Derek Fisher

NBA Players union elects first female executive director in Michele Roberts


Much like any legislation that comes out of Washington D.C., how this came to be was far from pretty.

Michele Roberts, a powerful Washington D.C. litigator, has been elected as the next executive director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), better known as the players union, according to multiple reports. She is the first woman to hold the position and replaces Billy Hunter, who was forced out 17 months ago amid charges of nepotism and other concerns.

Roberts works for the firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. She is not someone with NBA ties but that seemed to appeal to the players who voted (she got 32 of the 34 votes, which included 28 team representatives). One of the other finalists was Mavericks CEO Terdima Ussery, but the union moved away from someone already connected to the league. She also has a spotless reputation.

What do we know about Roberts? Not much. Here is what her law firm’s bio page says about her:

Michele Roberts is a renowned trial lawyer and a member of the firm’s Litigation Group. Her practice focuses on complex civil and white collar criminal litigation before state and federal courts and in administrative proceedings. Ms. Roberts has tried more than 100 cases to jury verdicts, representing clients in a wide variety of areas, including products liability, white collar, racketeering, securities regulation violations, Title VII issues and premises liability. She has been called the finest pure trial lawyer in Washington, D.C. by Washingtonian Magazine.

She does have experience in labor law, which is key for the union.

Her election ended a wild week for the union.

First, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, who had led the search committee to find a new executive director, stepped aside before the vote. Then on Monday, a number of player agents who felt cut out of the process had a conference call to complain and pressured their clients to try and delay any vote. Then at the meeting, former player and union rep Jerry Stackhouse showed up and tried to get the players to hold off and look at other candidates.

The day was full of the disruptions that have plagued the union for years. There is an inherent difference in opinions around the unions because what is best for the star players is often not best for the “middle class” or the guys making the league minimum. Throw in agents trying to game the system to help their clients (and therefore their pocket books) and you have a frightening amount of in-fighting. In the end, the union representatives voted for the executive committee (led by union president Chris Paul) backed.

That in-fighting is what Roberts walks into and has to clean up. She needs to get a unified front before the players head into the 2017 negotiations with the NBA on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (either side can opt out that year and it is expected one or both sides will). That is when things get serious.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.