Draft age limit, other “B-list” issues still to be resolved

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There are still some big issues sitting out there unresolved in the NBA labor talks.

At what age can players declare for the NBA draft? Keep it at 19 (the one-and-dones) or move it to 20? Or 18? Then there are the specifics of the NBA drug testing policies. And the rules in the unlikely event of the league contracts a team. Plus the owners still have to finalize their revenue sharing plan.

That’s just the tip of iceberg of the B-list issues the lawyers for the NBA owners and players still have to hammer out. They may be secondary issues to how to divide up the money, but they impact the lives of players and future generations of NBA players.

These issues are not going to derail the framework of the NBA labor deal hammered out by NBA owners and players in the wee hours of Saturday morning in New York.

Neither side can afford to let that happen. The five-month NBA lockout that cost 480 games of this season has already tested the faith of NBA fans and risked alienating the fan base in the middle of the worst recession the nation has seen in more than 50 years. To go back on the handshake deal now, to offer a season then pull it back, would simply devastate the game in a way neither side can afford to do. What’s the point of arguing over how to divide the revenue pie if the pie gets much smaller?

But there are still plenty of issues on the table. And the sides don’t agree on them.

The NBA draft age limit will be the biggest. In early proposals the owners wanted to move it to age 20 — essentially two-and-dones. The players have said this is something they want to see moved back to age 18. Expect this to move to 20 or stay the same — this is a more important issue for owners. They do not want to go back to scouting high school players again, both for the expense of it and the unpredictability of the picks. The owners like the idea of more college ball during which time players can be evaluated, plus the NCAA hype machine can already start turning them into stars fans want to follow. Both good things for the owners. Which is why they want this more than the players want the issue moved back to age 18.

This will be one of the next issues on the table and could be decided before the weekend is over, according to a source near the talks.

Other issues include can the league start testing for human growth hormone with a blood test as Major League Baseball just agreed to? That will be a hard sell with players but would be welcomed by many fans.

Another key issue for fans will be the rules on assigning players to the D-League. In the old deal players could be sent down only for the first two years of their contracts and at full NBA salary. Owners want to be able to send players down for more years — up to five — and reduce their salary while down in the “minors.” More years is one thing but the salary reductions would be a very tough sell to the union.

Almost tied to that, should the NBA draft be expanded to a third round? The idea from owners — aside creating a little more draft buzz — is to find guys that they can send to the D-League and develop into NBA players over a few years. Already much of the second round is that way, do we need more?

The other big issue out there is not in the labor deal itself but will be key — the owners still need to finalize the revenue sharing plan amongst themselves. Proposals were put forward but the owners didn’t feel they could talk about revenue sharing until they saw how much they were getting back from the players. Now they know. But getting big markets to fork over more to small markets is always going to be contentious.

There are a host of other interesting little issues we will get to discuss just like those over the coming weeks.

Point is, while the NBA is on the verge of a labor deal there are a lot of issues still on the table. Negotiations will continue. And for guys like high school seniors with dreams of the NBA, those talks matter a lot.

‘Tired’ Jimmy Butler sits out All-Star Game at his own request

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LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game at 37.3. He’s ninth in the league in total minutes played and played 77:35 minutes in the two games leading up to All-Star Weekend.

Butler was tired and asked Mike D’Antoni to give him some rest, according to both parties (despite speculation this was really a win for the Los Angeles nightlife). Butler did not play in Sunday’s All-Star Game.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

“He was tired and he just felt like his legs weren’t there,” Team Stephen head coach Mike D’Antoni. “He didn’t practice yesterday or play today. You have to respect that. He plays hard. Sometimes your body just needs a rest.”

Butler is having the kind of season that has him in the discussion for a place on the MVP ballot. He’s averaging 22.4 points per game with a very efficient true shooting percentage of 59.3, plus he’s playing strong defense. He and Karl-Anthony Towns have led the Timberwolves to a 36-25 record that has them as the current four seed in the West, poised to break an 11-year playoff drought for the franchise.

Still thankful, LeBron James breaks Michael Jordan’s record for years between All-Star MVPs

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Los Angeles – When LeBron James became the youngest-ever NBA All-Star MVP in 2006, he said during the trophy presentation: “I’d like to thank the fans for voting me in as a starter.”

Twelve years later, he sounds similar, maybe just a little more thoughtful: “It’s always been my fans who voted me in. For 14 straight years, my fans have voted me in as an All-Star starter, and it’s been up to me to go out and let them know and show them, listen, I appreciate that, and here’s what I’m going to give to you every time you vote me in.”

He plays similarly, too.

LeBron again won All-Star MVP, leading his team to a 148-145 victory Sunday. He finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

“Every night I step on the floor, I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level,” said LeBron, 33. “I feel great.”

The 12-year gap between LeBron’s first and last All-Star MVP – he also won in 2008 – is the longest in NBA history. It tops the 10 years between Michael Jordan’s first (1988) and last (1998).

Here’s the difference between the first and last All-Star MVP for every multi-time winner:

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Players’ effort in this exhibition game comes and goes, but LeBron appeared invigorated .

When LeBron’s team trailed by 15 in the second quarter, he checked in and quickly led it back into the lead. When his team fell behind by 13 midway through the fourth quarter, he again led a spirited comeback. He hit the go-ahead bucket.

Despite playing a game-high 31 minutes, his intensity lasted all the way through the final buzzer.

His coach, the Raptors’ Dwane Casey, said he asked LeBron whether to foul or defend on the final possession while up three. LeBron said defend.

“If he says that, or any great players say that, you want to go with them because it was their idea, their belief, and he had it,” Casey said. “…He got the guys jacked up and juiced up as far as wanting to get a stop.”

LeBron and Kevin Durant swarmed Stephen Curry, who couldn’t shoot and could barely pass. Curry’s team didn’t even get a shot off:

“As you can hear in my voice, that tells how competitive it was,” LeBron said scratchily.

Again, his message echoed 2006: “We’re competitors, and our competitive nature kicked in and said let’s get some defensive stops.”

A lot will get made about the format change, and it might have mattered.

But maybe LeBron is just uniquely capable of dominating and embracing of this stage all these years later.

Defense? Dramatic finish? Team LeBron wins All-Star Game that’s worth watching

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LOS ANGELES — The NBA gambled its new format — with captains picking teams playground style — would produce an All-Star Game where the players showed some pride, played hard, and the showcase again would become something that resembled basketball (unlike last season).

It worked.

For proof guys were invested this time around, check out how Team LeBron responded to winning with a defensive stop, taking away Team Stephen’s attempt to get a clean look at a game-tying three in the closing seconds.

The THRILL of #NBAAllStar VICTORY!

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“It had a real game feel to it,” LeBron James said.

Team LeBron beat Team Stephen 148-145. LeBron was named MVP with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. He also hit the game-tying and go-ahead shot that got the win.

“I played with (LeBron) a few times,” Kyrie Irving said of the play and pass that set up that LeBron game-winner. “I cut back door, (Russell Westbrook) was driving, I saw the opportunity. I saw, before even Russ even passed to me, LeBron was going to circle to the rim, and he’s one of the best finishers at the rim.”

Most importantly, this was an All-Star Game with some defense — it had 81 fewer points than the layup line game last year, and the fewest points in five years. It also proved to be the closest game in six years.

“We wanted to kind of change the narrative of the All-Star Game being a joke,” Kevin Durant said. “Today we wanted to make it a real basketball game.”

There was more defense than last year from the start of the game — for example, LeBron blocked an alley-oop pass in the first quarter. Of course, “better than last year” was not a high bar to clear, but there was some effort to not just have a layup line. Most of the time.

Also to start the game, Anthony Davis came out wearing the “0” jersey of injured teammate DeMarcus Cousins (he switched back to his own #23 before the first half was over).

On the night, Team LeBron got 19 points out of Kevin Durant, 16 from Paul George, and 14 from Andre Drummond. Team Stephen was led by 21 from both DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard, and 19 points and eight rebounds from Joel Embiid in his first All-Star Game.

The fantastic ending made up for what was a laughable opening skit/national anthem before tip-off that did something very rare — it unified NBA Twitter. It was awful.

Now all anybody is talking about is the game itself. And that’s what the NBA wanted.

LeBron James hits go-ahead shot in All-Star win (video)

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LOS ANGELES – LeBron James‘ team trailed by 13 midway through the fourth quarter of the All-Star game, but he led a competitive comeback.

This shot put his team up 146-145 over Stephen Curry‘s team, and Team LeBron held on for a 148-145 win:

Great penetration by Russell Westbrook, and he and Kyrie Irving moved the ball well. LeBron made it count.