<span class="vcard">Kurt Helin</span>

Adam Silver

PBT’s Top 10 NBA Stories of 2014, No. 7: Adam Silver, Michelle Roberts move into big chairs

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It may be No. 7 this season, but Adam Silver, Michelle Roberts and their relationship could be the No. 1 story of 2017.

This story started back in February, when in an orderly transition Adam Silver took over as the Commissioner of the NBA from long-time benevolent dictator (well, sometimes) David Stern. In his 30 years in the big chair David Stern had left his distinct mark on the NBA and his authoritarian style was how the league was run.

Silver is a CEO for a modern era and instantly there were some changes just in transparency and how things were done. The most noticeable at first was more transparency in regards to officiating — the memos referees were sent became public, the admissions of mistakes by the official became more common. Also, Silver never heard an idea he wouldn’t consider. While the overall direction of the NBA was not about to change — Silver had been Stern’s right hand man for a decade — the style was different. There felt like inclusion.

Silver knows a commissioner keeps his job by making the owners rich(er), and with that he helped negotiate a new television deal for the league that nearly doubles the league’s broadcast revenue. The owners liked that and the players — who will get about half of that money — liked it as well.

Then Silver got his first real test — Donald Sterling.

Tapes of a private conversation Sterling had with his… whatever V. Stiviano was leaked to TMZ. (Likely from her camp, it was a power play to get Donald’s wife Shelly Sterling to drop a lawsuit against Stiviano.) For years the League had been embarrassed by Sterling and both his business practices and the way he ran the team (at least up until the last couple years) but owners get a wide lane to drive.

Not this time. Not from Silver. The NBA’s new commissioner banned Sterling for life and said the league would take over the team and sell it if Sterling didn’t. Then he helped orchestrate a Machiavellian move by Shelly Sterling to grab control of the Sterling Family Trust and sell the Clippers out from under Donald to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.

Through it all Silver looked decisive, particularly when compared to how NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell was handling that league’s legal/public relations challenges. Silver was well liked by players, listening to their concerns, too, and making moves like giving the NBA a week off around the All-Star Game in 2015.

Nearly equally big news in 2014 was the National Basketball Players Association — the NBPA, the players’ union — hiring Michelle Roberts to be the executive director of the union. This was a radical hire in a lot of ways — a woman, an African-American, and someone who comes more out of a litigation than a labor background. The family (read: nepotism) atmosphere of the NBA players union was gone.

In its place is a leader in Roberts taking much more aggressive stances — she said the premise of a max salary offended her, that she would fight a raising of the age limit (something very high on Silver’s wish list), and she said that players matter more than owners.

This talk rankled some fans and some owners, but Roberts came in and did exactly what a labor leader should do. The players union has lost the last few Collective bargaining Agreement negotiations and from the start Roberts wanted to change the narrative, something a lot of players and agents thought the league controlled the last time around. She wants to put the owners on the defensive. What’s more, she wants to move where the center is — which is exactly what the owners did in the last negotiation. At that time Stern and Siver came out talking about a hard salary cap and other things they knew they would never get at the bargaining table, but if they put those things out there it moved the needle their way and when they took those things of the table the givebacks from the players moved things more to the owners’ liking.

Already, both Silver and Roberts are trying to do that in anticipation of 2017 (when either side can opt out of the current CBA and one will).

By then the influx of new television money will be on the table and while you’d like to think with all that cash there the players and owners would be careful not to kill the golden goose. However, we know that’s not usually how things go.

And in the summer of 2017 whether or not we see basketball that fall could come down to the relationship between Silver and Roberts.

PBT Extra: Is David Blatt’s job in danger in Cleveland?

Maccabi Tel Aviv v Cleveland Cavaliers

There are real issues in Cleveland.

The roster lacks good defenders. Guys are not hustling consistently. Kevin Love clearly is not comfortable in the offense. Coach David Blatt can’t seem to motivate the troops and LeBron isn’t doing it either.

Then LeBron came out Monday with what can at best be called a tepid endorsement of Blatt.

In the latest PBT Extra Jenna Corrado and I talk about the problems in Cleveland — they are 5-5 in their last 10 with the 28th ranked defense in that stretch — and what they can do about it.

Is Blatt’s job in danger? Frankly, that’s up to LeBron. He has the power in that relationship and in that organization.

PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Rip City moves to front of the line

Portland Trail Blazers v Oklahoma City Thunder

For the first time this season we are seeing some life out of the Eastern Conference in these rankings — they have three of the top six teams in the Rankings. However, the top spot still goes to the West and it’s a new team — Portland. They are top 10 in offense and defense and that’s the ultimate sign of being legit.

source:  1. Trail Blazers (26-7. Last Week No. 2). They have won nine of 10 and are 2-1 in games that LaMarcus Aldridge has missed recently. They are 15-2 at home — if they can hold their ground in a deep West home court could be huge for them in the playoffs. UPDATED: They passed a big test Tuesday night against Toronto and and there is another once coming against Atlanta on Saturday.

source:  2. Bulls (21-9, LW 10). They have won six in a row and what should really scare teams is they are doing it with offense more than defense. They have looked like the best team in the East of late, they are healthy, and if they can stay that way the road to the Finals out East will go through the Windy City.

source:  3. Warriors (24-5, LW 1). They lost both games in Los Angeles last week — without Andrew Bogut teams have found you can go at them and get shots in the paint. Bogut is going to miss a couple more weeks at least but the good news is the Warriors are home for six of the next seven.

source:  4. Rockets (21-8, LW 8). What the Rockets hope Josh Smith brings them is depth and versatility up front. They got that in his first game as a Rocket — they fed him heavily late in the game and in overtime because Vince Carter was trying to guard him. Smith wasn’t efficient (9-of-21 shooting for 21 points) but it got the job done and the Rockets won. However, against the Spurs Sunday he was 2-of-7 shooting and largely a non-factor. The jury is still out on this pickup, but it was low risk (only $2 million).

source:  5. Raptors (24-7, LW 6). They picked up a quality win on the road against the Clippers, plus they got 61 points out of Lou Williams and Kyle Lowry against Denver. They are a very impressive 11-4 without DeMar DeRozan and have the best offense in the NBA so far this season.

source:  6. Hawks (22-8, LW 7). They are 15-2 in their last 17 and that includes wins over the Clippers, Mavericks, Rockets, Bulls and Cavaliers. Good test against Portland this week, but the Hawks are showing they are legit.

source:  7. Mavericks (22-10, LW 4). It’s small sample size theater but the Mavericks are defending better since Rajon Rondo arrived, which is what they needed most out of him. What is evident is they need another big behind Tyson Chandler — Jermaine O’Neal may be that guy but he’s undecided about coming back. Even without Chandler that was a quality win Sunday over the Thunder.

source:  8. Grizzlies (22-8, LW 3) They dropped four in a row before beating the Heat on Saturday, and their defense hasn’t been the rock it was. The good news for them is that after the Spurs this week the schedule softens up for a short while (as much as it can in the West, anyway.

source:  9. Clippers (20-11, LW 5). Yes, they picked up a quality win over the Warriors on Christmas Day, but the best thing any Clipper did last week was Spencer Hawes’ suit on Christmas Day. That was real and it was spectacular.

source:  10. Suns (18-14, LW 12). Winners of six in a row, but that is how the Suns seem to run — red hot then ice cold (they had lost six in a row before this). You’d like to think this latest streak means they found their groove, but I’m not convinced yet because the defense still isn’t that great, just average, and the offense will only carry them so far.

source:  11. Spurs (19-13, LW 9). They have dropped six of their last eight games and may be without Tony Parker — the catalyst for their offense — for “a while” due to his recurring hamstring injury. Still, good luck finding anyone around the league willing to write off the Spurs, we’ve all seen their obituaries before only to watch them rise up.

source:  12. Wizards (21-8, LW 11). Sure, it was only beating the Knicks, but Washington’s win on Christmas Day showed why this team has a legitimate chance to make the Eastern Conference Finals. The reason is their defense — at 99.2 points per 100 possessions it is the best in the East (and fourth best in the NBA overall). That and John Wall can carry them a long way.

source:  13. Thunder (15-17, LW 15). It’s not easy to string together consistent wins in the West, especially with Kevin Durant missing time with a sprained ankle. A few losses has them now three games back of the red-hot Suns in the race for the final playoff spot in the West, four back of the seven seed Spurs. I still expect the Thunder get there, but the path is not that easy.

source:  14. Cavaliers (18-12 LW 11). The finger pointing at coach David Blatt has begun, and there are legit questions about if he can reach this team. That said, the best player in the NBA said he was in “chill mode” against Orlando until Tobias Harris trash talked him. The Cavaliers can’t win with LeBron in chill mode, they need him to step up and be a real leader. And that might start with hustling back on defense.

source:  14. Pelicans (15-15, LW 15). Despite the gaudy block numbers of Anthony Davis — pretty much all AD’s stats are gaudy — the Pelicans are 26th in the NBA in defensive efficiency. They brought in Omer Asik to solidify the defense and if that’s not happening coach Monty Williams is going to feel his seat getting very warm.

source:  16. Bucks (15-16, LW 16). This team has had to deal with a lot of injuries and credit Jason Kidd for finding lineups that continue to work. Even Jared Dudley is having the kinds of big games (10-for-10 shooting nights) the Clippers had hoped for last season.

source:  17. Heat (14-17, LW 18). Chris Bosh is set to return Monday, which should help the Heat’s spacing and their offense. Miami was 3-5 during a long home stand without Bosh and their offense has been three points per 100 better when he is on the court this season.

source:  18. Kings (13-17, LW 19). Well, firing the coach has really fixed everything. The Kings do have DeMarcus Cousins back and did beat the Knicks Saturday (in overtime, thanks to 39 from Cousins) but they still aren’t defending so they still don’t win consistently. Which is what Malone had been preaching.

source:  19. Nets (13-16, LW 21). Lionel Hollins is finding it was a lot easier to put together a quality offense around Marc Gasol than it has been with the ingredients the Nets have given him. Challenging road games vs. Bulls and Heat up for the Nets this week.

source:  20. Nuggets (13-18, LW 17). You still see flashes from them, but nothing consistent. In fact, the weak play has been worse in the last month, this seems to be a team regressing as it moves along.

source:  21. Magic (12-21, LW 23). Things I didn’t expect to type — the Magic are the nine seed in the East, just three games back of Brooklyn and Miami for making the playoffs. They’ve won two of three and were up on the Cavaliers (until Tobias Harris started barking at LeBron James).

source:  22. Jazz (10-20, LW 26). More from Derrick Favors, speaking to PBT, about the improvements in the Utah offense: “That’s one of the things Quin talked to the whole team about coming in, was the spacing on the floor, particularly on the pick-and-roll with me and whichever guard is in it. It’s always open for the guard or they dish to me and I drive to the basket to make a play, or for whoever is on the perimeter they get a wide-open jump shot, a wide open three. That’s something Quin really talked to us about.”

source:  23. Hornets (10-21, LW 22). They had played well without Lance Stephenson (coincidence?) but even a 42-point night from Kemba Walker can’t get them a win. The bigger issue for this team remains the slip in defense from top five last season to 19th so far this season.

source:  24. Pistons (7-23, LW 27). They upset the Cavaliers and had their best offensive showing of the season and won two in a row since they waived Josh Smith. Coincidence? I think not. It doesn’t mean the Pistons will rattle off 10 wins in a row, but they are finding a comfort with the offense now.

source:  25. Pacers (11-21, LW 24). George Hill is back and while he has been much maligned in Indy he is a needed talent with this roster. Some challenging games ahead with Chicago, Miami and Milwaukee up this week.

source:  26. Celtics (10-18, LW 20). I expect you’ll start seeing Brandan Wright showcased more as Danny Ainge will want to trade him again at the deadline. The Celtics have lost four in a row and their offense has been the reason. It’s not pretty.

source:  27. Lakers (9-22, LW 22). No, the Lakers are not better without Kobe Bryant. However, what they are is more predictable and easy to defend on offense — when Kobe is pounding the ball in an isolation set everyone else stands around, the Lakers become predictable. The offense needs to be less a shrine to Kobe and more about player movement — and it was on Sunday night against the Suns. But the Lakers still lost.

source:  28. 76ers (4-25, LW 28). They have a Top 10 NBA defense. Seriously. They 10th in defensive efficiency. The fact that they have just four wins on the season speaks to just how anemic the offense is. They are on a rough West Coast road trip this week with the Warriors, Suns and Clippers coming up this week.

source:  29. Timberwolves (5-24, LW 29). Losers of eight in a row but the cavalry may be on the horizon — Ricky Rubio is practicing a little and could be back on the floor in a couple of weeks. They play the Jazz twice and the Kings this week, it’s a good chance to end that losing streak.

source:  30. Knicks (5-27, LW 30). They have lost seven in a row and 18-of-19. In the last game Carmelo Anthony did not return after halftime with a sore left knee, so the team leaned heavily on Tim Hardaway Jr. and Cole Aldrich for offense. That pretty much sums it up.

Chris Bosh to make return Monday night vs. Magic

Chris Bosh
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The Miami Heat have gone 3-5 without Chris Bosh in the lineup and it hasn’t been pretty — this was one of their longest home stands of the season and they couldn’t take advantage, getting blown out by the likes of the Bulls and Jazz.

Bosh averages 21.6 points and 8 rebound a game. Without him the Heat’s offensive balance has been missing, their three point shooting has declined and they are less of a threat to score inside. The Heat offense has been three points per 100 possessions better with Bosh on the court.

They should have that back Monday night — Bosh is expected to return from his calf injury Monday night vs. the Magic. Shandel Richardson of the Sun-Sentinel has the details.

Bosh went through a full practice on Sunday, the question was how his calf would respond and feel Monday. Apparently good enough.

This is not an easy spot to return for Bosh, he will match up against Nikola Vucevic for much of the night, a versatile and physical big man. There likely will be a minutes restriction for Bosh as well.

But it will be good for Miami to have him back. They are a playoff team in the East with him, without him it’s borderline.

Report: Can coach David Blatt reach Cavaliers? Management isn’t so sure.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Miami Heat

Here is the most disturbing part of the Cavaliers’ blowout, 23-point home loss to Detroit (and that is not an easy choice):

They led by 15 midway through the second quarter, they had this game in hand, then they just took their foot off the gas and thought they could coast in, and this team is not good enough to do that. They are not a strong defensive team at all, especially without Anderson Varejao for the season, they cannot stop bringing top effort. Especially with Kyrie Irving out.

How much of that falls to coach David Blatt? Can he reach this team? Some in the Cavaliers organization are starting to ask that question, reports Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

Sources told ESPN.com that there is rising concern in team circles about the level of response Blatt is getting on the floor, with Blatt himself acknowledging that the Cavaliers “lost our energy and we lost our competitiveness” in Sunday night’s embarrassing home loss to Detroit….

But the Cavs’ effort level, especially defensively, is eroding noticeably, raising the volume on questions about just how much the locker room is listening to the 55-year-old Boston native, who has enjoyed tremendous success internationally but still began this season as a relative unknown to NBA players….

Whispers about the lack of attention various Cavs players are paying to Blatt during some timeout huddles, as well as their apparent preference to communicate with Cavs assistant and former NBA player Tyronn Lue, have been in circulation for weeks. And James acknowledged recently that he did not formally request permission to assume the bulk of the Cavs’ playmaking duties, which triggered Cleveland’s eight-game winning streak earlier this month.

There are several factors in Blatt’s favor here. First, to be fair the job he was hired for — building up a young Cavaliers team — is not the one he got when LeBron James changed the landscape of the NBA and returned to Cleveland. Blatt likely would be Steve Kerr’s lead assistant had the Cavs been sure that would have happened.

Second, Blatt can coach. The man has won a lot in Europe (including the EuroLeague title with Maccabi Tel-Aviv last season) and coached the Russian national team to a bronze medal in the Olympics. His system offensively, when executed properly, looks a lot like the Spurs did in last year’s finals — ball movement and guys moving off the ball.

Finally, there are serious roster issues with the Cavs that no coach is going to fix. They do not have a defensive presence in the paint, you can go at them with size. That’s been exacerbated by the season-ending injury to Anderson Varejao. And there have been other injuries as well (Kyrie Irving was out against Detroit, for example).

All that said, this team is not playing hard for Blatt. They are not following his systems on either end of the floor and he is struggling to get through to them. Kevin Love looks lost at times and isn’t getting the ball where he is most dangerous (and when he does he still has some struggles with being consistent). In Europe the power structure is more like college — the coaches have all the power — but in the NBA that dynamic shifts and the players have the real power. Especially LeBron. Especially in Cleveland.

And if LeBron wants another coach — or doesn’t come to Blatt’s defense in a serious way — there will be a new coach in Cleveland sooner rather than later.