Is it time for NBA stars to be more vocal during lockout?

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When the NFL was locked out during the summer, Drew Brees was front and center at the negotiating table, then standing in front of the cameras talking after the meetings. Tom Brady was one of the guys to file anti-trust lawsuits against the league. While in the end Jeff Saturday did the dirty work of negotiating, the stars were front and center.

For the NBA, you hear union president Derek Fisher speak, and sometimes other team reps like Roger Mason Jr., Maurice Evans or Jared Dudley.

Is it time for the stars to speak out for the union? Some around the league told David Aldridge of NBA.com that yes, the time is now.

“We’re all coming together and trying to speak to Derek Fisher, who’s a great guy and a great person,” Clippers forward Craig Smith said recently. “At the same time, there’s kind of a difference between him and Kobe. Just being honest….

“I think I would want to see them at the bargaining table,” Smith said last month, at the Goodman (D.C.)-Shaw League (L.A.) game in Washington. “I mean, I don’t know, I probably have a lot of people that probably agree with me, too, if we had those guys up front. Because (those are) people (who) you come to see win, every single game — [Dwyane] Wade, Carmelo, Stoudemire, KG [Kevin Garnett], you know? Those are our leading guys, every year.”

Aldridge asked Carmelo Anthony why the stars have not been front and center in this fight.

“We’re not allowed,” Anthony said. “I mean, everybody has their own opinion. You hear people talk here and there. But nobody comes out and says what they really want to say. That’s just the society we live in.”

He laughed a little. And, then: “Athletes today are scared to make Muhammad Ali-type statements.”

Don’t bring in Ali, who said actual controversial things and then had to pay a price for his beliefs. Ali was talking about war and religion; you guys are talking about how to divide up billions amongst yourselves.

After that, Anthony said that he and guys like LeBron James and Chris Paul fully support the union. That they are sticking together.

A lot of stars attended a meeting All-Star Weekend that was mostly for show. And at a regional meeting just last month Kobe spoke to other players and urged them to stay unified behind Fisher and Hunter.

But would having the biggest stars in the league at the table make a difference? Likely not much in the negotiations. You can be sure a hardline owner is not going to be swayed by an argument because Kobe said it not Fisher or some attorney. It might help some with the public relations battle going on, giving the union a more recognizable face to put with the players positions. It can help show the players unity. It would get more publicity.

The NBA’s big stars were front and center in the 1998 labor battles but that was part of the problem — other union members thought the big names were out for themselves. So this time around they are staying quiet, letting the union leadership do the talking. And now they are getting criticized for that.

It may not matter if the stars step forward, but it might help some.

Why did Nick Young play for Warriors last season? “I just needed to win”

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Coming off a season where he was part of an NBA champion, Nick Young is a free agent. Still. Which is a bit of a surprise — he’s a gunner, but a lot of teams could use the buckets he brings off the bench. Even if he didn’t always do that within the flow of the Warriors’ offense.

Young had been in the NBA for a decade when he went to the Warriors, and in speaking with Adam Caparell of Complex Magazine (hat tip NBC Sports Bay Area), he said that Lakers’ coach (and former Warriors’ assistant) Luke Walton opened up the door for him with some calls.

“I just needed to win. I had been on a lot of losing teams. Always rebuilding,” says Young. “I feel I needed to experience [winning] and be around guys who are just really good teammates like Draymond, even though he’s crazy.”

It worked. Swaggy P has a ring.

And he wants you to know he earned it — and he earned being in the league for a decade plus. He puts in the time on his body and craft.

“I love basketball. I wish people could see that it’s hard to be in the NBA—not only to get there, but to stay there this long,” he says. “I know players who were drafted higher than me that are gone.”

The big question now is where Young plays next season. He played 17 minutes a night for the NBA champions last season and 41 percent from three, some teams could use that. They may be looking at younger players they think they can develop, but before long some team will turn to Young because they know he can get them buckets.

It just may not be the same winning situation he was in a year ago.

 

C.J. McCollum on stars joining Warriors: “I think that’s disgusting”

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It remains the best “I want to start a passionate and irrational debate” topic around the NBA: Stars jumping to a contending team. Mainly the Warriors. Kevin Durant got a lot of “he took the easy way” flack when he did it (and he could calm a lot of the debate around him by just saying “I’m winning, I’m happy, that’s all that matters” but that’s not KD’s nature, so he pushes back on the narrative).

This summer it was DeMarcus Cousins. It’s not like there was some great demand for his services coming off a torn Achilles, but his signing with the Warriors was the biggest surprise of the summer and led to a lot of “how do we stop them?” comments. (I don’t know, maybe offer Cousins more than an exception contract. Just a thought.)

C.J. McCollum — touring China to promote his shoes — was on China Central Television and said he would never do that.

“I would never do anything of that nature, I think that’s disgusting… I was not built like those guys, I was raised differently… I think some players will take that route, but most guys have too much pride, they want to do well or certain organizations that are not going to jump the bandwagon.”

Plenty of fans and other players agree with McCollum.

I don’t — I like the fact players such as Durant (and LeBron James, and others) are taking control of their own destinies more. They shouldn’t be just puppets of GMs. It’s okay that the Warriors drafted and developed Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and the rest because that’s “natural” but the second a star player says “I like the culture and style they built there, I want to be part of that” it’s wrong? I don’t buy the “guys have to do it themselves” line of thinking because guys never won titles on their own — not Bill Russell, not Magic Johnson, not Michael Jordan. They were all on stacked teams. The difference is the players are making more of those choices now rather than leaving it to the white guys in suits.

McCollum is on a 49-win, three-seed team with another elite player in Damian Lillard, a franchise that was looking all summer for a way to add another star or more talent to the roster. But I guess that’s different somehow.

Bucks bring in Christian Wood for training camp, give him chance to make roster

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For three seasons now, Christian Wood has bounced between the NBA and G-League (he played for the Sixers, who cut him to bring in Elton Brand, and Charlotte). He has been trying to improve and show he has NBA skills — a 6’11” forward who has a face-up game, an improving outside shot, and his defense seems to be coming together. He’s still just 22 years old.

The best he looked was playing for the Bucks at Summer League in Las Vegas this year, where he averaged 20.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a game, shot 55.4 percent, and made the All Summer League First Team.

That got him a training camp invite to Milwaukee this fall.

The Bucks have a final roster spot open, and they have now signed Woods and Shabazz Muhammad for camp, giving them a chance to compete for it and impress new coach Mike Budenholzer. (Tyler Zeller also is on a non-guaranteed and could get that spot.)

Budenholzer likes bigs who can shoot and space the floor, and Woods shot 30.4 percent from three in Las Vegas — not earth shattering, but he’s a more willing shooter from the outside than Muhammad. It’s going to be an interesting battle to watch in Bucks training camp. In Las Vegas, Woods looked like an NBA player, but Vegas can be a desert mirage, he needs to carry that play over to training camp to get a roster spot.

Kyle Kuzma on LeBron James’ Lakers: “a lot of people are underestimating us”

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Just how good are the LeBron James led Los Angles Lakers?

Las Vegas’ Westgate Sports Book put their under/over win total at 48.5. I’ve seen predictions that range from the three seed to talk of them missing the playoffs. Nobody really knows because, while LeBron’s greatness isn’t in question, there are plenty of questions about the fit around him: Lance Stephenson? Can Lonzo Ball play well off the ball more considering his shot? Where does Rajon Rondo fit in the PG rotation? What kind of step forward will Brandon Ingram take? Michael Beasley? Is JaVale McGee ready for a larger role? Will the Lakers go small at times with LeBron at the five? (I think that could be their best lineup, if used right.)

Kyle Kuzma thinks you’re selling the Lakers’ short.

Back in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, this week for a YMCA promotion, Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN he has worked out with LeBron and they like this roster.

“We are both definitely excited about the roster and the pieces that we have,” Kuzma told ESPN on Tuesday, after visiting with 20 kids from the Safe Places program at his hometown Flint YMCA as part of the “My Y Story” content series. “And we think that a lot of people are underestimating us. It is definitely going to be fun playing with all these new guys.”

“A lot of people say we got a lot of different people, a lot of new people,” added Kuzma, who also is holding a three-day camp for children in his hometown. “But change can be a good thing. It is not necessarily always a bad thing. There’s a lot of teams in the NBA that need to work on their chemistry; we are just one of them…

“I don’t know why people kind of just rule us out because we are young,” said Kuzma, who was a first-team All-Rookie performer after averaging 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds last season. “We are hungry. We are competitive. Anybody that watched us play last year, we were in a lot of games.”

The big change the Lakers made this season is good — LeBron makes the Lakers a threat. Kuzma is right on that front.

However, the question has never been “will the Lakers be good?” They have LeBron and some quality talent around him, of course they will be. The questions are more along the lines of “how fast can they come together?” and “where do they slot in the West, where there are a lot of good teams?” Assuming Golden State and Houston finish as the top two seeds in some order, where do the Lakers rank against Oklahoma City, Utah, Portland, New Orleans, Minnesota, Denver, and San Antonio? And that’s without getting into teams such as Memphis or the Los Angeles Clippers who have potential if they can stay healthy. That’s 12 teams I just mentioned battling for eight playoffs slots, 12 teams capable of winning at least 45 games if not more. The margin for error in the West is minuscule.

But are we underestimating the Lakers? Depends on what the standard is. These Lakers are not contenders yet. But do you really think a LeBron James team is going to miss the playoffs?