Labor talks focused on mid-level exception, 66-game season

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As PBT and other outlets have already reported, the attorneys for the NBA owners and players are talking Wednesday.

The goal — to reach a deal in the next few days, one that can have the NBA starting games on Christmas Day. That’s the day seen as the NBA’s second opening day by many around the league, the day of the first games on national broadcast television when more casual fans start to really notice the league. It’s a day of marquee matchups — the scheduled ones this season were Boston at New York, Miami at Dallas (a finals rematch) and finally Chicago at the Los Angeles Lakers.

However, this week’s talks are a little different than previous ones — were always a lot of attorneys in the negotiating room, but now they are the ones driving the bus. The question becomes are they able to drive it to a deal?

Here are three update notes out of the talks.

First, David Stern is canvasing owners to see if he can offer the full mid-level exception to all teams regardless of where they are on the luxury tax scale, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

The MLE was a sticking point in the last talks. The players want higher spending teams — the taxpayers such as the Lakers and Mavericks — to have the ability to spend the MLE to bring in role players to go around their stars. The owners did not want that — the hardliners want to rein in the spending of the bigger market teams and saw this as a way. The owners proposal called for a mini mid-level of $3 million that could not be used every year.

The second note is that if a deal can be struck this weekend and games would start Christmas day, there would be a 66-game season, according to Howard Beck of the New York Times.

That would be a more condensed schedule than the 50-game one of the 1999 season, which saw back-to-back-to back games for teams. Teams will get tired and worn down in that schedule.

Third, and finally, remember that this is not a labor negotiation any longer. It is a bit of semantics, but this is now a lawsuit settlement conference, the sides are talking about the terms to settle the NBA players’ antitrust lawsuits against the league.

Bottom line, if the attorneys can find a compromise on the key issues — division of revenues, structure for the salary cap and exceptions, etc… — then the union will be reformed (and the lawsuits dropped), the “B list” issues (draft age restrictions, drug testing, and the like) will be hammered out and the deal will be voted on by both sides. Games would start in a month.

For the fan, the function is the same, these are negotiations. But the language is different. It’s a bunch of lawyers.

Check out Lakers’ stretch of hitting 15 straight shots to end third quarter (VIDEO)

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The Lakers lost to the Wizards because they are young, inconsistent, and defend like traffic cones at times.

But that young Lakers core also has its moments.

Los Angeles strung together 15 straight made buckets to end the third quarter Tuesday night. Some of it was flukey, like Corey Brewer driving and finishing contested layups like he’s Kyrie Irving, but there were things Lakers fans should want to see such as D'Angelo Russell draining threes, Jordan Clarkson working hard off the ball and his teammates finding him, and Julius Randle just attacking.

After this run the Lakers led by 13 going into the fourth, but lost the game.

It’s official: Joakim Noah cleared to play, 20-game suspension starts tonight

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What this ultimately means is next season the Knicks should have Joakim Noah available just before Thanksgiving.

Noah has been suspended 20 games for testing positive for a banned substance, but because he was out due to knee surgery the suspension did not start until he was “physically able to play.” Noah said on Tuesday that he had been cleared, but that was just by the team doctors. He also had to be cleared by the NBA’s doctors (because if teams could cheat they would).

That happened Wednesday, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

Noah’s first season in New York after signing a four-year, $72 million deal has been a disappointment. To put it kindly. He’s not been completely healthy, and any observer of him the past few years had to wonder if he would ever be fully healthy again. He had lost a step from the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year before the Knicks signed him. The Knicks don’t need him to necessarily be that dominant a force again (although it would be nice), but they need to get more out of him and see if he is a fit next to Kristaps Porzingis for now as the Knicks try to build a roster for next season that can play a little defense. And the triangle.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.