Owners, players can’t agree to meet; start of season doomed

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UPDATE 8:50 pm: If you were holding out hope for a last minute settlement to save the full NBA season, you should grab another beer. Or towel to cry into.

NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver basically confirmed the leaks from the union we passed along before (just keep scrolling down) — the league is not going to discuss money beyond the 50/50 split of basketball related income that was the last informal offer from the owners. Howard Beck at the New York Times has the quotes.

“What we told the union was that we were not prepared to negotiate over the B.R.I. split beyond the 50-50 concept that had already been discussed,” Silver said, referring to the N.B.A.’s acronym for basketball-related income.

Silver added, however, that the league was “prepared to continue negotiating over the many other issues that remain open” — such as the salary-cap system, the luxury tax and the length of contracts.

Be clear — not being willing to negotiate on the money is not being willing to really negotiate. The salary cap and everything else is secondary and tied to the BRI split. If you’re not talking BRI, you’re not really talking.

7:09 pm: Monday is the deadline — no handshake agreement by then and NBA commissioner David Stern said the first two weeks of the regular season would be canceled.

It’s going to be real hard to come to a deal if they don’t meet.

And it looks like they may not before the deadline. Thing is, there’s no reason to meet if neither side has moved from where they were when negotiations broke off last Tuesday. Apparently they haven’t.

Ken Berger at CBSSports.com has these details.

The National Basketball Players Association requested a meeting with league negotiators for Monday before the first two weeks of the regular season are canceled and could not agree with NBA officials on the parameters, a union source told CBSSports.com.

NBA officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the information released by the union, which is now planning regional meetings Saturday in Miami — in conjunction with the All-Star exhibition game involving LeBron, Dwyane Wade and other stars — and Monday in Los Angeles. NBPA executive director Billy Hunter is expected to fly to the West Coast Sunday.

According to the union source, the league would agree to a meeting Monday — the deadline set by commissioner David Stern for canceling the first two weeks of regular season games — only if the players agreed beforehand to accept the NBA’s offer of a 50-50 revenue split. The union declined, the source said, believing it could not negotiate a fair deal for the players if it gave up the right to negotiate before the meeting even began.

While there has been some contact between lower level staff, the decision makers have not spoken since Tuesday’s sessions. They did not meet Friday and Saturday is a Jewish high holy day observed by a number of people on both sides of the table. Theoretically they could meet Sunday and Monday, but it doesn’t sound promising.

The issue remains how to divide up “basketball related income” (BRI), which is all the money that flows into the league from ticket sales, national television contracts, jersey sales and so on. In the former labor deal, the players got 57 percent. They have now offered to come down to 53 percent, but the owners started with their position being the players should only get 39 percent (that was more than a year ago). Formally, the owners have come up to 47 percent (under the old definition of BRI, the owners want more expenses taken out of it). However at the end of last meeting, Stern said he offered a 50/50 split, which was really a range from 49-51 percent. Stern says the union rejected that, the union says it informally suggested a range from 52 to 54 percent that the owners rejected.

If the owners refuse to even talk if the players don’t come off that number, then we’ve got a stalemate and games will be lost.

I’ll continue to say this — it is on the owners to give more. Real dollars now, not what they have been. The owners tried to move the center on these negotiations by asking for things they were never going to get — salary rollbacks, a hard salary cap, etc. Now they try to pretend they have given up a lot in these talks by taking those things off the table, but they haven’t. You can’t give back things you never had to start with. If they took the players deal at 53 percent the owners would save about $160 million next season and more than a billion over the life of a six-year deal (assuming some revenue growth). That’s real dollars the players have given up off the old deal. I would like to see the players give a little more (52, maybe 51.5 percent) but now it is on the owners to come up to that level.

I’ll also stick with my prediction — this gets solved around Halloween and we’ve got NBA games around or not long after Thanksgiving.

But it looks more and more like it will be a black Monday.

Alex Abrines says Russell Westbrook stood by him through mental health issues

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Alex Abrines is a big fan of Russell Westbrook the person.

Westbrook takes some hits as a selfish teammate from some quarters of NBA fandom, but Abrines had to leave the Thunder due to personal, mental health issues and said Westbrook stood by him. This is from an interview with Basket en Movistar+, via Eurohoops.

“He’s a very nice guy. He helped me a lot especially in the first year. In most of our trips we did something together, watch a movie, have dinner. When I went through all this and did not travel with the team, he kept in touch. He asked me to meet him for dinner. He cared for the person beyond the player. He calmly told me what I should do noting that he would support me if I decided to leave.”

“Athletes are normal people, but are pressured above average. Medication helps, but at the end of the day you must seek professional aid, discuss with friends and family, move forward with their support” adds Abrines on his illness, “It is a different kind of pain. Physical pain is something you can see and feel. Mental pain can not be observed and can not be treated like an injured knee for example. If you don’t go through something similar, you can’t realize it. In the end of the day, money is not above everything. Until it happens, you don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about money.”

Abrines signed with FC Barcelona, but could not travel with the team to all its games last season. He’s still on his path to wellness, and hopefully he gets there.

We tend to think of professional athletes in two dimensions, focusing on how they entertain us or help our fantasy teams. However, as Abrines notes, they are ordinary people with families and challenges, including mental health issues. More and more players are willing to speak out about that, but having friends — not just teammates, but real supporters like Westbrook was here — is also a big help.

Andre Drummond focused on conditioning heading into contract season

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Andre Drummond can be a free agent next summer. That would mean walking away from a $28.8 million player option for that season, so he’s not going to do it unless he thinks he can land an even bigger payday (a max contract) or he decides he wants some security long term. Drummond has said he’s excited to be a free agent (then quickly tried to walk that back).

How Drummond plays this coming season will play a big role in what kind of offers he will get. What is Drummond doing to prepare for this contract year? Improving his conditioning, reports coach Dwane Casey to Pistons.com.

“One, his overall conditioning. He’s in the best shape since I’ve been around him, the year and a half that I’ve seen. His body is slim and trim, his body fat is down, he’s been in Vegas working with Coach Gerg (Tim Grgurich) and Sean Sweeney all summer religiously, two and three times a day. That in itself is going to pay great dividends. Watching him in pickup games, he’s running like a deer. His decision making, I think the 3-point shooting experiment, we kind of put that on hold in the second part of the year last year but still, catching the ball on pick and roll, making decisions, he’s doing a great job of that – a much better job than he did last year. That’s something he’s worked on this summer, making the right read, the right decision.”

This time of year, right before training camp, reports of players being in “the best shape of their life” is worth as much as tickets from the Fyre Festival. It’s good to hear this about Drummond, but we’ll want to see it before we believe it.

Can Drummond punish teams that go small against him? Can he find a way to get easy buckets in transition and space the floor a little more? Do that, with his rebounding, and he may get the payday he wants. But he’s going to have to show it all season long.

 

Report: Kawhi Leonard talked to Paul George — and PG asked for trade — before free agency opened

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This story is a perfect example of why small and middle-market owners were pissed off (to put it mildly) after this summer’s free agency. It’s why the league did an investigation. It’s why there are new rules, new talk of enforcement, and preaching a “culture of compliance” around tampering in the NBA.

None of that may have mattered in this case, either. The anti-tampering crackdown sounds good, but how much will it slow down how the real recruiting gets done: player-to-player? From Draymond Green texting Kevin Durant just after the Warriors 2016 Finals loss to this summer, it’s the game’s best players recruiting their peers that really bothers some teams.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, on his latest podcast, talks about just that and uses Kawhi Leonard‘s recruitment of Paul George as an example — and in the process blows up Doc Rivers idea that Leonard made his choice in a meeting when presented with a list.

“The idea that Kawhi Leonard first introduced the idea of trading for Paul George in his meeting with the Clippers, from a list, we know that days before free agency started, well days before, Kawhi and Paul George were talking. Paul George’s agent went to Oklahoma City prior to the start of free agency and said Paul would like to be traded to the Clippers. He wants to play with Kawhi. But, at that point, Kawhi wasn’t allowed to be talking with the Clippers. They couldn’t officially have contact with him until after June 30, 6 p.m.

“But among small markets, the player-to-player [tampering] is the issue. As a GM said to me recently, the teams are often the last to know in these instances. The star player goes out and starts working a guy, then says ‘I want this guy.'”

If you don’t think that is true, think back to the Brooklyn Nets saying Kevin Durant chose them without there even being a pitch meeting. It may not have been a total shock to Brooklyn Durant was coming, but they were not in the loop on decision-making process (except via Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was recruiting Irving).

The problem comes back to enforcement: How exactly is the league going to stop players who work out together in the summer, who go to dinner with each other, who may share agents (LeBron James and Anthony Davis, for example), from talking and recruiting each other? When Leonard spoke to George, he was about to be a free agent — he could talk to anyone he wanted. Leonard may have orchestrated all of this. How much the Clippers were in the loop is certainly up for debate, but this was Leonard’s power play.

Tampering may be less of an issue next summer with a soft free-agent class, but just wait for 2021 when potentially Kawhi and George, LeBron, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and more hit the market. Those players will be talking, the league will be hard-pressed to stop it, and it all could lead to impressive fireworks.

Klay Thompson: ‘That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.’

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Stephen Curry wants to go to Tokyo and play for Team USA next summer. So does Draymond Green.

How about three Warriors?

If Klay Thompson is healthy, he wants to play in the Olympics next summer he told Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic.

“I would love to play (for) Team USA,” Thompson said. “That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.”

The biggest question for Thompson’s candidacy will be health. He is expected to be out until at least after the All-Star break recovering from the ACL he tore during the Finals last season. He could miss all of next season. That said, if he is healthy he would be a perfect fit for the international game — he is a dangerous three-point shooter, can handle the ball when needed, and is an outstanding perimeter defender. Team USA could use guys like that.

It won’t just be the big-name Warriors players who will want to step up next summer.

After USA Basketball finished seventh at this summer’s World Cup in China — due mostly to numerous top players choosing not to play for their nation this summer — it was expected that a wave of elite players will sign up for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Players are doing this less because revenge or re-establishing the USA’s basketball dominance — although expect that to be the narrative they pitch — and more about timing. FIBA, in its “infinite wisdom,” decided to move the World Cup from its usual spot, which would have been 2018, to 2019. Playing for USA Basketball is a 6-8 week summer commitment, and now the World Cup and Olympics are in back-to-back years. That left a lot of elite NBA players — and not just for Team USA — looking at the calendar and feeling they had to choose one or the other. And for American players, the Olympics will almost always win that fight.

USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo said he is going to remember who was willing to make the sacrifice to come this summer when it comes time to choosing an Olympic team. That may happen with a couple of roster spots, but he’s not turning elite talent away, either.

And all three of those Warriors would be the kind of elite players Team USA will want in Tokyo. If Thompson is healthy enough to go, expect him to pack his bags for Tokyo.