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Players consolidate lawsuits, but court ordered talks best hope

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If you were holding out hope that David Stern and Billy Hunter were going to be having pleasant phone conversations over the holiday weekend, and that the NBA on Christmas still could happen, well, we’re sorry.

The next NBA owners and players negotiations will likely be because a judge ordered them, a source close to the labor dispute told ProBasketballTalk.

Those talks — and maybe a settlement out of them — would happen in the coming weeks, in time to have a partial NBA season. And when those talks start there will be significant pressure on both sides to reach an agreement, more than there has been at any point up to now.

On Monday, the players voluntarily withdrew their case in Northern California and will amend their case in Minnesota. It is now a consolidated case of the two, but still a class action on behalf of the players, something attorneys for the players said would speed the process along. Carmelo Anthony remains the first name on the lawsuit, other players listed include Chauncey Billups, Kevin Durant, Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo and more.

The league responded to that with some legal jabs, because that’s what they do.

“We assume that (lead players attorney David) Boies was not happy with either the reassignment of the case from Oakland to San Francisco or the fact that the new judge scheduled the first conference for March 2012,” said Rick Buchanan, NBA Executive Vice President and General Counsel. “This is consistent with Mr. Boies’ inappropriate shopping for a forum that he can only hope will be friendlier to his baseless legal claims.”

The league was forum shopping with its preemptive lawsuit back in August, but whatever. The league has until Dec. 5 to answer the claim, they likely will do by calling the union’s “disclaimer of interest” a sham. Bottom line for fans, if it comes to the judge deciding this case you can kiss the current season goodbye. Fans need to hope for a different resolution.

Over the weekend, we had passed along a report that there had been some recent “back channel” negotiations going on between the league and the players association.

That talk is “nothing significant” PBT was told. That’s not going to help.

Instead the battle remains on the antitrust legal front. The players’ attorneys are pushing for summary judgment (not an injunction, as the NFL tried and failed to get). Still, summary judgment hearings would not happen until the spring (April or May), which means by then the 2011-12 NBA season would be lost.

Hope of a partial season springs from the fact in the next few weeks (likely after Dec. 5) we can expect the judge to order more mediated negotiations between the two sides, PBT was told. Mandated mediation is commonly part of anti-trust lawsuits, essentially a chance for the judge to make sure the two sides really want to go down this path. To give the sides one more chance to settle their differences without a judge involved. (It is possible one side picks up the phone and calls the other to ask for a negotiating session, but that is the less likely scenario. The owners have said they wouldn’t do that and players attorney Boies said he would not because the league is not receptive.)

A judge likely will order mediated negotiations by the middle of December if not before, according to the source. Talks would start soon after. This would be similar to the talks when federal mediator George Cohen sat down with the sides last month.

The one key difference would be the level of pressure on both sides to figure this out — the players do not want to lose a season of salary ($2.2 billion), the owners do not want to lose a season of revenue (at a much higher percentage for them than the last deal), plus neither side wants to damage the game by costing a full season. What is the point of fighting over how to divide up the revenue pie if the pie itself gets smaller?

In addition, the threat of summary judgment — which would certainly be a huge loss for whichever side did not convince the judge of its case — is another motivation for both sides to figure this out.

The challenge is that people from both the owners and players have suggested they will come into the next negotiations with the last offer they made off the table. Stern has threatened a “reset” offer of 47 percent of BRI for the players and a “flex cap” that is really a hard cap. The players have suggested in kind their last offer of a 50/50 BRI split with more system issues leaning in their favor is something the owners may never see again.

This is not where either side wanted to end up. Union officials have said that the disclaimer of interest was the route of last resort — they wanted to negotiate in good faith. That’s why they didn’t decertify in July or August, they thought this could be worked out. After David Stern’s last ultimatum they felt they had no choice. League officials will tell you they expected this — which is why they filed a preemptive suit back in August — and that the union had bad timing to do disclaim interest now. The league says it has given far more than many owners wanted just to make a deal.

For better or worse, the courts are involved now. For fans they can just hope that the upcoming mediation sessions will turn out different than the last ones.

Kevin Hart, Draymond Green get in All-Star Saturday three-point shootout

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TORONTO — This is going to come up in the Golden State locker room.

Right before Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry put on a three-point shooting exhibition, actor/comedian/self-promotor Kevin Hart came out and challenged Draymond Green to a shooting contest. Green was ready to go. They did the three-point shooting contest, and Green put up a total of 12 (which would have been dead last in the actual three-point contest, for the record).

Then Hart stepped up — and tied him with 12 points.

Steve Kerr, if you’re ever looking for a lineup to go REALLY small….

Other All-Stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant’s legacy

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TORONTO — This is Kobe Bryant‘s weekend.

In what will be his final All-Star Game, he has been an absolute rock star in Toronto — huge ovations, huge crowds (of fans and media), and cameras trained on him everywhere he goes. The weekend has been a celebration of one of the game’s all-time greats and a storied career.

Over the course of the weekend, nearly every other All-Star has been asked about Kobe and the impact he’s had both on the game and on the players, personally. For many of them, this is personal, the younger NBA players grew up idolizing him. Here are a sampling of their responses.

James Harden (Houston Rockets):
“He’s been my idol growing up, my basketball idol. Like I said, just watching him play meant everything to me. So this is his last year, and he’s going to retire, and there’s going to be no more Kobe Bryant playing basketball, it’s kind of sad. It’s kind of sad about that, but at some point he had to go.”

Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors):
“He’s the Michael Jordan of our era. He’s the most competitive player we’ve played against, and the thing he’s done throughout his career and the things he’s done to change the game, to motivate the players is unbelievable.”

Chris Bosh (Miami Heat):
“Kobe, this is his weekend. I know he probably would never say that or admit that, but, yeah, he’s one of the iconic players of this — greatest iconic players this league has ever had. He’s had such an imprint on our childhood. I know he had an imprint on my childhood. And then I was in that mix where I was a kid, and then I was trying to figure it out in the NBA, and next thing you know you’re competing against him. So, it’s been crazy.”

DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors):
“I grew up watching the Lakers. I grew up watching him his whole career and getting a chance to have a relationship with him and kind of, you know, patterned my game after him so to speak, so definitely speaks volumes.”

Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder):
“Me growing up in Los Angeles and being able to see Kobe, obviously he’s one of the greatest players to play the game. It was a true honor to be able to learn from him. It’s a great experience to be able to learn different things from him, not just on the floor but off the floor as well and very different experiences.”

Tyrone Lue (Coach, Cleveland Cavaliers):
“When I first got there (playing for the Lakers) he was still young. He was Kobe, but he hadn’t been a starter yet. And that third year of his career, that was my first year, Rick Fox went down, and he stepped in and took a starting role. But just seeing the film he watched all the time, the players he was talking about, the Oscar Robertsons, Michael Jordans, the Magics, he knew from day one who he wanted to be like. He knew that to be the best, you had to work hard. That’s what he did every single day. Not one day did I see him take off.”

Paul George (Indiana Pacers):
“He was just fearless. He’s a champion. To get to where you want to get to, you have to put the work in. His work ethic is one thing that he has. That’s the reason why he’s so great.”

Paul Millsap (Atlanta Hawks):
“The only thing I can remember is him always beating us when I was at Utah in the playoffs. We always had to try to overcome the Lakers and Kobe Bryant and just could never do it.”

John Wall (Washington Wizards):
“Basically, the Michael Jordan of our era is what I see with all of his dedication to the game, his competitive drive. He’s one of those guys that always wants the ball in a tough situation. No matter the circumstances, he believes in himself, no matter what.”

Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic):
“I watched Kobe growing up and watched him in the All-Star Game. The impact he’s had on my basketball game and in my life and so many other people, it’s really big. It’s astronomical. That’s Kobe. That’s the man.”

Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors):
“He’s meant so much to the game. Growing up in the era that I did, Kobe was that guy. So to play in an All-Star Game with him, I mean, that’s special. I grew up a Kobe fan, so it’s something that’s really special.”

C.J. McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers):
“He’s had a huge impact (on me). Obviously for us, he was the Michael Jordan of our era, a guy we watched. He emulated Michael. He had a lot of the same fadeaways, sticking out his tongue, winning championships. Just a sense of self to understand exactly what it takes to be successful. So for us, he was a guy I looked up to. His work ethic, his understanding and he knew how to bounce back from losses and shooting air balls in the playoffs as a rookie to hitting game winners.”

Watch it again: Epic dunk contest duel between Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon

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TORONTO — I am always hesitant to say a player/team/situation is one of the best of ever because the history of the NBA is filled with greats. We tend to overstate how good something current can be.  That said…

That was one of the best dunk contests ever.

Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon put on a show for the ages. Gordon had the best dunks of the night (in my opinion), but LaVine is consistently amazing, every dunk he does is flat out ridiculous.

Officially, LaVine won. In reality, we all won. Enjoy watching it one more time.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.