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

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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.

Sincerely,

Matthew R. Moore

NBC Sports’ ProBasketballTalk.com

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

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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:

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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.

Warriors’ center Zaza Pachulia cleared to play in Game 1 of NBA Finals

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These playoffs, the Golden State Warriors have been 15.4 points per 100 possessions better when Zaza Pachulia is on the court as opposed to on the bench. That’s a bit misleading, the reason for the gaudy number is he rounds out the dominant starting lineup, which has outscored teams by 32.6 points per 100 this postseason (that is actually better than the legendary “death lineup” in these playoffs). Pachulia is just the first big in the rotation with four All-Star, powerhouse players, but he fills his role well.

Pachulia was slowed by a sore right heel against the Spurs but is 100 percent and ready to go for the Finals when they tip-off Thursday night at Oracle Arena. Here are the details via Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News.

Zaza Pachulia, the only injured Warrior rotation player late in the Spurs series, has participated in all parts of all three practices, without restriction on that sore right heel. He is on track to start Game 1 of The Finals on Thursday.

“We’ve done running, had scrimmages and he’s done everything,” Mike Brown said.

He will have a crucial role on the glass against the Cavaliers. Cleveland brings two dominant rebounders to the party with Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love (plus that LeBron James guy can get some boards), the Warriors will use Pachulia to counter. Before you roll your eyes, he had 13 boards in the second meeting of these teams in the regular season, a blowout Golden State win.

He’s the first big in a rotation of them the Warriors will throw at Cleveland — JaVale McGee may get a little time, but expect a lot of small-ball lineups from the Warriors. If Pachulia can give Golden State a solid 18 minutes a night where he is strong on the glass and helps protect the rim, it will be huge for them.

Pachulia is going to get his shot, he’ll be healthy and ready to go.