LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler

NBA’s best urged to take less “if they want to win.” Agents, unions unhappy with trend.

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Just how badly did the owners smack down the players in the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)? Take these now regular comments as examples:

“If Carmelo Anthony really cares about winning he will take less money.”

“LeBron James demanding the max shows he only cares about himself, not the Heat.”

“Dirk Nowitzki showed he cares more about winning by taking that Tim Duncan-sized contract.”

In the last CBA negotiations the players went from receiving 57 percent of the league’s income down to 50 percent — that’s an estimated $350 million a year going from the players straight to the owners’ pockets. At the same time NBA owners are seeing the value of their franchises skyrocket ($2 billion for the Clippers from Steve Ballmer) and there is a new television deal coming in two years that is going to flood the owners with more cash.

Yet it is the players that are asked to sacrifice “if they care about winning.”

It was a complete and total rout by the owners two years ago at the negotiating table. The Christians had more success against the lions in the Colosseum.

As you can imagine, agents and representatives of the players’ union do not like this “take less” trend. A couple spoke to Sean Deveney of the Sporting News about it.

“Why is it that our best players should be getting less than they’re worth?” one union official told Sporting News. “We have a collective-bargaining agreement that already limits what star players can make, and limits the total amount teams can pay. We have a very tough luxury tax. And now you have teams publicly shaming their best players into a bigger cut?”

“It’s just ridiculous,” one agent told SN. “There is this whole brainwashing thing going on and teams are selling it to their fans that this player or that player should take less, that they would not take their money if they truly cared about winning. That’s BS. If you want to win, you’re the owner, go over the tax line.

“This is the CBA you wanted, this is what the owners wanted. Why does the money come out of the players’ pockets? The players just gave back a huge amount in the CBA. But, no, that’s the brainwashing — that the players are the bad guys if they try to get what the CBA says they should get.”

LeBron is getting criticism for exactly that stance — the Heat amnestied Mike Miller simply to save money last season (don’t let Pat Riley spin it another way, they could have done it this summer) and LeBron wants Micky Arison to spend. Part of what LeBron is doing now is making his point to Heat management. He wants to win and as his new contract, even at the max, is half (at most) of what he’d make on a true open market so he wants the owner to show he is committed to spending to win too. (And you think LeBron is going to get Robert Sarver to do that in Phoenix?)

The problem comes back to just how much the owners dominated the last CBA. As Mark Cuban has ranted more than once, being into the tax is more than just a money issue, the new CBA limits teams flexibility to make moves once their salary is up in the tax range — smaller mid-level exception, no sign-and-trades, and more. You can’t build a team the same way and GMs want that flexibility.

It’s not fair to the top players, but you had to know that many fans would side with management, because they pretty much always do. We don’t relate to what even an average NBA player makes, but we know we want our team to win. So the star player gets the pressure and too often to make that happen while the owner gets to skate.

Agents and union members may not like it, they can fight to change it, but it’s not going to change. They can tune it out as LeBron is doing, but the calls for players to take the hit aren’t going away.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 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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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.

Isaiah Thomas nutmegs Knicks center Marshall Plumlee (video)

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Isaiah Thomas usually saves his best play for the fourth quarter, but the Celtics guard showed out early with this pass between Marshall Plumlee‘s legs to get Kelly Olynyk a layup.

Thomas uncharacteristically just didn’t have enough late. Though he scored 39 points, he shot just 2-for-9 in the final period, as the Knicks pulled away for a 117-106 win.

Kevin Durant misses dunk so hard, ball flies past halfcourt (video)

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Kevin Durant played great in the Warriors’ win over the Thunder last night, but – perhaps fueled by excess emotion – he missed this incredibly emphatic dunk attempt.

Later, Russell Westbrook showed his former teammate how to do it (sparking their apparent conversation):

James Harden outduels Giannis Antetokounmpo as they produce fantastic highlight video

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James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo met in a battle of two of the NBA’s best point guards. (Still weird to say.) The final lines:

  • Harden: 38 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks
  • Antetokounmpo: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks

The winner? Harden and the Rockets, who topped the Bucks, 111-92.

But the real winner? Anyone who gets to watch this highlight video. It just gets better as it goes.