Last year, following an ugly lockout, the NBA returned to action on Christmas Day with its first games being the best matchups shown on national television. Fans said “what lockout?” and watched in record numbers.
This Christmas, with one-third of the NBA season gone? Numbers were down slightly over last year but up from a couple of years ago.
The highest rated game was Thunder at Heat, which got a 6.0 nationally and that makes it the fourth-highest rated regular season game ever on ABC. Last year the Bulls and Lakers drew a 6.5 rating in that same spot, which was down over the Lakers and the Heat from the year before.
The big surprise this season was the Knicks and Lakers drawing a 5.9 rating with the early game on ABC — the highest rating ever in that slot for ABC on Christmas Day. It beat the 5.6 that Miami and Dallas had in a finals rematch.
The other games on ESPN were all up from two years ago, but down from last year when there was a “the season is starting buzz.” The early game of the Celtics wiping the floor with the Nets drew a 2.7 rating, which tied 2010. The Rockets running past the Bulls drew a 1.7 ratings, up 21 percent from two years ago. The Clippers dunk fest on the Nuggets drew a 2.0 rating, up 54 percent form two years ago (when the game was Blazers and Warriors).
If you are saying to yourself “The NBA should start every season on Christmas Day” I would say fine. As soon as you convince the owners that they don’t need the revenue from the first quarter of the season — because you already convinced the players to take a 25 percent pay cut to make it work — then you can come talk to me.
Tristan Thompson is a man without a contract. By not signing the qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers he put himself in limbo, the rare NBA holdout. Right now his options are to sign the deal on the table (the Cavs still have the five-year, $80 million offer out there), get the Sixers or Blazers to offer him a max contract (which neither team has shown any interest in doing), or hold out and hope the Cavaliers make a better offer. If he holds out for the entire season he becomes a restricted free agent again next summer — exactly like he is right now.
Without signing the qualifying offer and the threat of leaving, Thompson hurt his leverage.
But he has a little leverage. He and his agent Rich Paul had one other card, and it got played Saturday.
LeBron James and Thompson share an agent in Paul. LeBron has largely remained silent through this process but if he wants something in the Cleveland organization, he usually gets it. And he wants Thompson back at practices.
LeBron’s leverage is going to be put to the test. The Cavaliers have let it leak they are not that concerned about LeBron leaving them next summer over this — and they’re right. The damage to LeBron’s brand if he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans again would be crushing, unless he leaves for a very good reason. Overpaying Thompson is not that reason.
However, LeBron’s comment could push the Cavaliers to try to find a compromise.
For the Cavaliers, a lot of how they view all this comes down to their tax bill. The Cavaliers already have $94.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books, putting them $10.2 million over the luxury tax line, at a cost of more than $16.25 million. What this means if (or when) they sign Thompson is his first $10 million in salary would cost them $28.75 million in tax and every dollar above that for the next $5 million costs them $3.75-to-$1. Look at it this way, by my count $14 million this year to Thompson would cost $43.75 million in tax — the total for Thompson at that price is $58 million. While that’s not all on Thompson it’s a lot of cash, and Thompson wants a max deal that starts at more than $16 million a year.
Owner Dan Gilbert is already going to pay the highest tax bill in the NBA this season, but if he balks at those figures it’s hard to blame him.
Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, has never lacked for confidence. The Croatian guard made his pro debut in the Magic’s preseason game against the Hornets on Saturday and did this:
Between Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a nucleus of young players that has the potential to be a lot of fun. Even if they’re still a few years away from contending, they’re definitely going to be a League Pass favorite this year.