Author: Kurt Helin

SPO-BASKETBALL-NBA-LAKERS

Kobe Bryant: “We are overpaid, at the same time so are the owners”

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Kobe Bryant is a great interview at this point because he has reached the “I don’t give a s— what people think” phase of his career, which makes for some interesting copy.

Like on Tuesday when he was asked at practice about the new TV deal and how much money is coming into the system, and with that how it impacts the next CBA.

I can guarantee you Kobe Bryant speaks here for a lot of other players. Which is why we should be nervous about the coming 2017 lockout. (Thanks to Shahan Ahmed at my old stomping grounds of NBCLA for the story, and they have the video if you want to see it.)

“Business is business and I think people get that confused very easily, the understanding that players should take less than their market value, substantially less than their market value, so the team can win championships. It’s very easy to look at the elite players around the league and talk about the money they get paid, compare that with the average (salary in America), but we don’t look at what the owners get paid, the revenue they generate off the backs of these players. And now you have a TV deal that comes out and you look at it being up like a billion dollars (a year) from the previous one, and this is coming off the back of a lockout in which the cap, it’s not a hard cap, but it’s pretty close to a hard cap.

“And now it will be interesting to see what happens in this next labor agreement. It’s my understanding this TV deal kicks in the last year of this current agreement, so I’m sure they will try to lock us out again and harden the cap even more and I think as players you got to hold your ground a little bit. Not be afraid of what the public perception is and instead try to educate the public a little bit and understanding that it’s not about complaining about how much you’re making, because that’s ridiculous — we are overpaid, at the same time so are the owners. And you have to fight for your value.

From the players’ perspective they gave the owners a lot in the 2011 lockout, at least six percentage points of the league’s revenue annually (basketball related income, the players used to get 57 percent, this last season it was 51 percent).  Then they see the Clippers sell for $2 billion (money the players do not see), and they see that new massive television deal (they do get half of that money) and they say “we’ve given plenty, it’s time for the owners to bleed a little.”

You would like to think that all that money on the table will be too much for either side to walk away from, that cooler heads will prevail in 2017. But more money often leads to more greed. Some owners are ready to still push for a hard cap and some players are ready to be out to get more concessions (they know the percentage points are gone, or at least they should know that). If the hardliners on either side control the agenda (and I think that’s more likely on the ownership side), this could get ugly.

As for Kobe talking about his oft-criticized two-year, $48 million contract, of course he’s good with it.

“I’m the luckiest basketball player in the league because I got an organization that takes care of its players.”

Shortening NBA games? Nice idea. Shortening NBA season? Better idea.

Adam Silver
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You’ve got to give Adam Silver’s NBA credit — under him the league is not a slave to the status quo, it will experiment with things. The latest example is trying out a 44-minute game as a preseason experiment when the Nets host the Celtics Sunday. Each quarter will be 11 minutes long rather than 12, and the second and fourth quarters each will have one fewer mandatory television timeout.

It’s an interesting idea, reducing the length of games and,  along with that, the wear and tear on players. It’s an idea worth experimenting with (although it’s not your average NBA regular season game that is too long, it is the playoff games with longer television timeouts, and good luck getting the networks to give up advertising dollars then).

But it’s not the best answer.

If the goal is to both to reduce the stress on players bodies and improve the level of play in the league, there is a superior alternative.

Shorten the NBA season.

Go from 82 games t0 72. Or 66.

It’s the volume of games — and particularly the volume of back-to-backs and four games in five nights — that really both wear down players, making them more prone to injury, and it is the wear that reduces the quality of play. If you have ESPN Insider, go read Tom Haberstroh’s brilliant bit of work on how just giving the players a week off around the All-Star Game this year increased the number of back-to-backs around the league, and the dips in quality of play and increased injury risk that come with those back-to-backs.

“A study looked at 13 seasons’ worth of data and found that teams that play a back-to-back on the road perform 1.5 points per 100 possessions worse than if they had had a rest day in between. It might not seem like much, but a 1.5-point decrease is roughly the equivalent of playing the Dallas Mavericks compared to the Minnesota Timberwolves last season.”

Which means I’m not suggesting the league adopt what was done in the 2011 lockout year with 66 games crammed in after Christmas. Rather, my plan would be to reduce the schedule to 72 games yet start at the season around Halloween as always. Spacing games out could reduce the number of back-to-backs and the league could still start the playoffs one to two weeks earlier. Which means they can end the playoffs and Finals a week or two earlier — the NBA has looked for a way to create more space between the Finals and the draft to hype it up, this can add time into that part of the schedule.

Of course, this is about as likely to happen as Ted Nugent winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Because of the money. It’s always about the money.

First off, good luck getting team owners to go for losing five nights of gate revenue at home. And with 10 fewer games there would need to be adjustments in regional television contracts, team sponsors would want to pay a little less because they don’t reach fans as often, and on down the line there would be a little less money flowing into the system.

Plus, the NBA just inked a massive new television deal with ESPN/ABC and Turner, they would have to be brought in on the discussions. (Although the key for the networks is the playoffs and if those don’t change the television revenue shouldn’t change that dramatically.)

If you think the players automatically would be for fewer games, guess again. Any drop in revenue — gate, television, sponsors, etc. — impacts the gross “basketball related income” number that gets divided between the owners and players as part of the CBA, the calculations of which impact the salary cap. Basically, to get fewer games the players are going to have to give up some money. Good luck selling that idea.

My argument would be there is still a lot of money in the system, enough for the owners and players to divide up and still get quite rich on this as a business, but the game itself would improve with 10 fewer games for each team each season.

I’m just realistic enough to know we will never see that.

Attend Spurs season-opening game, get replica of championship ring

commemorative_championship_ring_1
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In just two weeks the NBA season tips off, and in the first game the San Antonio Spurs are going to raise their championship banner and get handed their championship rings (right in front of Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks, just to rub some salt in that wound).

Fans going to the game are going to get more than memories — they are going to get replica championship rings. Nice.

The rings are sponsored by HEB (which is a ubiquitous sponsor in San Antonio) and while they will not be diamond encrusted like the ones the players get, they still sound pretty sweet. From the press release:

The commemorative NBA Championship rings feature the iconic Spur logo on the front and the team’s 2013-14 regular and post-season records above the NBA logo on the left panel. The opposite panel is etched with a replica of the Larry O’Brien trophy with five studs, representing each of the Spurs’ five championships.

They may not be the first team ever to do this (the Wizards have previously given away rings on the anniversary of their one title, from back in the Bullets era) but once again the Spurs may have set the standard for the league. Just giving out a T-shirt on opening night isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Just like every team is trying to do on the court with the Spurs offense (and there they will fall short), every team is going to be copying the Spurs here. The Cavaliers, Thunder, Clippers and Bulls marketing teams may want to start thinking about this, just in case.

Wesley Matthews thinks Wesley Matthews is the best two-way guard in NBA

Portland Trail Blazers Media Day
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It’s been a bit of a bar stool debate among NBA fans since Klay Thompson’s agent brought it up:

Who is the best two-way guard in the NBA?

Obviously Thompson’s agent said it was Thompson. Lance Stephenson is in the conversation, as is the often overlooked Joe Johnson (not worth his contract but still very good). Arron Afflalo gets overlooked and is better than many fans realize. DeMar DeRozan, Eric Bledsoe and Bradley Beal are fast rising. Kobe Bryant’s backers say it’s still him (Kobe’s fans will say it’s Kobe when he’s 70 and in a wheelchair). I’d still take James Harden over a lot of guys because of his offense but his defense is clearly an issue.

Portland’s Wesley Mathews says its Wesley Mathews, as he told the Columbian.

“Do I think I’m All-Defense? Absolutely. I think I’m the best two-way two-guard in the NBA. But I feel like we need to be a good defensive team within the scheme of the game. We’re not out there gambling, trying to reach and get steals. That would put us in a bind if I don’t get it,” Matthews said.

I’d put him in the often-overlooked category and near the top of that mythical list — he averaged 17.4 points a game with a very good .588 true shooting percentage and he shot almost 40 percent from three. He’s a smart and strong defender. He gets overlooked because of the star power that Damian Lillard brings, but Mathews is one of the games better two guards right now.

You’ll see Matthews real value next summer when he is a free agent — he is going to get paid. A number of teams will try to poach him.

Blake Griffin hosts “Basketball Book Club” in Jimmy Kimmel skit (VIDEO)

Los Angeles Clippers Media Day
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Sure, this is basically an ad for “The Best of Me.” A movie coming out soon I have no intention of seeing (nor did my book club read it).

Still, it’s damn funny.

Blake Griffin, with a sweater tied around his shoulders, leads the book club of Chandler Parsons, Matt Barnes and Iman Shumpert in a discussion of “The Best of Me” and author Nicholas Sparks jumps in to help. Well done, gentlemen.

(If you’re looking for a good book club option, I’d recommend “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Despite the cheesy ending it’s my favorite thing I read in the last year.)

Hat tip That NBA Lottery Pick.