Deron Williams, Avery Johnson, Billy King

First real tests of new labor deal will be Howard, Paul, Williams


Chris Bosh is right. Part of what is fueling this hardline stance by owners is about Miami and New York. This is what I mean.

What LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony did last year shook small market owners to their core. Those guys pay the bills for owners, yet franchise cornerstones moved on because they didn’t like what Cleveland and Denver had built around them. Owners want to be able to keep their stars (but make it easier to move role players around them) and the last offer from David Stern and the owners was built to do that.

Which makes Dwight Howard, Deron Williams and Chris Paul — next summer’s big free agents — the real test cases for owners.

If Williams decides to leave the Nets next summer, and the latest offer from the owners had been the approved, it would have cost him $25 million, according to Nets Daily.

Whether there’s a season or not, if the Nets re-sign Williams to a new contract this summer, he will be owed roughly $101 million over five years. But if he opts out of his $17.7 million final year and signs with a new team, he’ll get $76 million over four. That’s $25 million.

How so? The owners’ final proposal (much of which the players agreed to) permits teams who hold “Bird Rights” on their own players to re-sign them to five-year deals with 6.5% increase. That drops to four years with 3.5% increases for new teams.

He’s right. But a lot of that was in place for LeBron and Bosh and it didn’t matter.

Cleveland could offer one more year (a sixth, Miami could only offer five) and bigger raises to LeBron, which meant their offer in total was about $30 million more guaranteed than anyone else. And LeBron still left and actually took less than max money to get out of Cleveland (they did a shotgun sign-and-trade that let LeBron and Bosh get a sixth year, but both were gone either way). It may be harder for teams to create cap space under the new system, but teams will do it — how many teams contorted themselves to make room for LeBron? Miami stripped their roster down to two players to make their move.

It’s hard for any team to keep stars. Kobe Bryant almost left the Lakers in 2004, and that’s a destination team. Tim Duncan is an exception to the rule and there were still temptations for him to leave San Antonio, but they had built a team around him that could win rings. Elite players are going to be well compensated, so even if a team can offer more money it will be about the secondary factors — is this a team that can win a title? Do I want to live here?

That’s where New York and Miami and a handful of other cities will always have an advantage. And while the small market owners may have better financial footing under any new labor deal, they will still struggle to keep their stars if the organization is not well run. It’s always going to be that way. Sorry.

But we’ll see what the Nets, Magic and Hornets are able to do with the new rules. Whenever we get them.

51 Questions: Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

Michael Malone
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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

One incident sums up how bad things had gotten in Denver under the Brian Shaw regime — breaking a fourth-quarter huddle in the final game of February, Nuggets players chanted “1-2-3-six weeks!”

The players didn’t like the coach, some of them didn’t like each other, and with six weeks and 24 games left in the season they had checked out. The young players (and some of the veterans) partied so much Shaw canceled shootarounds because guys couldn’t roll in for them in the morning. Shaw had lost the team long before when he’d tried to fit square pegs into the triangle holes of his offense, and it spiraled out of control from there. The culture in Denver was broken.

Mike Malone was brought in to repair that culture.

The Jeff Van Gundy disciple has shown he can do that before. Malone was starting to build something in Sacramento (they started last season 9-6 before DeMarcus Cousins got sick), where he was asked to repair a franchise culture that by the end of the Maloof era was something akin to the Lord of the Flies. Malone also turned out to be the one coach who had gotten through to Cousins. Even with his defensive mindset and Cousins in the paint, Malone had the Kings playing at the eighth-fastest pace in the league in pace, but the Kings’ owner wanted to play faster (and maybe didn’t want to miss out on the chance to hire George Karl), so Malone got sacked.

The question becomes, is Malone alone going to turn things around in Denver and bring them back to relevance?

Not alone, and not just in one season, but he will get them on the right track.

The first step to show management was behind Malone was the trading of Ty Lawson. No doubt when focused Lawson is a quality point guard (as Houston likely benefits from this season), but he was part of the problem in the end in Denver, to the point of picking up two DUIs in six months (he checked into a rehab facility after the second one). He had mentally checked out and his example was an issue the Nuggets needed to change.

That turns the keys for the offense over to rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who impressed a lot of people at Summer League after bailing on SMU to play in China last season. But he’s still a rookie with a long way to go — as the 15 turnovers in his first two preseason games attest. Things that worked in China and Summer League don’t fly against an NBA defense.

With Mudiay at the point and a team that plays half its games at high altitude, Monroe wants to take advantage of that and get out and run. Expect the Nuggets to get back to their traditional up-tempo games, but with some things Malone loves to run (such as the Rick Adelman corner action).

But for Malone, all things — including good transition basketball — starts with defense. You have to get stops and steals to run well, and the Nuggets were 26th in the league in defensive rating last season (105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). In the first two Nuggets preseason games, that was the Nuggets focus (with mixed results).

Malone’s challenge starts with getting Kenneth Faried to buy in and play as hard on defense as he does on offense — something Faried has never done. Faried has been a defensive minus since he entered the NBA and that becomes one of Malone’s first major projects (even if it’s just to boost Faried’s trade value). Faried, who clashed with Shaw over his role, has said he’s felt energized under Malone, now the coach just has to steer that energy to the defensive end of the court.

Malone will be searching for the right center to put next to Faried, and I expect that will mean a lot of Jusuf Nurkic (who is young and shows it at times). But also expect to see some small-ball lineups with Faried at the five. Something like Mudiay, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Faried. A lineup with some athleticism and shooting that could put up points, but would they get any stops? If Gary Harris slots in for Foye, does that help the defense (Harris is guy Nuggets fans may see more and more of as the season goes on).

The roster is a work in progress, and if you were to bet on the Nuggets doing one thing this season, it should be making trades. Things are going to change.

There are nice pieces on the Nuggets, but not enough of them and with some real questions about how it all fits together. This is not a playoff team this season, not in the West.

But it’s a team that Malone could have playing a lot better late in the season than at the beginning, once some of those questions start to be answered, and the young players gain experience. That should be the goal in Denver. Begin to change the culture, get buy-in on the system, get guys playing hard again rather than dreaming of Cancun vacations by February. Change can be incremental, but Malone will start the change.

Then in a couple of years, you’ve got the team you want.

Well, so long as the Nuggets ownership doesn’t get impatient and decide it needs to change directions again.

Another Pelicans center down: Omer Asik out three weeks

Omer Asik, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver
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The Pelicans will have to play Anthony Davis at center now.

With backup center Alexis Ajinca already sidelined, starting center Omer Asik suffered his own injury.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that center Omer Asik is expected to miss the next three weeks with a right calf strain. The injury occurred during Wednesday’s practice.

If that three-week timeline is firm, Asik would miss two regular season games – at Warriors and at Trail Blazers.

Davis figured to be the most natural fit at center in Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo scheme. What happens if the Pelicans excel with him there and then stumble once Asik and Ajinca return? Because New Orleans had Bird Rights for Asik and Ajinca, re-signing them made some sense. And once they’re re-signed, Gentry must find a role for them. But that could get harder if it becomes obvious the team is best with Davis at center.

As long as Asik and Ajinca are out, Kendrick Perkins probably moves into the rotation. Jeff Adrien could also see minutes at center. Suddenly, Adrien, on an unguaranteed contract, has a much better chance of making the regular-season roster. Ryan Anderson probably plays more at power forward, too, with Davis logging more time at center.