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Cuban says new labor agreement forced Dallas changes

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Here’s the thing, he’s right. Mostly.

Before the Dallas Mavericks were swept out of the playoffs by the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cuban went on the defensive talking to the media. He had heard the statements from the media and others saying he and his franchise gave up winning the title the day they didn’t re-sign Tyson Chandler (and J.J. Barea and Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson). I’ll admit I said they would not be the same without Chandler (although this season it was the Mavericks offense, and late game offense in particular, that faltered and not their defense).

Cuban told the Dallas Morning News he had no regrets about the moves because the new NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement — one with steep luxury tax penalties coming in a few years — has changed the business model. He just had to adapt.

“Hell no,” Cuban said (if he had regrets). “Nope. Not even a millisecond. Because those who are talking otherwise haven’t read the CBA and are just talking out their (expletive) without any foundation. But that’s what you guys do.

“Given what happened, I think we put together a damn good team. If we had one break, one call, one bounce, we’re having a completely different conversation and you’re thinking how smart we are instead of how stupid we are…

“If you want to nail me for something, I’ll be the first to admit that it was a huge (expletive) that I didn’t fight for the new (CBA) harder,” Cuban said. “I said it before, I’ll say it again. It put us and other teams in a bad spot, and it was an overnight handshake deal that I should have fought harder. I’m the first to say that.”

Cuban is right about the CBA — he and the Mavericks were one of the biggest spenders the last decade and he just absorbed the dollar-for-dollar luxury tax (salary over a certain threshold, $70 million this year) as part of doing business. It got him a lot of wins and eventually a ring.

But you can’t do that anymore. Under the new rules by the 2014-15 season if a team paid the tax the previous three years (or three of the previous four years in subsequent years) teams pay a steeper “repeater tax” that is between $2.50 and $4.25 per dollar over the cap — the more you are over the cap the more steep the price.

Dallas lived well above the luxury tax threshold for a decade, but for example if they were $10 million over the tax line in 2015 their tax payment would jump from $10 million to $17.5 million. At the level the Mavericks salary was at last year the tax would have been well in excess of $20 million.

The new CBA punishes the model the Lakers, Mavericks, Knicks and other teams used to build a roster (the Knicks far less successfully, thank you Isiah) where teams lived $10 million or more into the tax regularly. The league and its small market owners think that more parity is needed and good for the league and those big spending teams needed to reigned in. We can have a debate about why I think that is wrong — stars sell in the NBA and the nature of the sport will never allow NFL-style parity or anything close to it — but it is reality.

Cuban has embraced that reality in an aggressive way — Dallas will be well under the cap this summer and can go after Deron Williams to pair with Dirk Nowitzki. They can put more affordable (read: younger) talent around them.

This was not his only option. He might have been able to keep Chandler and others on shorter deals by selling them on making one more run. Cuban went another way. He tried to replace them with Lamar Odom and while that flamed out it was a good gamble. But the bottom line is everyone knew this wasn’t going to be the same team, and if you believe that your team was going to have a hard time repeating what Cuban did is a logical course of action.

Basically, in two years we’ll be saying Cuban was a visionary and made the right moves, or that he gambled and lost and now the Mavericks path back to the top is much longer and steeper.

But he’s right, the new CBA did help force his hand.

Coach Steve Clifford: Poor defense has led to Hornets’ losing streak

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 04:  Teammates Michael Kidd-Gilchrist #14 and Marvin Williams #2 of the Charlotte Hornets react at the bench as head coach Steve Clifford reacts during their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Spectrum Center on January 4, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hornets coach Steve Clifford points to one factor when explaining his team’s five-game losing streak – a lack of defense.

Charlotte went 0-5 on its recent road trip, surrendering an uncharacteristic 109.6 points per game during that span. The Hornets return home Wednesday night to face the Portland Trail Blazers, part of a stretch of five-game home stand which Clifford hopes will help turn things around.

But Charlotte’s fourth-year coach said nothing will get better until the Hornets start playing better man-to-man defense.

“It starts with our ability to guard our guy,” Clifford said. “When you get blown by a lot on the perimeter where you are constantly in need of help, then you are going to give up 3s – and that’s what is happening.”

The Hornets raced to a 14-9 start this season and were third-best in the league in points allowed through 23 games.

Since then, things have steadily fallen apart, culminating with Charlotte giving up at least 100 points in eight straight games. The Hornets have since dropped to 12th overall in points allowed.

The Hornets have fallen to 20-21 on the season and are on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture. It hasn’t helped that Nic Batum and Cody Zeller have been in and out of the lineup with injury problems, but Charlotte’s struggles on the road – where it has lost 11 of its last 13 – is concerning.

Zeller said the Hornets spent Wednesday morning watching cutups of defensive miscues over the last five road games.

“All four years I have been here it starts with defense,” Zeller said. “That is what coach Clifford preaches.”

The 7-foot center said it is mostly simple things that can be corrected.

“There are sets that we know are coming – and we just aren’t defending them right,” Zelller said. “We are making too many mistakes.”

Added guard Marco Belinelli: “We need to speak a lot more on the court and help each other.”

Getting the defensive mistakes fix won’t be easy.

After Portland, the Hornets host Toronto, Brooklyn, Washington and Golden State. All five teams rank in the top 14 in the league in scoring offense, with the Warriors being No. 1 overall and Raptors No. 3.

A year ago, Hornets general manager Rich Cho pulled off a quality late-season trade, landing “three and D” guard Courtney Lee. He proved to be the driving force on the team’s playoff run and played well in the postseason.

The problem was Lee did so well it made it impossible for the Hornets to re-sign him. Charlotte re-signed Batum and Marvin Williams, and let Lee walk in free agency. He signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the New York Knicks.

The Hornets figured with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returning this year from a shoulder injury they would be fine defensively, but the struggles are mounting.

Clifford wouldn’t discuss whether the team needs to make a similar trade before the NBA deadline.

As for the offense, Clifford likes what he sees.

Kemba Walker, a first-time All-Star candidate, is in the midst of the most productive season of his career, averaging 23 points per game while shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range.

“I mean he’s having a great year,” Clifford said. “He’s worked really hard and it’s paying off for him.”

Chris Paul to have surgery on torn ligament in left thumb, out 6-8 weeks

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When the Clippers last were without Chris Paul (then due to a hamstring injury), they dropped six games in a row. Granted, that was without Blake Griffin, too, but this team struggles on offense without the Point God running the show.

He’s not going to be running the show again for them until March.

Paul will miss 6-8 weeks due to a torn ligament in his left thumb that will require surgery, the team announced Tuesday. He is set to have surgery on Wednesday.

Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers will get a lot more run with CP3 sidelined.

The injury happened in the second quarter of Monday night’s game against the Thunder. Paul was trying to get over the top of a Joffrey Lauvergne screen when he ran into Russell Westbrook, who had pulled up to take a three. Paul’s hand was on Westbrook’s hip and got caught in his shorts and Westbrook elevated for the shot.

It looked serious as Paul walked off the court — he kicked a chair and was cursing, a sign that he knew something was very wrong. He went straight to the locker room, where X-rays were taken that found nothing broken. It was an MRI on Tuesday that found the damage.

The Clippers are the four seed in the West but are likely about to lose ground, being without Paul until March and with Griffin still sidelined from knee surgery (but should be back in the next few weeks, according to his timetable). Starting Saturday The Clippers have 10-of-11 games on the road — and the one home game is the Warriors. That’s a brutal stretch of games under the best of circumstances, and now the clouds over this team got much darker.

PBT Podcast: Debating NBA midseason awards with Dan Feldman

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Western Conference and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets and the Western Conference warm up before the NBA All-Star Game 2016 at the Air Canada Centre on February 14, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Russell Westbrook or James Harden for MVP?

Is Mike D’Antoni the runaway Coach of the Year?

Can anyone catch Giannis Antetokounmpo for Most Improved Player?

The PBT staff gave their picks for midseason awards already. Now Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports debate all of that, plus Sixth Man, Defensive Player of Year, and even takeaways​ from the Warriors win over the Cavaliers Monday.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

LeBron James reminds heckling Warriors fans he has three rings (VINE)

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 13:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers stands on the court during their game against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on January 13, 2017 in Sacramento, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Monday night was not exactly the best game of the season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They looked like a team on the final night of a six-game, 12-day road trip and they were mailing it in. Then they ran into a rested Warriors team looking to gain a little confidence. The result was a Red Wedding-level blood bath.

LeBron James was none too bothered. He was downplaying the rivalry and the importance of the game before it tipped-off, and after the game he rightly said this was not going to have any impact in June.

And when Warriors fans heckled him, he reminded them of the hardware — he’s got rings. Three of them. The last one at the expense of the Warriors.

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

I’m going to miss Vine when it goes away.

Hat tip Matt Moore Eye on Basketball.