Winderman: Who the players send to the bargaining table

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 437.jpgEditor’s note: From time to time, Ira Winderman will jump in with longer analysis of some bigger issues. These “Quick Takes” appeared previously as stories on NBCSports.com and will now appear within ProBasketballTalk instead.

There is a ritual in NBA locker rooms when it comes to electing union reps.

That’s when the veterans scramble for bathroom breaks, when the league’s most outspoken players disappear, when the unsuspecting find out they have been elected.

Take the Rockets, for example.

Second-year forward Joey Dorsey, hardly a player well versed with the labor acrimony that has already gotten the league into heated discussions about a collective-bargaining agreement that won’t take effect until 2011-12.

Freshly back from a stint in the D-League, Dorsey was informed Tuesday in Miami that he has been elected his team’s union representative.

Why?

Apparently because his new teammates thought he was going to Dallas, anyway, for the D-League All-Star Game. So why not just send him to the union meeting, as well. That works, except that because he got called up to the NBA, he can’t play in the D-League game. Now he just heads to Dallas for the meeting.

He is not the only interesting choice.

The Heat’s representative? No, not high-profile Dwyane Wade or high-salaried Jermaine O’Neal, but rather where-have-you-gone James Jones.

In fact, the current union board, the one charged with crafting the new labor agreement in concert with David Stern’s cutthroat band of henchmen, is loaded with players either currently working on the minimum scale or headed there, players such as Adonal Foyle, Theo Ratliff, Mo Evans, Keyon Dooling and Etan Thomas.

Even union president Derek Fisher is at a stage where his $5 million salary this season could turn into something closer to the minimum next summer, when he stands as a free agent.

For all the bravado coming out of the union about fighting Stern at every turn, this is an executive board that comes from a far lower rent district than one would expect at this negotiating table.

No Kobe. No LeBron. No Shaq. None of the players who could find their knees bashed in the process.

Influential agents certainly will put pressure on Executive Director Billy Hunter to fight the good fight.

But if it is to the point that Fisher is union president, Foyle the top vice president and Jones the third-ranking union leader, then perhaps that apathy could be parlayed into the ultimate comeuppance for the disinterested high end.

For example, what if Stern, to all the draconian measures he already has forwarded to the union, says, “You know what guys, here’s one more: We also plan to raise the minimum salary for everyone to $1.5 million or even $2 million. Everyone would make at least that. Guaranteed.”

That is more that Foyle and Ratliff currently are earning, likely more than Fisher, Dooling, Evans and Jones will earn on their next deals.

It would serve the majority. Provide an upgrade. In a league where careers are fleeting, the loss of any paycheck to a lockout would be money never regained.

If the players with the most at stake elect to send their D-League to the bargaining table, can’t be bothered enough to make the effort, majority rule could lead to a rude awakening.

It is the rare case when the end of the bench could determine the game’s outcome.

Wes Unseld Jr., Kenny Atkinson reportedly top list for next Chicago coach

Chicago coach
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Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, the two guys at the top of Chicago Bulls basketball operations, fired a coach in Jim Boylen that the team owner liked. Which means they have to nail the next hire.

Chicago in on to the second round of interviews and four names stand out, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Bulls are narrowing to finalists for their head coaching job and expect to conduct final interviews soon, sources said. Denver assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Philadelphia assistant Ime Udoka, Milwaukee assistant Darvin Ham and former Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson are among the coaches who have had strong interviews so far.

Atkinson has a more proven resume after what he did in Brooklyn, but the other three are top assistants who have earned their shot in the big chair. Unseld Jr. is a hot name right now because his team is still in the bubble and playing well — he’s Mike Malone’s lead assistant on the Denver Nuggets — but every name on this list is qualified.

Whoever lands the job will head a team with plenty of potential but also plenty of questions. The Bulls have quality young talent on the roster — Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter — but do they are fit together? How good Chicago is next season may depend more on the growth of White and the health of Markkanen than it does on who gets selected as coach.

Expect Karnisovas to spend a year putting his stamp on this roster and moving players around. First, however, he’s got to find his coach.

Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin form NASCAR racing team with Bubba Wallace driving

Michael Jordan NASCAR
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Michael Jordan is getting into the NASCAR game.

The North Carolina native has teamed up with three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin to form a new NASCAR Cup Series race team — and they’ve signed Bubba Wallace to drive.

Wallace is the only Black man driving full-time in NASCAR’s top series (the previous three seasons he raced for Richard Petty Motorsports). Wallace has been at the forefront of bringing social changes to NASCARincluding the banning of the Confederate flags at NASCAR events and tracks.

“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Michael Jordan becomes the first Black owner of a full-time race team in NASCAR top series since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott in the 1960s and early 1970s (he owned the team and drove the car). Bubba Wallace is the first Black full-time driver in the top NASCAR series since Scott.

Hamlin will be a minority partner in the new team and continue to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” said Wallace in a statement. “Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins. I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”

The car manufacturer, number, sponsors and more will be announced at a later date.

Jordan is the primary owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

NBA executives pick Luka Doncic as best player under 25 to build around

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Luka Doncic, in his second season, made the leap into the NBA’s elite — fourth in MVP voting and First Team All-NBA. All at age 21.

Not surprisingly, he’s the player under 21 NBA teams would want to build around.

Michael Scotto of Hoopshype polled 15 league executives (including four general managers) and players under 25 they want to build around and Doncic was the unanimous choice.

“To me, Luka is the clear No. 1,” one scout told HoopsHype. “He’s a guy who can be a lead ballhandler. He’s good enough to score and create at a high level, has the right mental makeup and is incredibly smart. He’s been a winner everywhere and will probably be a winner in the league.”

It’s hard to argue when Luka Doncic is already doing this in the playoffs:

Boston’s Jayson Tatum came in second, Phoenix Devin Booker was third, followed by Ja Morant (Memphis) fourth and a tie at fifth between Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Bam Adebayo (Miami).

An interesting note about that top five: None of them was a No. 1 pick.

Zion Williamson had been on top of this poll a year ago, but after a season where he played just 19 games then looked a step slow in the bubble there are concerns about his long-term health.

“He’s just a special player inside the arc who’s an elite finisher,” one executive told HoopsHype. “Offensively, he can finish at an elite rate. He’s one of the best finishers behind Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and LeBron (James). He can hit the open man. He’s so physically dominant. His shooting shouldn’t be a problem, but we’ll see. I think he’s always going to be hurt, though.”

One healthy dominant season from Williamson and those opinions could shift, but even then Doncic will be an MVP level player the Mavericks can build a contender around. He’s the guy under 25.

Report: Raptors coach Nick Nurse earning $8M salary on extension

Raptors coach Nick Nurse
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Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich reportedly had an $11 million salary in 2015 then signed a contract extension in 2019 that keeps him the NBA’s highest-paid coach. Doc Rivers was earning $10 million annually with the Clippers before his latest extension. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also signed extensions in recent years.

What about Nick Nurse, who just signed an extension with the Raptors?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Raptors coach Nick Nurse signed a new multiyear contract extension on Tuesday — a deal that pays him around $8 million per year, sources say.

That’s a lot for a coach, especially in these times.

But Nurse has proven his value. He might even be the NBA’s best coach right now. He checks so many key boxes.

He has shown the ability to prepare his team for the playoffs then adapt through a long playoff run. His players have developed under his watch. He has dealt with roster upheaval and kept everything humming.

After just two seasons as head coach, Nurse still must prove himself in more situations, especially as opposing teams become more familiar with his strategies. But Toronto should want to keep him.

Credit Raptors ownership for paying to make it happen.

Now onto Raptors president Masai Ujiri