering the socio-economic background of the vast majority of the NBA (Spencer Hawes as an obvious example of an exception), players don’t need to be educated on how bad it is under the poverty line, obviously. But shouldn’t that serve to grant them perspective on the minor gap they’re fighting over?

18. Their response is obviously that if higher competition (which, let’s be clear, I think is a sham in the context of their demands, but we’re going to humor them for a moment) will lead to more fan participation, which will drive revenues and popularity, which leads to higher ratings which leads to stronger revenues overall and more money for the players despite a 57 percent cut. It’s easy to argue the league is being unreasonable. Arguing this will make the league demonstrably worse is a bit trickier. If you want to go that route? Aim for the “fans like trades and flexibility” swing. That will go over much better than “their proposal makes the league worse!” That won’t fly well with most.

19. No. They don’t care. And I’m not saying the media does a better job. We do worse, because we just get used by both sides. Nothing will impact the owners. They’re hiding behind limousine windows and will do what they want. The only threat is a legal one, and if you’re truly as educated as I believe you are, Mr. Thomas, you know that’s not a viable strategy.

20. Kudos to you for wanting to take race out of it. I’m not an expert on races so I can’t speak to it. But there certainly is a perception issue to the fact that so many of the owners are white and so many of the players and their leadership are black. It’s an uncomfortable subject for everyone but probably one that needs to be discussed, especially since so many of the owners’ positions seem to be reactions to LeBron James’ and Carmelo Anthony’s exertion of power over the past year. They don’t like that the players have exerted power and control over their lives. And that position has a number of ugly side-effects.

21. Because of your own union’s position that they are fighting not just for themselves, but for the rights of future players. The union has long made this into a moral fight, not just an economic one. I won’t pretend to say I know which of the two it truly is, it’s probably a mix of both. But for Jordan to have fought that fight and then completely bailed when it was convenient for him speaks of a betrayal of values, of as selfish, self-centered approach most people don’t like. Jordan doesn’t have to care they don’t like it, but it would be irresponsible of the media, the players, and fans to paint an excuse for Jordan just because he’s popular.

22. I just got done talking about that, so I won’t follow-up, except to say that if the players really believe that the owners are being greedy and that greed is bad, they need to keep that in mind the next time their agent goes into a negotiation to pull in more than that player is worth. You can argue against selfishness and greed, but you need to hold to it. Otherwise, admit everyone’s greedy and move on. That’s what most people do.

23. My dad raised me to believe that you can’t let people bully you. You have to stand up for yourself, and you have to draw the line for yourself. But let’s be clear. Most people in this country really would be happy to just be able to earn the wage you and your colleagues can. They don’t need as much money as you make to live the lives they want to lead. It’s unreasonable for the owners to have asked what they have, it’s in my non-legal opinion that the league has failed to bargain in good faith, from the length between negotiating sessions to their intractable approach, and it’s clear that you’re going to get screwed when this process is over, regardless. But you need to acknowledge that not everyone would fight for this, that is a choice you’re making as a union. If you explain those reasons better, without stupid hashtags or off-the-cuff statements (hint: insulting the work of MA students is not the way), and manage to keep JaVale McGee locked in a closet (or at least in the Philippines), you’ll do better. Your position is reasonable, if not always sympathetic, but don’t forget that the customers who feel you should take the deal aren’t always being selfish or ignorant, they just have a different perspective.

And seriously, someone buy Matt Bonner a suit.

Thanks your time you likely did not grant me, Mr. Thomas.


Matthew R. Moore

NBC Sports’ ProBasketballTalk.com

Doc Rivers: Clippers might blow up roster if they fall short this season

Chris Paul, Blake Griffin DeAndre Jordan, Doc Rivers
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The Clippers have gone 56-26, 57-25 and 56-26 the last three years – clearing the commonly accepted 55-win bar for championship contention.

But they’ve also won only zero, one and one playoff series in that span.

Zach Lowe of Grantland:

The Clippers have had three cracks at it with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan all in their primes, and they’re not afraid to admit the fourth could be their last — that another flameout will force them to ask whether the core has grown stale.

“We’re right on the borderline,” Doc Rivers tells Grantland during a long sit-down at his office. “I have no problem saying that. I’m a believer that teams can get stale. After a while, you don’t win. It just doesn’t work. We’re right at the edge. Oklahoma City is on the edge. Memphis, too. We just have to accept it.”

I disagree with Rivers.

It’s so hard to assemble a roster that can win a title, and the Clippers absolutely have one. If they fall short this season, they’ll probably still have a title-contending roster the following year. They shouldn’t throw that away just for the sake of change.

Paul (30), Jordan (27) and Griffin (26) are young enough for the Clippers to remain patient.

Rivers makes a good point later in Lowe’s article:

“You need luck in the West,” he says. “Look at Golden State. They didn’t have to play us or the Spurs. But that’s also a lesson for us: When you have a chance to close, you have to do it.”

The Warriors were the NBA’s best team last season, but they also got plenty of breaks. That’s why they won the title.

The Clippers might need more luck to win a championship, but it wouldn’t be an overwhelming amount. The better a team is, the less luck it needs. The Grizzlies can probably win a title with all the right breaks, but they need more than the Clippers.

It’s about being good enough to win with the right breaks.

The Clippers are that. They’ll probably be that unless they do something drastic.

Unless a lopsided trade comes around, I’d stick with Paul, Griffin and Jordan until they really prove they can’t win together. That would take years. A team not winning a title is not proof it can’t win a title. Every year, multiple teams can win a championship. Obviously, only one does.

Rivers has it good with his big three. This shouldn’t be a make-or-break year for them.

51 Q: Which coaches start the year on the hot seat?

Lionel Hollins
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Going into every season, there are a few coaches under pressure to perform or risk losing their jobs. This season, the operative word there is “few.” Looking around the NBA, most coaches are either new on the job or aren’t in any real danger of losing theirs. There are five brand-new coaches: Billy Donovan (Oklahoma City), Fred Hoiberg (Chicago), Alvin Gentry (New Orleans), Michael Malone (Denver) and Scott Skiles (Orlando). The coaches they replaced were mostly the ones whose names often came up in these discussions. Practically everywhere else, there is either a long track record of success or clear signs that ownership is happy with the job the coach is doing. Coaches who are actually on the hot seat are few and far between. But here are a few who might find themselves in trouble if their teams underperform:

Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix Suns): Two years ago, Hornacek was a Coach of the Year candidate for taking a team that was supposed to be one of the league’s very works and making them into almost a playoff team. Last season was another near-miss. This season, the Suns are once again on the bubble of being a playoff team — there’s a chance they could grab the eighth seed in the Western Conference, if a lot goes right. Hornacek deserves a lot of credit for their sooner-than-expected success. The only reason he’s on this list is the potential for a chemistry disaster on this roster. Between Markieff Morris‘ situation and another attempt at a two-point guard lineup (this time with Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight), there’s a lot that could go wrong, and if the Suns fall out of playoff contention. Hornacek could find himself in a little hot water. But that’s unlikely.

Lionel Hollins (Brooklyn Nets): Hollins has always felt like something of a short-term solution in Brooklyn. The Nets tried going young at the head coaching spot with Jason Kidd, who clashed with management over control before leaving for Milwaukee. This Nets roster is middling at best — some solid veterans, not a lot of young talent, no future hope to speak of unless they land a marquee free agent next summer. Their ceiling is the eighth seed and a first-round exit; their floor is a lot worse than that. It would take a catastrophic start to the year for Hollins to lose his job during the season, but there isn’t exactly a lot of long-term security in his position.

Derek Fisher (New York Knicks): It’s hard to see Phil Jackson firing his protege less than two years in, but the Knicks enter the season with the goal of competing for a playoff spot and a lot of potential to be worse than that. Don’t rule out James Dolan stepping in.

Steve Clifford (Charlotte Hornets): Clifford’s chances of losing his job during the season basically disappeared when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went down with a shoulder injury that will likely keep him out the entire season. Without their best perimeter defender, the Hornets’ expectations are a lot lower than they would have been. Now, it’s hard to see them competing seriously for a playoff spot unless Jeremy Lamb makes a huge leap and proves himself capable of being an NBA-caliber starter. If they’re even competitive, it will be an enormous credit to Clifford, who is well-regarded around the league. The story would have been different if they had entered the season with a healthy roster and underperformed, but the MKG injury likely buys Clifford a year before this conversation starts up again.