NBA owners, players could reach deal this weekend if they really want to

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David Stern is trying to create an artificial deadline. The players are bringing in the big names and big guns to hear where things stand and show union unity. Half the NBA owners will be in the room. The owners moved off their insistence on a hard salary cap but added a bunch of strings.

Now things are serious.

Negotiations that will start Friday and run through the weekend are big — reach a handshake deal and the season will start on time Nov. 1. Miss it and you can expect regular season games will be missed.

Can they do it? Could they reach a deal? Yes.

But only if both sides want to badly enough to really give up something of value and compromise. I’m not convinced that desire is really there.

This fight is all about money — the definition and split of basketball related income (BRI). Everything else is secondary. The owners most recent offer gave the players 48 percent, the players have not come down off 54 percent although they have hinted they would go to 53 percent. Even then, this is a $200 million a year difference.

But Chris Sheridan thinks this gap could be bridged with a deal that would keep player salaries flat next year and grow them from there. He says what matters is the money over the life of a six-year deal.

From what I can gather, it is looking more and more like a deal is going to be cut in the 51/49 or 50/50 range when it comes to the split of basketball related income…

That would give the players $13.84 billion in salaries and benefits over six years, an average of $2.307 billion per season. It is a far cry from what the players were getting percentage-wise under the old deal (57 percent), but it is palatable enough — no matter how it is categorized percentage-wise — to ensure a high probability that it will pass a ratification vote.

Then they just need to figure out the cap structure, an amnesty clause and the rest of the system. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo has an interesting quote today from one of his sources.

Stern’s “going to make a real hard push to get a deal this weekend,” one team president told Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday. “If the union makes a slight move, David will move.

“But the players have to blink first.”

Stern does not have the iron fist over this ownership group that he has had in the past — younger owners who paid a premium for their team and leveraged themselves to do it are driving a hard bargain. That is why Stern needs to players to blink first on Friday — he needs to show the hardliners that he has won, that he has gotten as good a deal as he can get without hurting the product with lost games.

Then those owners have to give something to union chief Billy Hunter that he can take back to his charges and say they have something that can work.

That means no salary rollbacks. That means salaries cannot be decoupled from league revenue — with the league makes more money the players need to make more money. It means there needs to be a soft salary cap in style, even if the punishments for going over the cap make it essentially a hard cap.

The bottom line is Hunter needs to be able to say “we gave up a lot of money, but we’ve set up a system that allows that money to increase and will allow player movement.”

All of that points to where the deal will eventually land. The league had nearly $4 billion in BRI last season, so each BRI percentage point is about $40 million. The owners claim losses of $300 million last season. If they get a 50/50 split that is seven percentage points gained, about $280 million. There is a deal in that area, one that can keep vestiges of the old system that Hunter can sell.

The real question is this — will enough of the owners say that is good enough and sign off on such a deal? Not all will, some want to break the union, but is this good enough for most? On the other side, can Hunter and union president Derek Fisher sell a system where the percentage of what the players take in is down but the real dollar amounts are similar? Can he sell this as a soft cap when it was much harder than it was before?

Both sides can if their constituencies are willing to get a fair deal to get the season going again. I’m just not convinced both sides are there and willing. I think there is some fights left. I hope to be wrong.

Report: Dwight Howard was nearly ejected for language in Game 3

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Dwight Howard is thriving in his role as enforcer and Nikola Jokic antagonist for the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals — and he’s talking a lot on the court to let everyone know it.  Based on NBA.com matchup stats, Jokic is 3-of-7 shooting while guarded by Howard, with another 10 points at the free-throw line, which means he’s doing better than JaVale McGee or Anthony Davis (and he’s keeping Davis out of foul trouble).

Dwight Howard has been a spark of energy for the Lakers in that role, but he almost got ejected in the first half of Game 3 because of his language, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Howard already has one technical because, with 7 minutes left the second quarter, Howard picked up a foul guarding Jokic and, in frustration with the call, threw the ball in the air, which will get any player a technical for showing up the referee and delaying the game.

Jerami Grant, who finished with 26 points, was at the free-throw line midway in the second period, and Howard uttered an obscene remark in the direction of the officials. It was apparently so off-putting that official Marc Davis shouted, “Hey, cut that out now! Are you serious? I’ve heard that twice now. Twice. Cut it out now!”

Howard got off with a stern warning, but he was visibly irritated.

Rajon Rondo had to get Howard’s attention before he made another mistake in terms of who to body up with on the free throw.

The Lakers will need better focus and play across the board to win the series than they have shown the last couple of games, particularly on the defensive end — the Lakers need stops and transition opportunities because their halfcourt offense continues to bog down. Howard can be a big part of that guarding Jokic, but he can’t step over the line and hurt the team.

Game 4 between the Lakers and Nuggets is Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern. The Lakers lead the series 2-1.

 

J.J. Redick says he hopes to play four more years in NBA

Pelicans guard J.J. Redick
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This past season in New Orleans, J.J. Redick averaged 15.3 points and shot 45.3% from three, played solid defense, and stayed healthy enough to get into 60 games. At age 36, he didn’t show signs of slowing down.

How much longer can he keep that up? Redick told Mark Medina of the USA Today he hopes to play four more years.

“I realized this year I want to keep playing as long as possible. My goal is to play four more years. Year 18. That’s my goal. I’ll play to 39. Then my offseason, I’ll turn 40 and then I can walk away at that point. That’s my goal. We’ll see. The body has to hold up. But we’ll see.”

Redick is meticulous and intense with his conditioning, with his routine to take care of his body, although as we all age sometimes that is not enough. Father time wins every race. Redick, however, is in a good spot to hold him off for a few more years.

His skills as a shooter and floor spacer undoubtedly will be in demand, plus he is the kind of player GMs want in the locker room of a younger team like New Orleans. Redick had to put in a ton of work to transform his body and his game to go from collegiate star at Duke to his current role in the NBA. He’s professional about preparation and taking care of himself — exactly the kind role model for young players that GMs want.

Which will get him paid for another four years, if he wants it.

Heat says they need faster start in Game 4 against Celtics

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The formula that the Miami Heat had backed themselves into using throughout this postseason wasn’t exactly ideal.

They were losing almost every first quarter, and winning almost every game anyway.

It’s not a sustainable plan, and the Boston Celtics finally showed that in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals when they pulled off a wire-to-wire win over Miami, not letting the Heat put together their typical comeback. Game 4 of the East title series — with Miami still leading 2-1 — is Wednesday, and the Heat are insisting that there will be more urgency at the beginning.

“I think we’ve just got to start off better,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “I don’t think we started off anywhere near where we’re capable of. I think we dig ourselves a hole and try to fight back out of it. I think going into this next one, it’s up to the starting five to come out with a great start.”

Before Game 3, Miami was 8-0 in the playoffs when trailing after the first quarter — after going 10-16 when put in that position during the regular season. In the 36 minutes of first-period action against the Celtics, the Heat have led roughly one-sixth of the time.

Butler is 1 for 6 in 29 first-quarter minutes in the series. Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragic are a combined 10 for 19; the rest of the Heat in first quarters against the Celtics are 11 for 46. Boston has won the first quarters by a combined score of 88-68, shooting 54% to Miami’s 32%.

“Certainly, it would help to be able to get off to a good start,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But you have to play good basketball more consistently when you get to this point in the conference finals against a quality opponent.”

Another wild stat is this: Boston has outscored Miami 50-18 from 2-point range in first quarters so far in the series. And yet, somehow, the Celtics still need a win on Wednesday to even up matters — or fall into the dreaded 3-1 series hole.

“Obviously, you know that when a team lost its last one, you’re going to get a great shot,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “But you expect a great shot every time. We’re going to have to play our best game in Game 4, and then after Game 4 is over, we’re going to have to play better than that in Game 5. That’s kind of the way it works.”

The teams have had three full days off since Game 3, a quirk in the schedule to allow the Western Conference finals matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets to catch up; the Lakers and Nuggets were to play the third game in their series Tuesday night.

Not that this one needs explaining, but Miami’s chances go up considerably in this series if the Heat find a way to win Game 4. The Heat are 11-0 in series where they lead 3-1, and 9-9 in series where it’s tied 2-2 after four games. The Celtics haven’t successfully overcome a 3-1 deficit since the 1981 East finals.

LeBron James has “zero comment” on L.A. County Sheriff, speaks on violence

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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has been no stranger to outlandish acts and putting himself in headlines since taking office. Most recently, he and his department were sued by Vanessa Bryant over photos from the site of the plane crash that took Kobe’s life.

Last week, the controversial Villanueva decided to drag the most popular athlete in Los Angeles into his headlines, challenging LeBron James to double the reward for the person who shot two Sheriff deputies who were sitting in their car. It was a clear dig at LeBron’s stances against police violence around the nation, and Vanessa Bryant had slammed Villanueva for it on social media.

LeBron, after the Lakers’ loss to Denver Sunday night, refused to play Villanueva’s game, saying he has “zero comment” on the Sherrif. However, LeBron did speak on police violence.

“I’ve never in my 35 years ever condoned violence. Never have,” LeBron said. “But I also know what’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong… I’ve seen a lot of counts firsthand of a lot of Black people being racially profiled because of our color. And I’ve seen it throughout my whole life.

“And I’m not saying that all cops are bad because, I actually, throughout high school and things of that nature, and I’m around them all the time, and they’re not all bad. But when you see the videos that’s going on and you can see all over the — not only my hometown but all over America — you continue to see the acts of violence toward my kind, I can’t do nothing but to speak about it and see the common denominator.

“But not one time have I ever said, ‘Let’s act violent toward cops.’ I just said that what’s going on in our community is not OK, and we fear for that, and we fear for our lives. It’s something that we go on every single day as a Black man and a Black woman and a Black kid, a Black girl. We fear. We fear that moment when we’re pulled over…

“But I do not condone violence toward anyone — police, Black people, white people, anyone of color, anyone not of color — because that’s not going to ever make this world or America what we want it to be.”

LeBron’s too smart to be dragged into Villanueva’s game, which is more about the Sherrif trying to distract from issues around himself.

LeBron has put his money where his mouth is on social justice issues, forming an organization to work to register minority voters and work against voter suppression nationwide.