David Stern goes on the offensive during media tour

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David Stern is winning the war of public perception.

Regular readers here know how I assign blame for the lockout and missed games, but make no mistake that in the court of public opinion the players are going to be the big losers. We know the players, while the owners are faceless (save Mark Cuban). We know exactly what the players make, and we know we would play basketball for a living for a fraction of that. The “let us play” PR disaster didn’t help matters, but the fact is the players were going to lose the perception battle.

In the last 24 hours David Stern has been on a media tour and gone on the offensive, painting the owners as a completely fair minded group who are stunned that the players don’t want to agree to their terms.

It’s all spin — just as union chief Billy Hunter’s media blitz was — but Stern is better at it. He cherry picks facts, but can do it in a way that he sounds more reasonable than the owners actually have been. Like what he said on the Dan Patrick Show (as transcribed at CSNChicago.com).

I would say that given the fact that the owners have made concessions to the players on no hard cap, on actually keeping all contracts in place that are in place — to pay them out in their entirety — that the players have asked for the continuation of guaranteed contracts and the owners have agreed to that, and that the owners have said, ‘If you don’t like the deal, you can opt out after seven years.’ I think the players — if the rank-and-file — truly understood the dynamics of the negotiations, they would have a completely different picture and they would say, ‘Let’s get back to work.’

“They don’t have anything that the owners want. The old deal expired. There’s no continuing deal. There was a 57-percent deal and if the owners wanted to continue that deal, they could have exercised their one-year option that they had to extend it. But given the fact that the owners believe that the league should be more competitive and that teams should have an opportunity to make a profit, and there should be ways to eliminate the loss that the league has suffered, in order to use those profits to have more revenue sharing, that we needed a new and different deal.”

This gets at the heart of the disagreement right now — the players started their position based on the old labor deal as a base; the owners did not consider that a starting point and made their own starting point with radical demands like rolling back existing contracts (good luck getting the courts to okay that after agents sued) and an NFL-style hard salary cap. That’s what makes Stern great, he sounds very reasonable talking about all the things the owners have given back in these talks. Even though the owners make up that starting point out of whole cloth and gave up things they never had in the first place.

The biggest story out of the media blitz was Stern saying that if there is not a deal by Tuesday he thinks Christmas Day games are in trouble. But here are a few other things he said in the last 24 hours.

From NBA TV: “When you spend the amounts of monies these franchises now cost and the losses pile up because player salaries have gone from the $1 billion we were arguing about in 1999 to $2 billion-plus, I’m not going to say, ‘Oh, we shouldn’t be make a profit.’”

That for the record is complete spin and, frankly, organic male cow produced fertilizer. The amount of salaries the players got doubled because revenue to the league doubled — player salaries were a set percent of league revenues (57 percent at the end) because the owners agreed to that deal. Go ahead and argue that 57 percent is too high, that’s a valid argument, but to say that players salaries doubling was the problem without noting the doubling of league revenues the players didn’t get is misleading. At best.

• In multiple interviews, Stern said that the it was the players legal council (Jeffrey Kessler) was the first to propose the idea of a 50/50 split of basketball related income.

Two quick thoughts. First, the split is only half the question, the other half is how you define the revenue. If you take more expenses off the top (which the owners have proposed) then it is not a true 50/50 split. Secondly, who cares who proposed it if both sides are backing away from the idea anyway?

• Stern talked about teams being able to spread out the contract of a player they waive for non-performance to double its length. I, frankly, like this idea. For example, let’s use Gilbert Arenas and the three years, $63 million he has left on his deal. Under this proposal, if the Magic waived him they would have him on the books for six years at $10.5 million a year rather than three years at $21 million a year. For a lot of teams dealing with guys like Eddy Curry, this is a good way to get rid of him yet lessen the financial blow to the team.

• He also talked about allowing teams to offer one player under contract a special five-year deal that is substantially larger than what other teams can offer. The idea is to give teams a way to retain their stars — if you leave you are going to get considerably less money. It’s a virtual franchise tag.

76ers once again overhaul around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there

Can Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons coexist?

While I’ve wondered about that question, the 76ers have charged ahead with the pairing. Embiid and Simmons are the givens. The surrounding players change. In just two seasons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris have cycled through as starters.

The latest supporting starters: Harris, Al Horford and Josh Richardson.

This might be the last chance to find a trio that works.

Philadelphia has taken advantage of Embiid’s and Simmons’ low rookie-scale salaries, which was always a selling point of The Process. A roster loaded with cheap young players created a window to add more-expensive talent. Then, with everyone already in place, NBA rules generally allow teams to keep their own players.

But Embiid is already on his max contract extension, and Simmons just signed a max contract extension that will take effect next year. The flexibility is vanishing.

One last time, the 76ers made the most of it. They signed-and-traded Butler for Richardson and let Redick walk in free agency. That left enough cap space to sign Al Horford (four years, $109 million with $97 million guaranteed) and use Bird Rights to re-sign Tobias Harris (five years, $180 million).

That’s a lot of deliberate disruption for a team that was already good and rising.

The big question: Did it make Philadelphia better?

I just don’t know.

As fond as I am of Butler, I understand all the reasons to be wary of offering the 30-year-old a huge contract. But moving on from him to give a huge deal to a 33-year-old Horford? That’s curious. Then again, Philadelphia also added Richardson – a solid replacement for Butler on the wing – in the process.

The 76ers will miss Butler’s shot creation. He often took over their offense in the clutch during the playoffs. Harris can pick up some of the slack, but that still looks like a hole.

At just 27, Harris is young for a player who has already been in the league so long. That’s a big reason it was worth Philadelphia signing him to a sizable long-term contract.

Horford’s deal could age poorly, but he’s a winner still playing quality all-around basketball. If nothing else, the 76ers removed Embiid’s best defender from the rival Celtics.

Philadelphia filled its bench with several value signings – Mike Scott (room exception), James Ennis (minimum), Kyle O'Quinn (minimum), Furkan Korkmaz (minimum), Raul Neto (minimum) and Trey Burke (partially guaranteed minimum). However, sometimes teams need production more than cost-effectiveness. The 76ers’ bench struggled last season, and they devoted minimal resources to upgrading.

In the draft, Philadelphia traded the Nos. 24 and 33 picks for No. 20 pick Matisse Thybulle. That’s a costly move up, especially for a player I rated No. 34. Worse, it seemingly happened because Boston snuffed out the 76ers’ interest in Thybulle then leveraged them. That’s small potatoes, though.

Simmons (No. 9 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years) and Embiid (No. 11 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years) will likely define this era for Philadelphia. Embiid is on his way to becoming one of the NBA’s very best players. Simmons is so good, giving him a max extension was a no-brainer.

But they were already in place.

Harris, Horford and Richardson will define this offseason. I just can’t tell whether they made the 76ers’ promising future even brighter or slightly dimmer.

Offseason grade: C

Michelle Roberts says if you don’t like player movement blame owners, too

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Last summer was one of the wildest offseasons in NBA history, maybe the wildest, and the headline was player empowerment. Anthony Davis pushed his way to the Lakers, Paul George forced his way out of Oklahoma City to go to the Clippers and join Kawhi Leonard, which soon had Russell Westbrook joining his old teammate James Harden in Houston. It led to frustration by some owners and changes in how the NBA will handle tampering.

Except, by choice is not how most players change teams. While AD or George has the leverage to make a power play — because of their exceptional talent — most of the time players are traded because the owner/team has all the power and can uproot players for whatever reason (basketball reasons sometimes, saving money other times). The stars have free agent options, rotation players much less so in that system.

Michelle Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players’ Association, wants you to remember that it’s not just player power that has led to the increase in player movement, as she told Mark Spears of The Undefeated.

Michele Roberts, told The Undefeated that she believes there is a “double standard” between how stars are viewed when they decide to move on compared with when franchises choose to make a major transaction, adding that team owners “continue to view players as property.”

“If you want to be critical of one, be critical of both,” Roberts said from the NBPA’s offices in Manhattan. “Those of us who made decisions to move, it’s really astounding to even consider what it feels like to be told in the middle of your life you are going to have to move. But that’s the business we’re in. …

“No one seems to spend a lot of time thinking about what it’s like to make those kinds of moves completely involuntarily. You volunteer to play or not play. But, yeah, if it’s still the case that if you think you’ve got to suck it up, player, then, hell, you’ve got to suck it up, team.”

She’s right. From Chris Paul to Blake Griffin, plenty of big stars have been moved against their will. The door swings both ways, but in those cases most fans tended to see why and like what the teams did. Those fans like it less when players do the same thing.

There’s also a classic labor vs. management angle to all this, which has political overtones.

For my money, how one views player movement tends to be part generational and part where you live.

Older fans remember days — or, at least think they remember days — when players stayed with teams for much or all of their career. It’s understandable, fans form a bond with players and want them to stay… while they’re still good and useful, after that fans beg ownership to get the “dead weight off the books.” Players before the late 1980s stayed with teams because they didn’t have a choice — for Bill Russell in the 60s or Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the 1980s, free agency was not an option. And for every Kobe Bryant that did stay with a team, there were a lot more Wilts and Shaqs, who were traded several times and played with multiple teams.

Younger fans (generally, nothing is universal) are okay with the player movement, sometimes are more fans of a player than a team, and like the action and buzz of all the trades.

Location matters because if you’re in Oklahoma City there’s reason to not like what George did and the era of player empowerment. New Orleans fans can feel the same way (although part of that case is the “supermax” contract that owners wanted but really forced up the timeline on teams and players to make a decision on paying stars). But fans in Los Angeles or wherever players ultimately choose to go will feel differently. Fans want what’s best for their team, but there is no way in the star culture of the NBA to wash away the lure of big markets or of teaming up with another elite player.

The NBA dynamic is different from the NFL’s (for now), but it’s not changing. LeBron James helped usher in an era of player empowerment and it’s the new reality for the NBA, one the best franchises will adapt to rather than fight.

Evan Fournier says that Frank Ntilikina just ‘needs a real opportunity’

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New York Knicks fans haven’t had a lot to cheer for recently. The team traded away Kristaps Porzingis, who is thought to be the franchise cornerstone. Now they move forward with a young core, RJ Barrett, and tons of cap space.

So what does that mean for players who have been around in the Big Apple like Frank Ntilikina?

Based on how Ntilikina played in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for France this year, things might be looking up.

Ntilikina’s statistics weren’t eye-popping, but he was seen as a very solid player in a backcourt that helped propel France to the bronze medal in China.

To that end, fellow countrymen Evan Fournier thinks that all Ntilikina needs is a chance to shine.

Via Twitter:

Ntilikina’s season last year was marred by injuries, and he played in just 43 games. Still, he has the physical tools to be a useful NBA player, and he’s just 21 years old. With the surprisingly low-pressure situation in New York, it’s possible that extended time playing in the World Cup could help aid what Ntilikina is able to produce next season for the Knicks.

Report: Lakers receive DeMarcus Cousins disabled-player exception

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A chance at a championship. LeBron James. Anthony Davis. The Los Angeles market. Great weather.

The Lakers can offer plenty to anyone who gets bought out this season.

Now, the Lakers – who lost DeMarcus Cousins to a torn ACL – get a mechanism to offer post-buyout players more money.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The exception holds little value presently. It’s worth less than a full-season minimum salary for anyone with more than four years experience.

But minimum-salary and mid-level exceptions decline throughout the season. This exception does not.

So, on March 1, a team with only a minimum slot available can offer a free agent just between $233,459 and $666,546 (depending on the player’s experience level). The Lakers can offer $1.75 million.

This means an NBA-appointed doctor ruled Cousins is “substantially more likely than not” to be out through June 15. Given that prognosis, the Lakers could open a roster spot by waiving Cousins, who’s on a one-year deal and facing a domestic-violence charge. They’d still keep the exception.

If Cousins can return more quickly than expected, he’d be eligible to play, whether or not the Lakers use the exception.