NBA labor talks resume Friday with Fisher, escrow talk

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Friday talks will resume as the NBA owners and players try to reach a labor deal in time to save games on Christmas and have a 66-game season.

After talks have seemed close to a deal so many times only to blow up it’s hard to get too optimistic, but there seems to be a real urgency to get things done tis time according to sources PBT has spoken with. Both sides realize the damage to the league and the lost money — paychecks for players, revenue for owners — as this drags on. Both sides want games on Christmas Day, but that means making a deal by Monday.

Here are a few things we know about the talks Friday.

First, Derek Fisher may be back in the room. Fisher is president of the National Basketball Players Association, the organization that used to be the players union and is currently a trade association (after a disclaimer of interest that essentially decertified the union). Fisher was integral to the talks for the past couple years. Without a union, Fisher has no real seat at the table but he will be there Wednesday, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo.

There’s a push within the league office and from Players Association executive director Billy Hunter to have Fisher in the room, league sources said. Nevertheless, Fisher hasn’t committed to attending the meeting, perhaps because of legal concerns about how a judge in the federal suit could view his participation. There’s still a sense the owners could be setting up a trap for the Players Association, perhaps leading them on in talks now only to pull the plug and make a case to the judge that Hunter’s and Fisher’s involvement in the meetings shows they’re still acting as a union – and that the disclaimer of interest and subsequent lawsuits were nothing more than negotiating tactics.”

It should be noted that while Fisher may be in Jeffrey Kessler, the union’s lead outside counsel through much of the lockout, seems to be playing a smaller role. Kessler is strong willed and clashed heavily with David Stern, not having him in the room may improve the dynamic. David Boise and Jim Quinn seem to have taken the lead.

David Stern is reportedly polling his owners to see if he can give luxury-tax paying teams more exceptions. That was something the players wanted in exchange for a 50/50 split of revenues, to allow bigger spending teams paths to spend (small market owners wanted to tie their hands).

What’s the biggest hangup in talks? Well, as always it’s money, but now we are talking directly the money in players’ paychecks. There will be an escrow system set up as their had been in the last labor deal — in that one eight percent of all player checks were withheld and went into an escrow fund. At the end of the season, the calculations were made on “basketball related income” and the players got the portion of that money back to bring total player salaries to 57 percent of BRI.

Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops explains the new hang up.

A source tells SheridanHoops.com that the most significant impediment to a deal remains the owners’ insistence on an escrow withholding system that would ensure that the revenue split for each season ends up being 50-50. Players have offered to have 10 percent of salaries withheld, but a problem has continually arisen when the sides have discussed what mechanism would make up for the shortfall if the 10 percent withholding did not get the players’ share down to 50 percent.

Lest you think that is a minor thing, that impacts take home pay for players. It’s money in their pocket. People fight over that.

It isn’t something that should stand in the way of a deal, but would it shock you if it did? Exactly. That’s why for all the motivation to do a deal, keep your optimism in check.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.