“Let the poets write that he had the tools of greatness, but the voices of his better angels were shouted down by his obsessive need to win.”
– The West Wing
This lockout is perceived as two sides in a standoff with one another, owners and players. In reality, it’s six sides. You have the rich owners, the poor owners, the moderate owners, the superstar players, the role players, and… the agents. When it gets down to it, the agents are the men behind the curtain in this little play. Those escalating salaries that the owners themselves agreed to with ridiculous, long contracts? The owners are on the hook for them, those were the product of the owners’ decisions. But they were created by the work of agents, forever raising value, forever edging the bottom line (and subsequently their cut) higher and higher. It is the agents advising the players on their money to prepare for a lockout, it is the agents keeping the players in line to whatever degree they can.
Let’s be clear, this is not to vilify agents. If we’re making a list of “money-grubbing” and “reasonable” we’ve got everyone involved on one side and pretty much no one on the other. That’s how this works, and how it would work with any group of people and if you think you and your cohorts wouldn’t do the same, then let’s have a long drawn out conversation about the value of financial success and philanthropy. But let’s not because this is a sports blog and that’s boring.
The agents are simply doing their job. The problem is, they’ve begun to get antsy. See, they don’t like this patient, reasonable waiting game Billy Hunter has decided to pursue. They want to get aggressive. They want to use the guns they have. And the one gun they have? Is decertification and a pursuit in the courts. Doing so has two effects. It represents a remote but distinctly aggressive threat against the owners to coerce them into surrendering the high ground and opening up a very real negotiation that will result in the middle ground the players are pursuing. It will royally tick off both David Stern and the ownership group, settling in for a tense, vicious, and deeply personal conflict, even more so than the lockout currently exists in.
And that’s totally the cabinet they want to open. From Yahoo! Sports:
The owners are counting on panic to take over the union once the players start missing checks. That’s when the owners want to cut a deal, when the players are most vulnerable and fearful of losing a full season’s salary. The players risk getting the same lousy deal next year after already losing a year’s salary.
Essentially, it’s come down to this: Hunter is still selling diplomacy, but the agents want to commence fighting. No one expects the league to seriously negotiate issues until they fear the courts could rule against them. The owners want what they want – hard cap, rollback on salaries and guaranteed profits – and they aren’t interested in compromises. The longer the union waits to decertify and file an antitrust suit, the less chance there is of getting a reasonable agreement and saving the season.
via NBA agents want union to decertify – NBA – Yahoo! Sports.
Woj’s article has all sorts of wonderful news, like that the agents are losing faith in Hunter, which causes a fracture and could move Hunter to the fringes of the fold. Think of that as if the old war hawks had captured the President’s ear during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The good news in that scenario would be that none of you would be complaining about the Miami Heat right now since it would still glow in the dark. The bad news is that it would have meant World War III. Hunter is the voice of reason. He’s being patient and keeping lines of communication open.
Hunter’s taken a beating because in how this has rolled out, he looks like a punching bag. He’s not actively attacking the owners, simply holding the line on the barricades and keeping the siege at bay. The agents think the best defense is a good offense. But Hunter’s way is a long-term approach. It favors reasonable discussion and business negotiations, the core of this debate which has moved sadly towards dramatics and ideology. Eventually, the owners will cease rabble-rousing and come back to the table for a real conversation, and if the union’s efforts to gain employment overseas or through other means of generating income are successful, the players will be stronger for it.
The players need to be Johnny Cash. Steady like a freight train, sharp like a razor. The owners want them Bombs Over Baghdad. But as Chris Ballard pointed out when discussing Michael Redd (the exact kind of contract the owners are trying to protect themselves from) in “Art of a Beautiful Game,” that means sometimes you hit the enemy, sometimes you hit civilians.
The length of this unnecessary lockout depends on cooler heads prevailing. If these agents, who run this world more than is let on, storm the gates and stage a coup, the fans might as well flee for the neighboring nations of “Other Sports Land.” Because we won’t be seeing the league outside of a courtroom for a good, long time.
Add Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Ingram to USA World Cup roster
The Team USA roster heading Manilla for the World Cup this summer just gets deeper and more athletic.
Two more players have committed to playing: Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. and the Pelicans scoring machine Brandon Ingram, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
We now have eight of the 12 players expected to represent the USA this summer:
Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jackson Jr. brings rim-protecting defense plus the ability to space the floor needed by bigs in the international game. Ingram fits the style of scorer — from Kevin Durant back to Carmelo Anthony — that has always done well for Team USA in international competitions. Ingram averaged 24.7 points per game this season, but missed almost half the season due to a toe injury.
The World Cup takes place this summer in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia, feating 32 teams from around the world. The USA is in Group C with Greece, New Zealand and Jordan. The World Cup is the primary qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr is in charge of Team USA, with his assistant coaches being Erik Spoelstra (Heat), Tyronn Lue (Clippers) and Mark Few (Gonzaga).
The USA will have a training camp in Las Vegas, where they play Puerto Rico in an exhibition before heading to Abu Dhabi and then on to the World Cup, where the USA will play all its games in Manilla.
The World Cup starts Aug. 25 and continues through Sept. 10.
Coaching, front office updates: Sam Cassell headed to Celtics’ bench
The musical chairs in NBA coaching and front office circles continues at full speed during the NBA Finals.
We’ve done a couple of notebook-style updates. Here’s another:
• Sam Cassell is headed to Boston to be one of the new key assistants for Joe Mazzulla with the Celtics, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic and confirmed by Chris Forsberg at NBC Sports Boston. Cassell had been on Doc Rivers’ bench in Philadelphia the past few seasons and the Los Angeles Clippers before that. This is as close to bringing in a head coach as you can get without hiring a former head coach, plus he had a 15-year NBA career players’ respect.
Cassell can also teach the players a dance that can get them fined.
• Marc Stein reports that the Mavericks are testing the waters to see if former Knicks head coach turned lead broadcaster for ABC/ESPN Jeff Van Gundy — who is currently working the NBA Finals — might want to return to the bench on Jason Kidd’s staff. That seems an incredible long shot, but it never hurts to ask.
• If they can’t get Van Gundy, the Mavericks may turn to former Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek, Stein reports.
• Stein also reports these are the four finalists for the still-open Toronto Raptors head coaching job: Kenny Atkinson (former Nets head coach who is on Steve Kerr’s staff in Golden State), Jordi Fernández (Kings lead assistant), Darko Rajaković (Grizzlies assistant coach) and Sergio Scariolo (Italy’s Virtus Bologna and the Spanish national team head coach). Scariolo will not fly to Toronto for another interview because Virtus Bologna starts the Italian league finals this week.
• Former Rockets head coach Stephen Silas will join the staff of Monty Williams in Detroit as an assistant coach, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
• As expected, the Los Angeles Clippers have promoted from within to replace former GM Michael Winger, who left to become the head of Wizards basketball operations.
LA Clippers promote Redden and Hughes.
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) June 5, 2023
The Clippers are considered one of the league’s smarter and more stable front offices, one built on collaboration, so it makes sense to promote from within.
Kyrie Irving reportedly reaches out to LeBron about joining Mavericks… good luck with that
The NBA’s silly season started during the NBA Finals.
Kyrie Irving has reached out to LeBron James about coming to Dallas and has pushed the Mavericks into looking to acquire LeBron via trade, according to reports from Shams Charania of The Athletic and Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report/TNT.
Sources: Kyrie Irving has reached out to Lakers star LeBron James in attempts to see if James would come to Dallas. Irving is a free agent this offseason.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 5, 2023
There is no shortage of rumors around the league about Irving and LeBron appearing to warm to the idea of playing together again. That was fueled by Irving being courtside at multiple Lakers playoff games.
There are so many problems with and obstacles to this LeBron in Dallas idea I’ll need to go to bullet points to break them down.
• This was either a tactical leak from the Irving camp to try and make this happen, or, it was a tactical leak by LeBron and Irving to put pressure on the Lakers to bring Irving to Los Angeles this summer. I’m not going to pretend to know Charania’s and Haynes’ sources, but nobody else benefits from this coordinated leak. If it did come from the Irving camp in any way, that’s pretty rich considering days ago he scolded anyone listening to sources and not what he says.
• The Lakers, for their part, are focused on running it back with players such as Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura and have shown limited if any interest in pursuing a sign-and-trade to land Irving. Dallas has no interest in a sign-and-trade that brings them D'Angelo Russell back. The Lakers bringing in Irving remains an incredible long shot.
• LeBron was not trade eligible at the last trade deadline after signing an off-season extension. Maybe the report was intended to mean Dallas was going to make an offer for a LeBron trade this offseason (before the Lakers run to the Western Conference Finals), but the Lakers could not have traded LeBron at the deadline, even if he wanted it.
• Making a LeBron to Dallas trade come together under the much harsher terms for big spending teams in the new CBA is next to impossible, something Haynes talks about in his story. Luka Dončić is already on the books for $40 million next season, and LeBron will make $46.9 million (plus he has a $50.6 million player option for 2024-25). If you pair those two and pay Irving anywhere near the salary he wants, the Mavericks would be right up against the salary cap with no way to fill out the roster except for minimum contracts. Wasn’t LeBron just on a team that gutted its depth for a third star?
• Along those same lines, if the Lakers sign-and-trade for Irving to put next to LeBron and Anthony Davis, they will have no cap room to round out a contending roster and it would look like the Lakers of a couple of seasons ago, with Irving in the Russell Westbrook role.
• Haynes suggested the numbers work for Dallas if LeBron forces a buyout with the Lakers and then signs in Dallas at a reduced salary. Does anyone think LeBron would even consider that for more than a second?
• If Irving is willing to take a massive discount and play for closer to the mid-level exception things fit a little better, but Irving has shown no interest in doing that. Remember he opted in with the Nets rather than leave to play for less, then pushed for a trade when Brooklyn would not give him the extension he wanted.
• There is no motivation for the Lakers to play along with this and there is no trade the Mavericks can put together that would interest Los Angeles. Technically the numbers work if Dallas trades Davis Bertans, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Maxi Kleber to Los Angeles, but why would the Lakers even consider it? The Lakers have traded almost all their draft picks and put all their energy into building a winner around LeBron and Anthony Davis, they are not trading the guy that fills their building for three rotation players. It would not matter what or how many picks were involved.
• Does LeBron James want to leave his family in Los Angeles, and playing literally down the street from his son Bronny at USC next season, to play for the Mavericks? Especially when they have to gut the roster to get him? If this season goes sideways for the Lakers maybe he feels differently about finishing his career somewhere else, but it’s hard to see right now.
• Adam Silver said he would not release the update on the Ja Morant investigation right now because he didn’t want to distract from the NBA Finals. I would have paid good money to see his face when he saw this news.
From Santa Barbara to G-League to NBA Finals star, Gabe Vincent epitomizes Heat
DENVER — Bam Adebayo had been a teammate of Gabe Vincent in the bubble and through much of the 2020-21 season (all while Vincent was on a two-way contract with the Heat), but the first time he realized just how good his teammate could be was when Adebayo had to go against him.
“Man, when he torched us in the Olympics, in the exhibition game facing Nigeria,” said Adebayo, who would go on to win gold with the USA in Tokyo. “He came out with that type of energy, that type of voracity and that type of anger. I felt like, from there, he’s one of us.”
Gabe Nnamdi — who uses that name of his ancestry when he represents Nigeria — scored a team-high 21 points against the best the USA had to offer in an exhibition game where Nigeria upset Team USA and sent tremors through the basketball world. It was a breakout moment for Vincent.
That energy and veracity were back in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, when Vincent dropped a team-high 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, leading the Heat to a Game 2 victory. Vincent was the guy getting pulled onto the NBA TV set with Charles Barkley and Shaq.
.@SHAQ: "Are you guys a little upset that you're not getting the respect that you deserve?"
Gabe Vincent: "I speak for my whole team when I say we don't give a damn. We just want to get four wins." pic.twitter.com/Q1PuXsSZ7h
— NBA TV (@NBATV) June 5, 2023
Vincent’s personal arc to get to that moment may be the embodiment of a Heat player and their team culture.
“I would say that old saying that we use a lot: People severely overestimate what you can get accomplished in a day, and they grossly underestimate what you can get accomplished in a matter of months, years, when nobody is paying attention,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said to describe Vincent’s path. “And he’s the epitome of that.”
Vincent played four years of college basketball at idyllic UC Santa Barbara, where he was a standout for the Gauchos — Big West Freshman of the Year in 2015, and made an All-Big West team his senior year — but he went undrafted and found himself in the G-League with the Stockton Kings. There he played for two seasons, earned the Most Improved Player award, and caught the eye of the Heat front office, who, in January 2020 signed him to a two-way deal.
Vincent’s transformation as a player was just beginning. Vincent had played up to that point as more of an undersized scoring two-guard, but the Heat had other ideas.
“He was a gunslinger, two-guard. We wanted to develop him into a combo guard, somebody that could organize us, be an irritant defensively, tough, learn how to facilitate and run a team,” Spoelstra said. “I think that’s the toughest thing to do in this league, is turn a two into a one. He openly just embraced that. Then he struggled at times with that because you’re trying to reinvent yourself. Instead of saying, This is too tough, let me be me, he’s really grown the last three years.”
“It definitely wasn’t easy,” Vincent said of the transformation of his game. “The staff was great with me, whether it was film or getting in the gym, and my teammates have been phenomenal, coaching me up, telling me to be more aggressive when I’m questioning it or trying to think, should I pass first.
“And our stars, Jimmy, Kyle, Bam, they have just been in my ear and telling me just to play, play basketball. They trust my IQ of the game, and they want me just to go out there and play hard.”
As his game transformed, the Heat signed him in August of 2021 to a two-year minimum deal. He just kept getting better and outplaying that deal.
Vincent was coming off the bench for the Heat to start the season behind Kyle Lowry, but as Vincent’s game grew and Father Time seemed to be winning the race with Lowry, their roles switched. In February he moved into the starting lineup and hasn’t looked back.
“I know the level of confidence that we have in him and that he has in himself to go out there and run the offense at any point in time, first through fourth quarter, maybe even overtime,” Jimmy Butler said of Vincent. “And we live with the decisions and the shots that he makes and takes, and he’s our starting PG for a reason.”
Through the playoffs, Vincent has averaged 13.9 points a game shooting 41.3% from 3, plus dishing out 3.9 assists a game. On Sunday night he was the highest-scoring player on his team in an NBA Finals game.
It’s a long journey from Isla Vista in Santa Barbara to the NBA’s biggest stage.
And it will get him paid — Vincent is an unrestricted free agent this summer who will land an eight-figure-a-year contract. That’s likely with the Heat, who want to retain him, but his playoff performance will have teams looking for two-way ball-handling guards — Orlando, San Antonio, and plenty of others — calling. Vincent will have options.
“He’s just an incredible winning player,” Spoelstra said of him. “This year, he’s been a starter for us. He’s been great. He’s off the bench, he’s been great. He’s like a lot of our guys, the competitive spirit. You get challenged like we’re getting challenged in this series, you hope it brings out the best in you. And that’s what it’s doing with him.”
Adebayo saw that potential when Vincent was challenged in a Las Vegas exhibition game a couple of years ago. Now he’s happy Vincent is on his team and not the opposition.