Former players union head says 2017 lockout coming, owners already ahead

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If you ask league executives, pretty much everyone expects a 2017 lockout. They see the owners putting in the groundwork now for another work stoppage in three years and most people see it as inevitable. The only question is how long it lasts and if it costs games.

Three years from now, the summer of 2017, is the first year that either the players or owners can opt out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement — one that came after a lockout that almost cost the NBA a full season. You can be sure one side will opt out (probably the owners, who even though they made massive financial gains in the last CBA want more, because when did you ever know a rich business owner to say “we’re doing well enough now, let’s spread the wealth around”?).

Adam Silver is already throwing out some priority issues — raising the age limit is one we’ve discussed— and marshaling forces. The players are way behind on this as they continue the search for a new executive director (remember Billy Hunter was ousted after the last lockout), said former players union executive director Charles Grantham speaking with Sean Deveney of the Sporting News.

“Ideally, whether labor or management, you begin work on the next negotiation the day after you sign the last agreement,” said Grantham. “For the players, they have not been able to do that. They still need to find a director, and once they have one, they need to assemble a team and work on a strategy. They’re way behind.”

“You’re seeing somewhat of a notice put out by the NBA and the new commissioner that they have an interest in increasing the age to 20, they want a hard cap,” Grantham said. “The NBA is going to want more.”

When we say the owners are laying the groundwork, know we are talking first and foremost about the new television deal. Those negotiations are going on now, with existing rights holders ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports (TNT and the NBA Network) as well as others in on the talks. The last rights deal got the league $7.5 billion over eight years and the next deal may well double that.

Why that matters — a chuck of that money is non-refundable and will get paid in the event of a lockout. While the players will not be getting checks the owners will be to help ease the pain of keeping the business operations of the team afloat. The owners can simply hold out longer than the players.

The players and their new executive director — they are reportedly down to two candidates, both of whom spoke to the player union All-Star weekend in New Orleans — have some very basic strategy to figure out.

In the last lockout the share of the “basketball related income” (BRI) that the players got went from 57 percent of the pool to basically 50 percent. That was a massive giveback. They are never getting all of that back. The question is do the players want to “go to the mattresses” (to use the Godfather term) for maybe a percentage point, or do they hold fast on the percentage (no way the players go for a hard cap, that will cost a season at least), focus on what other things they want out of a negotiation and go in with a plan to get those things. Then say they want to find a way to increase that BRI pool as a way to increase salaries (a new national television deal certainly helps that, it will jump the salary cap/luxury tax numbers considerably when it kicks in a few years down the line).

Whatever the players grand plan ends up being, they are not strategizing that right now, Grantham is right in noting. And he’s also spot on that the owners are.

Report: Tampering investigation stems from Magic Johnson’s TV interview

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In April, new Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and discussed then-Pacers forward Paul George:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

Now, the Lakers – at Indiana’s request – are being investigated for tampering.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

The investigation, which has been going on since May, stemmed from comments Magic Johnson made on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

This doesn’t mean the Pacers believe Johnson tampered with his televised comments. It seems as if that was the last straw following numerous rumors about George going to Los Angeles.

However, there’s a case Johnson’s televised remarks alone would constitute tampering. The Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits “assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind (whether disclosed or undisclosed to the NBA), between a player (or any person or entity controlled by, related to, or acting with authority on behalf of, such player) and any Team (or Team Affiliate)” – and even attempts to solicit assurance of intent or understanding – when the player is still under contract with another team. Johnson sure appeared to do that.

But it’d be shocking if Johnson or the Lakers were punished for the interview alone. Indiana probably needs more evidence.

Then again, the arbitrary way the NBA enforces tampering, who knows?

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.