NBA owners won. Big. But the players can live with it.

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As the talk starts to build of all the little concessions the NBA players got in the last week to make an NBA labor deal happen in time for games on Christmas day, remember this:

The owners won.

In a massive way. This is an Attila the Hun sweeping through Eastern Europe kind of win — devastating and total.

David Stern and the owners came into these NBA labor talks saying they lost more than $300 million last season and $400 million the year before that. By getting the players to agree to what is in practice a 50/50 split of basketball related income (although the deal allows the players to get to 51 percent if revenue increases enough) the owners got the players to essentially accept a 12 percent salary cut that will cover those losses.

This will come to more than $3 billion back in the owners’ pockets if the deal lasts the full 10 years (both sides can opt out of the deal after six years). What’s more, the deal means the players will have shorter contracts with lower raises going forward. Plus, the system now ties the hands of larger market, bigger spending teams helping depress salaries that way.

The owners will tell you they didn’t get everything they wanted, some will vote against this deal. Those guys are fools — they got more than enough to balance their books. Combined with more robust revenue sharing — soon to be triple what it was — small market owners should be able to break even or turn a profit. They should be able to compete (they could before, ask San Antonio and Oklahoma City). If they can’t, well, it’s on them now. It’s not the system.

All that said, the players got enough small victories — and a couple key ones — that this is a deal they can live with.

Early in the lockout, PBT spoke with former NBA players union president Charles Grantham and he said the smartest move the union ever made, the thing they could not give up in these talks, was keeping the salary cap tied to league revenue. Early offers from the owners wanted to detach the two — players salaries would stay flat at about $2 billion a year and all of the money from expected growth in the league (such as a new national television deal coming in 2016) would go straight to the owners pockets.

The players won that fight. They will get a smaller share of that revenue, but as the league’s revenue grows player salaries will go up. Grow the game and grow how much money you make.

The other two hills the players were willing to die on were guaranteed contracts and a hard salary cap. The owners relented on those as well. Yes, the owners now have more ways to get out of bad contracts faster, and yes the new luxury tax rules make it much more costly for high-revenue teams to spend big, but the players won those fights on principle.

There were other small victories, such as getting the threshold to get to the 51 percent of revenue lowered to a makeable goal. The players got the extend-and-trade so their biggest stars can better control their exits from teams. They got a solid mid-level exception for tax paying teams.

That was enough. It needed to be enough because the players were going to start losing more money in salary than they were making back fighting over the scraps of this deal.

But this negotiation was all about the money, and the owners got a lot more of it. They won. The small market owners in particular should now be able to turn a profit. The players got a way to save face at the end but the owner won and won big.

With this caveat…

In 1999, after a lockout that lasted into January, the owners were thought to have won. They got a cap on max salaries, so that there would be no more deals like the one Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal had gotten. They got a percentage that capped players’ salaries in total at 57 percent. Everyone said the owners won, including the players.

A dozen years later, the owner were crying that the deal was unfair and killing them. You never know how things will play out. And you can bet in 10 years, when this deal formally ends, there will be owners saying what a bad deal this is for them and how it is killing them. Even if the fault is their own management.

Paul George on trade to Thunder: “I took it as it was a kick in the behind”

Associated Press
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Paul George and Russell Westbrook — now with Carmelo Anthony — form one of the more interesting teams in the NBA in Oklahoma City. Deep with quality role players and a defense that should be top 10 (if not top 5) in the league, if the three big names can learn to sacrifice and mesh, the Thunder will be dangerous.

Paul George sounds motivated to take it all on… which he should be the first day of training camp. Still, it’s a good sign for Thunder fans.

George opened up to Sam Amick of the USA Today in a lengthy interview at the start of camp, and among the topics he discussed was the trade to OKC (after George’s camp told Indiana he would test free agency next summer). Did getting sent to the Thunder motivate him?

“I took it as it was a kick in the behind, like, ‘Go ahead and go try to beat the Warriors. Go play alongside Russ and get your butt kicked against the Warriors.’ That’s how I looked at how that trade went down, because honestly we had no idea OKC was even interested or was in the trade until the trade actually happened. But again, I’m not here to trash Indiana. They have some of the best people I’ve ever met in their front office and in that organization. I grew up there. I could go on and on (with) the positives in Indiana, but that’s where my thought process and my – that’s where I, I guess, my opportunity to leave had opened up.”

There was some “go ahead and beat the Warriors” in that trade — it looks, from the outside, like the Pacers did not want George to land anywhere he wanted to go.

Thing is, as human beings, we by our nature try to make the best of situations. Even people who suffer genuine personal tragedies often come out the other side saying that it changed who they were for the better and they are happy with their new life. This is just basketball. George will adapt — and he’s on a very good team. If the bar is “can they beat a healthy Warriors team in a series” then the Thunder will fall short, as will every other team. But the Thunder are on that next tier in the NBA and could be a threat.

Plus, competitors like George always look at a trade as a challenge.

It’s going to be a fascinating season for the Thunder. We’ll see if all that talent is willing to make the sacrifices needed to win at the highest levels of the NBA.

When will Zach LaVine return to court for Bulls? Think Thanksgiving.

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When the Chicago Bulls traded Jimmy Butler — finally making a decision on the franchise’s direction — one of the centerpieces they got back from Minnesota was Zach LaVine. The wildly athletic two-guard had evolved into more than just a dunker, averaging 18.9 points per game and shooting 38 percent from three — he had become a legitimate scoring threat against any defense.

Then he blew out his ACL.

How that injury impacts his game remains to be seen… so when will the Bulls see him on the court? Coach Fred Hoiberg addressed that as Chicago started training camp, as reported by Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.

That’s just taking contact in practice. The Bulls will be cautious bringing back a guy they see as part of their future, so expect this to be closer to Thanksgiving or the end of the month before he plays. Which is the smart move to make.

Even then, ACL injuries take a long time to overcome, even for young players putting in the recovery work. It may be next season before we know if LaVine will continue on the trajectory he was on in Minnesota.

Magic Johnson shrugs off concern about Lonzo Ball realty series

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Lonzo Ball has yet to play in one NBA game, yet he has his own signature shoe line, and he — along with his father LaVar Ball and the rest of his family — have their own reality show on FaceBook. Lonzo told me he doesn’t foresee this show, nor his bombastic father, being a problem with his teammates or on the court.

Magic Johnson agrees with that. At least for now.

The head of Lakers’ basketball operations said as training camp opened that he’s not worried about the show Ball in the Family being a distraction. If it is, he’ll step in, he told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Only time I am going to concern myself with what [Lonzo] does off the court is if it is affecting his play on the court,” Johnson said at the Lakers’ media day when asked about Ball’s reality Facebook series, “Ball in the Family.”

“Right now, I think it is awesome,” Johnson said. “His family is great. They came out Saturday, we had a big Laker picnic. … His dad is wonderful with me, and I am cool with him. … I think [Lonzo] is tired of all this [hype]. He is just like me; I just want to play and I think he wants to play, and then Saturday night [for the Lakers’ preseason opener], sold out, in Anaheim, wow!”

It’s Magic’s job to put a positive spin on things.

That said, he’s right. The Lakers (and every NBA team) have dealt with overinvolved parents before and know how to create some space for the player to focus on the game. Locker rooms have a way of sorting themselves out in these kinds of situations. Plus, the Lakers have been down the reality show road before (when Lamar Odom married Khloe Kardashian), and while that had an ugly ending, it wasn’t for lack of Lakers’ players and others in the organization trying to step in and help. (Odom just wasn’t yet in a place to accept help.)

Soon LaVar will be focused on his other sons and Lonzo, who appears practiced at tuning his father out and focusing on what is in front of him, will have the grind of the NBA schedule to worry about.

Former NBA player Chuck Person named in college basketball bribery scandal

Associated Press
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The recruitment of major college athletes — and then the steering of the handful that get to go pro to shoe companies and agents — is a sleazy business. It makes HBO’s “The Duece” look like Disneyland. It’s something sports fans know but largely turn a blind eye to until it forces its way into the headlines.

It turned up in the headlines Tuesday when four college assistant coaches from major universities were charged by federal prosecutors in a bribery scandal along with a representative of Adidas and others to steer players to specific agents or a financial handler.

Former NBA Rookie of the Year Chuck Person, now an assistant coach at Auburn, was among those named in the scandal.

Person is making headlines because he’s the biggest name in the scandal. He is charged with accepting approximately $91,500 from a business manager, who has flipped and is working with prosecutors. This “business manager, offered bribes to Person to steer players toward his services, as well as another person charged in the scandal.

Person told prosecutors he gave $18,500 of the money he took to two players’ families, according to the filings.

Person was the No. 4 pick in the 1986 NBA draft and went on to win Rookie of the Year, followed by a 13-year NBA career. He made $22.9 million over the course of his career.