Wizards’ owner Ted Leonsis likes NHL-style hard salary cap. Must like lockouts, too.

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Leonsis_Wizards.jpgUPDATE 7:31 pm: NBA Commissioner David Stern tried to contain any damage that came from Leonsis (plus hit Leonsis with a $100,000 fine for talking about the CBA, all done within a few hours, just so you know Stern is not messing around):

“We’re negotiating and that was one of our negotiating points,” Stern
told the Associated Press, “but collective bargaining is a negotiating
process, and that was not something that Ted was authorized to say and
he will be dealt with for that lapse in judgment.”

4:23 pm: Washington Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis went through the ugliness of the NHL lockout that cost the league an entire season — and set the sport back considerably in public opinion. Check the television ratings.

But Leonsis seems to like what came out on the other side of that, enough that he thinks the NBA should go down the same road. He said as much meeting with a Virginia business group today, as reported by Fanhouse:

“In a salary cap era — and soon a hard salary cap in the NBA like it’s in the NHL — if everyone can pay the same amount to the same amount of players, its the small nuanced differences that matter,” Leonsis said.

Because Leonsis is not officially authorized to speak regarding the ongoing NBA labor negotiations, he refused to expound on his remarks when asked to clarify after his speech. But he did note that he is a huge fan of the NHL’s system, praising it and noting that it is a good one that works fairly.

“It’s working,” he said. “The teams are very, very competitive. There is no way that big markets teams can outspend small market teams. So when the season starts everyone thinks their team can compete for the Stanley Cup.”

Two thoughts here.

First, the NBA Players Association is not going to take a hard cap — not when the owners just sold $100 million more in season tickets than they did a season a go. After a year where the overall league revenue was up. If you want a hard cap you’re in for a long, drawn out, ugly fight.

Commissioner David Stern has countered that teams had more expenses to get that revenue up. They had to discount tickets and hire more sales staff, for example. My thought — welcome to the recession. At my favorite restaurant down the street from me, the owner is surviving and doing pretty well but he has to give away more meals now, market more and smarter, and generally work harder for a little less. The NBA is no different. Suck it up and don’t complain about it.

Secondly, the NHL salary cap is not the simple solution you may think.

As of this year, NHL players will have a salary cap set based on 57 percent of “hockey-related income.” Which is almost identical to the percentage of Basketball Related Income the NBA players get right now. It’s divided up differently (and the NBA’s pie is larger), but the percentage is the same. If the NBA used that model, the salary cap would likely be much closer to or higher than the luxury tax line now.

Also, some sites keep talking about the $40 million cap the NHL had when it came back from a strike. That was 2005-06 season. This year, the cap is $59.4 million with a salary floor of $43 million. As Joe Yerdon from our own ProHockeyTalk told me, a lot of teams are now complaining the must spend more than they could spend at all just a few years ago. Not all NHL teams are raking in money.

In the NBA’s case, whatever system is in place will need much better owner revenue sharing. And don’t for a second think all the owners are on the same page with that.

Also, if fans think you get a deal out of this, think again — NHL ticket prices now are higher than they have ever been.

One final note on all this — the NBA is having a renaissance of popularity. The Lakers/Celtics finals followed by what happened in Miami this summer vaulted the sport up the popularity ladder to Jordan era levels.

A lockout that costs games kills that. Fast. Dead. The NBA will lose the casual fan it is getting back now, and it will be 10 times harder to get them back. And then everybody’s revenue goes down.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.