Still big gap between NBA owners, players after key talks

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If you were waiting to really worry about an NBA lockout, now is a good time.

Tuesday’s negotiation session — which NBA Commissioner David Stern had previously called key to avoiding a July 1 lockout — had both sides leaving and speaking in pessimistic tones. Chris Paul said this to Brian Smith of the Salt Lake Tribune (via twitter).

“We talked for a while. Both sides made moves, but we’re still very, very far apart on what we’re trying to get done.”

NBA Union Executive Director Billy Hunter was slightly more optimistic, and called a new proposal by the owners a ray of light in a very dark room. So if you’re looking for hope, that’s it.

The players are meeting again Thursday to go over the owners’ new proposal from Tuesday, then the two sides will meet again on Friday. But with nine days until a lockout there is a lot of room between the two sides.

The big move of the day was the owners proposed a “flex cap” according to David Stern. Here are his comments, via the tweets of Ken Berger of CBS Sports:

Stern: Proposal also included “flex cap,” with a max that could be exceeded and a minimum….Stern says cap “target” is $62 million per team, with a max above that to allow for exceptions such as the Bird exception.”…. Stern on owners’ proposal: “It’s all out there. … I’m never saying final, final to anything other than we made our offer.

What you think of that depends on where you think the middle ground really is. For the owners, whose first proposal was a $45 million hard cap with no exceptions, this is a significant compromise.

But for the players, the new proposal is still a hard cap, and that is a sticking point. Right now there is a soft cap with a lot of exceptions, allowing teams to spend. While the players are willing to limit exceptions, they do not want a hard cap.

Make no mistake, this is a hard cap. While teams could go over the $62 million it would only be a little over according to reports (a few million to sign players). Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said it was based in some degree on the NHL cap, but in that one if you go over the cap by a million to pay a bonus one season, the next season your team’s cap is $1 million lower. This is not a situation like now where the cap is $57 million but the Lakers are spending $90 million.

The union’s Hunter said that there was movement on the overall split of revenue between the sides — the Basketball Related Income (BRI). Adam Silver said they were moving closer to a 50/50 split (currently the players get 57 percent).

However, Hunter said they are still very far apart on how that money will be divided (or even where the split of BRI will be). Movement on the BRI is a start. Although Stern called it a “modest proposal.”

We are a long, long way from this being solved. There is going to be a lockout on July 1. But that ray of light into the negotiations is at least some hope that the two sides can find common ground before games are lost.

Rumor: Suns, Magic have inquired about Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina

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Where do the Knicks stand on Frank Ntilikina, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft (taken ahead of Dennis Smith Jr. Zach Collins, and Donovan Mitchell)?

This should tell you all you need to know: The Denver Nuggets decided to cast Emmanuel Mudiay aside and the Knicks traded for him and instantly Mudiay jumped Ntilikina on the depth chart.

Ntilikina has played good defense but unimpressive offense for the Knicks this season and there is a thought from other teams around the league they may try to trade the young European.

A few teams are interested, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, but — shocker! — there may be a split in the front office about what to do between president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry.

Despite the Knicks’ clear lack of confidence in Ntilikina, teams have inquired about the 20-year-old, with the Magic and Suns expressing interest, according to a source. And this is where it gets interesting. There seems to be a debate within the Knicks on whether to deal Ntilikina. He was drafted by Mills and has supporters in the front office. But, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Perry, who took the job after Ntilikina was drafted, recently approached the Atlanta Hawks to gauge whether the team was interested in dealing for the guard (Hawks have Trae Young and weren’t interested).

The Suns and Magic both desperately need point guards. However, neither are offering much in trades knowing that come free agency next July there will be better, more established targets — D'Angelo Russell, Terry Rozier, among others.

Ntilikina is a good perimeter defender whose skills could be developed in the right situation into a rotation point guard. Probably. But because the offers will be lowball, the Knicks would essentially just be dumping the No. 8 pick of a season ago, a guy who is only 20 years old. That would be a mistake — if the Knicks can’t get decent value back, keep Ntilikina and try to develop him themselves. Point guards take longer to come around in the NBA, maybe Ntilikina will develop into a player the Knicks want to keep.

But the rumors are out there and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Markelle Fultz returns to Philadelphia to do shoulder rehab with team

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Markelle Fultz is back with the 76ers.

Not in uniform for games, but he is back from Los Angeles and in Philadelphia working out with the team to recover from thoracic outlet syndrome, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story, then Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia confirmed it.

Fultz was in the arena for the Sixers game Saturday against the Thunder on national television (though not suited up to play).

There is no timetable for Fultz’s return, although his agent has said he expects Fultz to be back on the court this season. Whether that would be with the Sixers is another question, teams have called about the availability of the No. 1 pick from the 2017 NBA Draft, but the offers have been so lowball that none of them have been seriously considered by Philadelphia.

After consulting with a number of specialists just a few weeks into the season (and just after the Jimmy Butler trade), the 20-year-old Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a pinching of the nerve through the collarbone area. Since December he has been in Los Angeles is doing physical therapy to relieve the issue.

Fultz has returned to Philadelphia and is continuing that therapy.

 

Report: Rockets trying to trade Carmelo Anthony, likely to waive Nunnally to create roster spot

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To bring in some front line depth in the form of Kenneth Faried Monday, the Houston Rockets first have to clear a roster spot.

That led to a lot of speculation it could be Carmelo Anthony who is let go, he remains on the roster but not with the team, in a kind of limbo while the Rockets and ‘Melo’s agent look for a landing spot. (He reportedly has several options and will choose one before the trade deadline, but if he really liked any of those options he would have already taken them rather than waiting for a better offer.)

The Rockets are “aggressively” trying to trade Anthony and find him a new home before Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported. However, James Nunnally is the most likely guy out, he was just signed to a 10-day contract.

If the Rockets haven’t waived ‘Melo yet, they’re not going to do it now.

Houston GM Daryl Morey is also working the phone lines to find wing depth to add to the Rockets’ roster. While James Harden‘s historic streak has carried the Rockets back into the playoff picture in the West, this is not the same Houston team that was a threat to the Warriors a season ago. Morey’s off-season gambles — including Anthony — have not panned out, and he is now trying to correct them.

Pelicans’ Anthony Davis out 1-2 weeks with sprained finger

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This is bad.

The New Orleans Pelicans are 21-25 and four games back of the eight seed in the West having lost 3-of-4 on the current road trip. When Anthony Davis is not on the court, the Pelicans get outscored by 4.2 points per 100 possessions.

Davis is not going to be on the court for a week or two due to a sprained finger, the team announced Saturday morning.

Looking ahead at the schedule, Davis is likely to miss between three and seven games.

Davis has played at an MVP level this season, averaging 29.3 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting, plus grabs 13.3 rebounds and dishes out 4.4 assists a night. And that’s just on offense, defensively he is one of the best rim protecting bigs in the league, averaging 2.6 blocks per game. Davis leads the NBA in win shares (8.3) and PER at 30.9. He has been an absolute beast all season long.

Yet he hasn’t been able to lead the Pelicans to a winning record because of the roster around him (and injuries that have sapped what little depth New Orleans had to begin with).

Because of that, the intensely competitive Davis — who has talked about legacy mattering more to him than money — is expected to turn down a $239 million contract extension from the Pelicans next summer. At that point New Orleans will have to consider trading him and 29 teams will be lined up to talk deal (the Celtics and Lakers are expected to be at the front of that line).