At this stage in the lockout and the negotiations within, it’s impossible for any free agent player to address their situation with certainty. That much is guaranteed by the fact that no explicit communication can go on between player and team at the present juncture; any indications given at this point convey only intent or interest, and until a new CBA is christened, there will be nothing in the way of actual contract negotiations and agreement.
Still, there is value in knowing the desired outcome of various NBA free-agents-to-be, even if it’s only on a stay-or-go binary. Case in point: Memphis’ Marc Gasol, a restricted free agent who plays a highly coveted position and is coming off of yet another promising season. The Grizzlies would retain the right to match any offer thrown Gasol’s way by virtue of his restricted status, but his own preferences do play a role in the free agent process, Memphis’ decision making, and in a nutshell, Gasol’s entire short-term basketball future. From Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commerial Appeal (via Yahoo’s Scoop du Jour blog):
“I grew up in Memphis. I feel like it’s my home,” Gasol said in a telephone interview before amassing 11 points, six rebounds and two blocks during Spain’s 98-85 title win in Kaunas, Lithuania.
“They always say it’s a business and there are bad sides to the business. We have to wait until it plays out. But I’m looking forward to something good happening.”
As far as media hints go, “looking forward to something good happening,” is about as vague as it gets. Still, the fact that Gasol — though nominally a Spaniard — considers Memphis his home is not altogether insignificant. There’s no binding contract. There’s not even a verbal agreement in place. But Gasol made a home for himself in Memphis long before he played for the Grizzlies, and the fact that fact will make some impact on his free agent courtship. Whether it affects the final dollar value of a possible re-up with the Grizz or merely hedges on his interest in a possible relocation remains to be seen, but there’s no way this tidbit doesn’t work in Memphis’ favor.
We’re now months into the NBA lockout. July 1st marked the expiration of the previous collective bargaining agreement, and even before that deadline passed, the lockout loomed over the 2011 off-season.
Yet in terms of the timeline of negotiations and bargaining sessions between the players and owners, the lockout is in its infancy. Only now are the parties involved given incentive to compromise — or rather, only now are the parties involved truly facing actual risk. The potential for a shortened free agency period and the cancellation of the annual Summer League naturally didn’t do much to expedite the negotiating process; a logistical shift in free agency and a year off from the festivities in Vegas just don’t register as legitimate losses on a scale this large. The owners and players are fighting for what they believe to be fair, and thus far have refused to let isolated summer events stand in the way of what they deem to be equitable.
So while it’s almost trite to say that the NBA negotiations have “only just begun,” or “are just getting started,” both of those tropes are nonetheless true. Matt Bonner, Vice President of the NBPA, elaborated on the realities of the lockout’s motivations and timeline in a radio interview with The Fan 590 in Toronto (as transcribed by Sports Radio Interviews):
“No, I mean obviously up until Tuesday everything has been posturing. I can’t really blame one side or another for the reason a deal hasn’t been reached because the calendar was on both sides’ side. There wasn’t really any pressure from the calendar on either side. Now with the recent drop dead date for training camp and preseason and approaching regular season stuff, there’s definitely a lot more pressure on each side. Through that natural pressure we saw a window, based on what we thought was indicated a week before, we saw a window to possibly get a deal done. We did everything we could to prepare ourselves for that. The owners just did not share that attitude.”
This, ladies and gents, is the lockout’s true beginning. It isn’t dragging on; the real negotiations begin only when both sides have an accurate view of what’s at stake, and now that losing regular season games is a real possibility (if not an outright certainty), the bargaining process has finally begun in earnest.
The barbarians are at the gate. They’re wearing Brooks Brothers and smell like money. And now, to quote a wholly inappropriate flick for the context, “They have a cave troll.”
A faction of NBA agents have been ramping up pressure on Billy Hunter and the union officials to decertify the union, paving the way for antitrust lawsuits galore in an attempt to gain some sort of line in the sand in the ever-receding front for the players with the owners advancing. Hunter and the union have been steadfast in resisting efforts to decertify, wanting to keep the dispute out of the courts. They’re aware that the moment this thing enters the courts it goes from trench warfare to a melee, and everything winds up in the air. The agents feel this is the only way to put the fear of God into the owners and get them off their hard line.
It hasn’t been all the agents though. Specifically, Billy Duffy, Arn Tellem, Mark Bartelstein, Jeff Schwartz, and Dan Fegan have been the ones leading the charge while other agents hang back or resist outright. But a major entity is reportedly set on pushing to detonate the union and strike out with lawsuits galore. It’s LeBron’s agent, Leon Rose.
Rose, who also represents Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and union official Chris Paul, is on the train according to Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated. The Paul connection is particularly interesting as it represents a split between agent and player, assuming Paul is sticking with Hunter and Derek Fisher in trying to withstand the rise from within. The reason this could be significant has more to do with numbers than individuals, however. If Rose is in fact siding with the others and can convince the majority of his stable, that puts the contingent firmly beyond the 30% necessary to petition in order to force an involuntary decertification.
Hunter losing control of his membership in an involuntary decertification wouldn’t be tantamount to a vote of no confidence, but it would be pretty freaking close. It would mean that his membership elected directly to override his leadership to go in another direction. It could also cause a fracture in leadership which could set back talks for months, and that’s before the ramifications of entering this conflict into court case after court case.
As always, there’s a storm and LeBron James is at or near the center of it.
Amar’e Stoudemire spoke to a group of campers in New York on Wednesday, and he shared some very good news for Knicks fans of all ages. ESPN New York’s Jared Zwerling has the story:
After spending much of the summer at his rented house in Hollywood Hills, Calif., Amare Stoudemire returned to New York City on Wednesday to speak to a small group of 10- to 12-year-olds about the importance of education.
More importantly, for the Knicks community that is, Stoudemire shared two pieces of very promising news at Harlem’s Polo Grounds Community Center. He said he feels great and starting Monday he’ll be back to high-intensity workouts – the kind of “back” fans want to hear. The second key note is that he’s hearing the lockout may be resolved sooner than later. (Let’s not forget teammate Roger Mason Jr. is the vice president of the NBA players’ union.)
Back issues were a serious problem for Stoudemire when the Knicks were swept by the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs — after a 28-point, 12-18 shooting performance in Game 1, Stoudemire went just 9-37 in the last three games of the series. Stoudemire also said all the right things about a commitment to defense when asked about new assistant coach Mike Woodson, but the best news for Knicks fans has to be that Stoudemire, who has struggled with injuries throughout his career, is feeling 100% healthy and ready to go at this point in time.
The lockout has added upheaval to every phase of the NBA’s off-season, but the process has been particularly tumultuous for incoming rookies. The lucky rooks have been able to establish some kind of contact with their team (preliminary conversations with coaches or general managers, introductory press conferences, etc.), but there are plenty of other first-year players that were left out in the cold by the strict barring of contact between players and teams, isolated by the lockout’s iron curtain.
Miami point guard Norris Cole, the No. 28 overall pick, lies somewhere in the middle. He’s smiled for the cameras and shaken hands with Pat Riley, but the lockout had prevented Cole from actually meeting any of his teammates-to-be until a recent phone call put him in touch with one of the Heat’s most powerful employees. From Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel:
Despite playing four years at Cleveland State, the speedy point guard said he had never met or spoken with LeBron James until receiving a phone call last week. It was James, extending an invitation to work out if Cole would make the short trip from Cleveland to Akron, James’ hometown.
“He welcomed me to the family, the Miami Heat family,” Cole said Wednesday. “He found out I was in the area. He asked if I wanted to come work out. He said I could come work out any time he’s in the area, and I said, ‘OK,’ and I took advantage of it.”
Together, the two ran drills, with James filling in Cole on the Heat’ approach. Until that session, Cole said he had not met another member of the team since he was drafted in June. “It was good just to see how he worked out, how serious he takes the game,” Cole said. “Reaching out, it shows how sincere of a person he is, of a teammate he is.”
LeBron inviting Cole to work out with him doesn’t exactly make him a saint, but it’s still a nice gesture to a rookie without a country. NBA vets should all be more or less on the same page once the lockout is lifted, but a rookie getting acclimated to the NBA game, a new home, a new coach, and new teammates is in for quite the challenge. The more familiar Cole is with the players around him and the way the Heat go about their business, the easier it will be to deal with the steep post-lockout learning curve. No need to make LeBron’s workouts with Cole any more than they are, but those little bits do help in the grand scheme of things, even if only in offering the rook a few points of reference for his first real day on the job.