Owners, players reportedly closer to figuring out money split

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It’s all about the money. Both sides have tried to tell us that the NBA lockout was about other stuff, but make no mistake it is all about the money.

And they may be closer to figuring that out.

Multiple reports out of Wednesday’s eight-hour plus bargaining session in New York have said that the sides have gotten closer to figuring out the split of basketball related income (BRI, which is basically the revenue the league brings in). That is the core issue in the lockout. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo said it most clearly.

As long expected, the two sides have moved closer to a “50-50 split, give or take a point with ranges based on revenue performance,” one source said.

While the league’s owners and players made progress in Wednesday’s 8½-hour mediation session, one source involved in the talks was hesitant to characterize it as a “breakthrough” moment, saying system issues could again derail talks.

The two sides will be back at it in talks starting at 2 p.m. Eastern in New York.

Previously the owners had offered the players a range of BRI, between 49 and 51 percent, based on the level of revenues that came in (the more revenue, the higher the percentage for players). The players countered with a 51 to 53 percent split offer.

Reports suggest the two sides are back to discussing ranges in that ballpark and made progress. Those ranges are not far apart and there clearly is a deal that can be made there.

There are two key challenges here.

One is Commissioner David Stern and union chief Billy Hunter being able to sell their constituencies on this. Hardline owners have wanted to keep the players below 50 percent of BRI. Hardline players — led by stars like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett — have said they will not go below 53 percent (the players had 57 percent in the last labor deal). Both sides will have to be convinced this is the best deal and one they should approve.

Secondly, there are system issues to be dealt with and the luxury tax remains the key one. That, too, is about the money. In the old system, there was a dollar for dollar tax on salaries over a certain threshold (last season $70 million). The owners want to dramatically increase that fine (start at $1.75 to $1 and increase the tax 50¢ every $5 million over) in order to stop teams like the Lakers and Mavericks from spending so much. The players see it as a de facto hard salary cap designed to depress salaries and force more non-guaranteed contracts. Which is exactly what it is. The two sides need to find a middle ground on this issue as well.

The progress the two sides are making is incremental. But that is a lot better than the progress they were making before federal mediator George Cohen stepped in the room.

Tom Thibodeau on Timberwolves not getting first-rounder in Jimmy Butler trade: ‘Getting good players was a priority’

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The Heat offered Josh Richardson and a first-round pick. The Rockets offered four first-round picks or Eric Gordon, Nene and two first-round picks. The Pelicans reportedly offered Nikola Mirotic and an unprotected first-round pick.

But the Timberwolves traded Jimmy Butler to the 76ers for Robert Covington and Dario Saric in a deal that included no first-round picks and Minnesota getting only one second-rounder.

Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau:

We wanted quality players. I think that that was important for us.

When you look at, to get two starters off a team that won 52 games, and they’re both young, and they’re going to get better, and they’re both very good defensively. They both shoot the 3, so we think they fit well with the guys that we do have.

And so once we once got to that point where felt we were getting multiple rotational players, then we felt it would be time to execute the deal.

It was what was best for the organization. Obviously, getting good players was a priority. But the pick part is important, and we felt we got a good pick from Philly.

It was what does it mean for the team? If you get two rotational players, that’s good. And then if you can get a pick, that allows you to do more things. And so I think that’s all part of it. You always try to think about what the possibilities could be.

Thibodeau might have taken the best offer for the the Timberwolves by the time he actually accepted a deal. Miami pulled the Richardson offer after his strong start to the season. Getting four first-rounders from Houston required taking Brandon Knight‘s negative-value contract, and it’s unclear exactly how the picks were protected. New Orleans has the best record of those three teams, so an unprotected pick carries less value.

But it’s also impossible to overlook Thibodeau’s present-minded attitude. That’s how he already approached everything. Now, he appears to be coaching for his job this season. Nobody ever expected him to prioritize long-term assets.

Covington and Saric are good players, but Minnesota was also 4-9 at the time of the trade. Are Covington and Saric good enough to lift the Timberwolves out of this hole and into the playoffs? It’s a tough ask. In 2020-21, Saric will be up for a big raise, and the Timberwolves already have a lot of money committed. They might have to downgrade the rest of the roster to keep Saric and avoid the luxury tax. This is a narrow window for Minnesota to get value from this trade.

That said, blame Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor for creating this situation. By allowing Thibodeau to remain in charge without much job security, Taylor is practically demanding Thibodeau emphasize the present. If Taylor wanted draft picks, he should have fired Thibodeau earlier.

Caris LeVert suffers injury so horrific, it brings teammates to tears and opponents to prayer (video)

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Caris LeVert has been one of the Nets’ biggest bright spots. The hard-working 24-year-old was a Most Improved Player candidate, and he seems well-liked throughout the organization. He’s even already hit a couple gamewinners this season.

But LeVert’s breakout campaign hit a devastating snag tonight, as he injured his leg.

The reactions of both his Brooklyn teammates and the Timberwolves say everything. This is a tough one.

Markelle Fultz takes ugly pump-fake free throw

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A key question after the 76ers traded for Jimmy Butler: How would the demanding star affect Markelle Fultz‘s confidence?

Butler isn’t even playing for Philadelphia yet, but this isn’t an encouraging sign.

Maybe the ball just slipped out of Fultz’s hands on the way up, and he had to continue pushing it toward the rim to avoid a violation. That could happen to anybody.

But given everything we know about Fultz’s shooting woes, it’s impossible to take this as anything other than a ghastly low point in an ongoing problem.

LeBron James: ‘I almost cracked’ with Lakers’ slow start

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LeBron James has played in eight straight NBA Finals.

How’s he handling reduced expectations with the Lakers, who started 2-5 before rising to 7-6?

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

‪“I haven’t changed anything outwardly, but you know me. You know how I am. I almost cracked [last week]. I had to sit back and remind myself, ‘[Expletive], you knew what you were getting yourself into,’” James told Yahoo Sports while laughing after Saturday’s win in Sacramento. “This process has been good for me. I just have to continue being patient.”‬

LeBron warned everyone to stay clear when he loses his patience, but he has never sounded close to losing it this season. He signed a four-year deal with the Lakers, said he doesn’t feel urgency to win quickly before his prime ends and seems content to wait for a co-star.

If anything, it seemed LeBron might be too relaxed, enjoying the Los Angeles lifestyle and focusing on showbusiness.

So, this is a welcome sign of his competitiveness.

Also kudos to LeBron for harnessing it unlike others in the organization. These Lakers need time to determine how these oddly shaped pieces fit together – unless a star becomes available. Then, all bets are off.