Agents not looking to blow up players’ union, says agent

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If you’ve followed the lockout at all you’ve heard the refrain: The agents all hate union head Billy Hunter. They want to be aggressive and use decertification — destroying the union to save it. They will run over Hunter to get what they want.

That’s never really been true, not totally anyway. What NBA player agents want out of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is pretty simple — a system that lets them get their players as much money as possible, and they want basketball back. They want to get paid, they want their players to get paid, and they want that to happen soon. Do what it takes to end this thing.

But they are not looking at a coup, according to powerful agent Mark Bartelstein — one of the agents allegedly planning to force decertification down Billy Hunter’s throat. Bartelstein spoke with Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated.

“There’s an inaccurate perception out there that there’s this group of agents — including myself — that have decided to quote-unquote blow up the union, or destroy the union, and nothing could be further from the truth. That’s not true at all. I know that I, personally, and other people have engaged and try to engage with Billy and [NBPA lead attorney] Ron Klempner and everyone at the players’ association throughout this process.

“I’ve been the first one to say that Billy is in a very, very difficult position. He’s in a very tough position, because the NBA has taken an extremely hardline stance from Day 1. The initial proposal [from the owners] … was Draconian to say the least, and Billy is in this position where he’s trying in good faith to get a deal done, but you can’t negotiate by yourself.

“And so in my prior thoughts and with people that I’ve conversed with, I’ve tried to help the union, to explore different ideas and different ways to try and bring this thing to a positive resolution — a resolution that’s not only good for the players, but good for the game. If there’s a game that’s good for the players, then ultimately they’re going to benefit because the game is going to grow. That’s been the goal all along. It has not been to take down the union or anything like that. There’s never been a conversation like that.”

Agents motives are not that hard to discern — they want the NBA to grow, they want a system where their players can get paid well. Because that’s good for the agent’s bottom line, too.

A hard salary cap could be hard on agents — it will depress salaries of the NBA’s middle class and mean fewer guaranteed contracts. So it’s not a huge leap of faith when we read reports about agents considering forcing a decertification vote — that’s the sledgehammer. Even though it failed for the NFL, some out there think it will give the union leverage over the owners because of the anti-trust lawsuits that would follow.

Just know that if decertification comes, the season is in serous jeopardy. To throw it to the courts now would be to blow everything up and start over. It would get much worse before it got better.

Hunter and union president Derek Fisher tried to use claims of outside influence by agents to solidify union ranks, but that is only a short-term strategy. A lot of players like or at least trust their agent on business issues, if Hunter is stumbling the words of agents will resonate with players.

Go read what Bartelstein told Amick, you’ll see what he and other agents are thinking.

Gordon Hayward does not plan to leave bubble for birth of son

Gordon Hayward birth of son
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When Boston first went to the NBA restart bubble in Orlando, Gordon Hayward was upfront: He was leaving the bubble for the birth of his fourth child.

Hayward ended up leaving the bubble for another reason — he severely sprained his ankle and was out for more than a month. During his rehab, Hayward left the bubble and spent time at home, returning a couple of weeks ago. Saturday he played his first game back for Boston, helping it to a win against the Heat.

Hayward’s wife, Robyn, has yet to have their son, but now Hayward does not plan to leave the bubble for the event, something first reported by Rachel Nichols of ESPN during Saturday’s game.

Hayward confirmed this after the game. So did Robyn in a social media post, adding the reports she was in labor already were not true.

I don’t envy the Hayward family having to make this choice. As a parent, I can’t imagine having missed the births of any of my children, but, like everything else in 2020, this is far from a typical decision at a typical time. The Haywards are making the best of it they can. They deserve support no matter what they choose.

LeBron James, Dion Waiters’ son engage in a little trash talk

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“Yeah, right.”

That was Dion Waiters Jr.’s response to pretty much everything LeBron James during the Lakers’ practice on Saturday before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

LeBron was getting up some corner threes and told Waiters Jr. he would make 100 straight.

“Yeah, right.”

When LeBron missed one, “I missed that on purpose.” 

“Yeah, right.”

“I missed that on purpose, so you’d think I’m human,” LeBron joked.

Got to love Dion Waiters Jr. — he’s got some of his dad’s spunk.

Families have been allowed in the bubble for teams for a couple of weeks, although LeBron’s sons are not there, with LeBron saying it’s not a great place for kids (he’s right, for anyone over about 7 or 8, there would be little to do).

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game on Saturday night.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.