What was finally decided with those “thorny” system issues?

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It was the most confounding part of this constantly confounding NBA lockout.

The owners and players got to a point a few weeks ago where they essentially agreed on the money side of the equation — how to split up the revenue coming into the league — but could not get close on the “system” issues that essentially came down to player movement concerns (the mid-level exception, Bird rights, the sign and trade rules, etc…).

Sometime early Saturday morning in New York — in the hours when the city that never sleeps even starts to close its eyes — they two sides reached a deal that will mean games on Christmas day and a 66 game season.

Where did those system issues land? Here is what we based on multiple reports.

• Next year the salary cap line will be at $58 million and the luxury tax line will be about $70 million, both where they were last season. One key difference is teams have to spend up to 85 percent of that salary cap line now, which means the minimum salary level for teams next season will be $49 million (last season it was more like $44 million). Also, the luxury tax on teams that exceed that tax line will be more stiff (it had been $1 for $1 over the line, now it will start at $1.50 for each $1 and escalate from there).

• Teams can only have one max-salary player that takes up to 30 percent of a team’s salary cap space.

• Larry Bird rights, the ability of a team to go over the salary cap or luxury tax line to re-sign their own players, remain essentially as it had been.

• Contract lengths are four years for free agents, but teams can add a fifth season for Bird rights players.

• Teams have only three days to match offers to restricted free agents, down from seven days in the old deal.

• The extend-and-trade remains, which means a team can sign a player to a Bird-rights size contract then instantly trade him — the stick that Carmelo Anthony used to force Denver to trade him last season without a financial loss for him.

Nobody is happier about that than Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, the current big free agents to be. Maybe Deron Williams too, but the Nets want to be buyers, not sellers.

• There will be a mid-level exception, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo. Teams under the luxury tax can go for $5 million a season up to 4 years. For teams over the tax it is $3 million for up to 4 years.

• However, around the luxury tax line the mid-level will also impact Bird rights, reports Zach Lowe at Sports Illustrated reports:

If you use the full mid-level to get to or approach that barrier looming $4 million over the tax line, you cannot cross it by re-signing your own free agents via Larry Bird Rights. You can cross it to sign rookies or guys on veteran minimum contracts.

To use Lowe’s practical example, if the Boston Celtics used the mid-level to bring in someone like Jason Richardson to help on the wing that would take them over the tax line next season (to about $71 million total) and they would not be able to re-sign Jeff Green or Glen “Big Baby” Davis to anything more than minimum deals.

It means big spending teams will not just be able to take risks on free agent role players to go around their stars and not have consequences if it doesn’t work out (like the Lakers with Luke Walton, for example).

• There will be a $2.5 million exception for teams just below salary cap to go over the cap, reports Wojnarowski at Yahoo. However, those teams lose the right to the mid-level exception, too.

• There is no real change for the rookie deal or minimum salaries (which increase with years of service).

• There will be a “stretch” provision in the deal that allows a team to buy out a player and waive him, but spread his deal over a longer period of time (double the length of the contract plus one year) so as not to be such a cap hit. For example, if a player has three years, $30 million left on a deal and the teams want to waive him, they would have him on the official books for seven seasons at $4.3 million. It will look weird to see a guy on the books who was let go years before, but that space allows the team to not be completely hamstrung by a bad deal.

Call it the Eddy Curry rule.

• There also will be an amnesty clause in this deal that will allow teams to waive one player and wipe that salary almost totally off the books (75 percent goes away). This is similar to what was done in 2005, although then it only counted as savings against the luxury tax, now it counts as savings against the cap as well.

The Orlando Magic will have to choose between Gilbert Arenas or Hedo Turkoglu for this one. Tough decision.

Adding Durant and thinking dynasty, it’s championship or bust for Warriors’ legacy

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The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in the NBA for three seasons now. That’s not my opinion, that’s LeBron James‘ — here is what he said after advancing to his seventh straight NBA Finals.

“That’s been the best team in our league the last three years, and they added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year, so that makes it even more difficult.”

Adding Durant did make them more difficult to beat, but it also added to the Warriors’ burden — after a 67-win season and a historic 12-0 sweep into the Finals, the series that their season will be judged on is the one still to be played. They may as well be 0-0 because the second they added Durant it was championship or bust in terms of how they want to be seen.

Win and a pattern of dominance over years starts to come into focus, they will have a couple rings and beaten LeBron — who will go down as one of the all-time greats in his own right — to get them. Lose and this season will be viewed as another failure.

The Warriors want us to look back on them in 10-15 years and see a dynasty. They talked quietly about it last season during their chase for 73 wins — they saw that as a part of their resume as one of the greatest teams of all time. That’s part of the reason for the push last year. They, like LeBron, are chasing the ghosts of greatness at this point, and the Warriors had a Jordan record in their sights.

Regular season marks are nice, but in the NBA the great teams’ legacies are built around championships. Plural. If you’re going to go down as one of the dominant teams of an era — like the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, or Jordan’s Bulls, or the Celtics and Lakers of the ’80s, etc. — there needs to multiple rings on fingers. The Warriors have one, but their historic season unraveled last year when a combination of LeBron’s utter dominance, Draymond Green‘s suspension, Andrew Bogut’s injury (that one was underrated as an issue) all came together to snatch victory from their hands (and help cement LeBron’sa legacy).

The Warriors need the 2017 title for their legacy.

Not just the team, but the legacies of Warriors players will be impacted by this series. Injured or worn down or just in a shooting slump (or, most likely, a combination of the three), Stephen Curry struggled defensively and was outplayed by LeBron last Finals when the Warriors needed him. Curry has been fantastic through these playoffs, but like the team he will be judged as much or more for the games to come than the ones already played. Fair or not.  Can Green keep his head about him when LeBron pushes his buttons? Durant is back on the Finals stage, will he rise to that moment?

The championship or bust mentality is too often the prism through which fans — and media — view sports. It’s unfortunate because it clouds the joy of the game itself, the growth of players, of guys doing the unexpected and rising to heights we did not expect from them. Isaiah Thomas‘ brilliant season in Boston is not diminished because it didn’t end in a ring, to use one easy example. But there are hundreds more like that around the league. Championship or bust blinds people to the little things that can make the game joyous.

However, the Warriors have put themselves in a different place. They are chasing legends. They have the wins and the statistics to make a case, more importantly, they also have a style of play being copied (even by college teams) and is changing how the game is played. That is a hallmark greatness.

Now they need the rings to go with it. They need more than one, but it starts with this year’s title — it is championship or bust for them. Fair or not. If the Warriors want to be mentioned in the pantheon of all-time greats, it will take the 2017 title to be part of it.

Underdog Cavs insist they have plenty of bite for Finals

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — They are defending champions and decided underdogs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, say they aren’t using any snubs to get ready for the NBA Finals.

Set for a third straight championship matchup against Golden State, the Cavs are ignoring the Las Vegas odds makers and others who don’t think they have a shot at beating Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant & Co.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t feel his team needs the underdog label for inspiration, saying being in the NBA Finals is “enough motivation alone.”

Kevin Love was reminded that Warriors forward Draymond Green said earlier this season that he wants to “destroy and annihilate” the Cavs in the Finals. Says Love said: “He wanted us, and he has us starting next Thursday.”

 

Check out Kawhi Leonard’s highlights from this past season (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook and James Harden were putting up the bigger numbers, they were drawing more attention. And while MVP is a regular season award, nobody has boosted their MVP credentials more in the postseason than Kawhi Leonard.

He had a really impressive regular season, too. Since we’re on a long break between games, enjoy the highlights of Leonard’s season. He may enter next season as the MVP favorite.

Kevin Love on Cavaliers: “I don’t feel like we’re underdogs”

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Kevin Love and Las Vegas bookmakers do not see things the same way.

In Vegas, the Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the title — bet $100 on them to win and you get back $41.7 (or less). Cleveland is a heavy underdog.

Love sees a confident team that is the defending NBA champions, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because, yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title,” Love said Saturday after the Cavs’ first practice in preparation for the Warriors since clinching a spot in the Finals. “We’re trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel, we will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It’s tough for me to say that is the case. I don’t feel like we’re underdogs. We match up well with them, and I think they’d say the same about us.”

What else was he going to say?

More than any other team in the league, the Cavaliers are built to give Golden State trouble. The Cavaliers can exploit mismatches, be physical on defense, and they have LeBron James, Love and Kyrie Irving. Three NBA stars.

Is that enough against four NBA stars is the question.