Can we just be honest and say this is about LeBron?

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When “The Decision” happened, we said it would change the course of NBA history. We didn’t exactly see this coming.

Since the lockout began, there have been several storylines beneath the primary conflict. The racial component, the in-fighting between agents and union officials, the superstars’ interjecting themselves, it’s been a party of subplots. But this one has been just as talked about, even if it’s not written about as much. Dan LeBatard took it on full force Sunday.

If you think the hawkish Gilbert wouldn’t try to throw away an entire season out of pure spite for James, you didn’t read his crazy-crayon letter in a rare moment of raw, rabid public honesty from an owner — a temper tantrum unlike any in the history of an American sports ownership that includes George Steinbrenner. And you didn’t notice how small he could behave by having his Fathead company price the James poster at $17.41 — the year of Benedict Arnold’s birth. And you don’t know how petty rich people can be when playing this kind of negotiating game of ego and power, emotion trampling logic just like when a divorcing wealthy couple spends $100,000 in attorney fees arguing over a thousand dollars in china.

Think about all the ego and money in the room when those owners meet. Think about how accustomed these men with yachts are to getting their way in every walk of life. That kind of wealth isn’t usually accrued by sharing and compromise; these men tend to be rich because cutthroat is what wins in business. Given that there are so many different interests in that room, and given that these owners aren’t really in it for the money, why would Gilbert want to help Arison with urgency, exactly? Even if he is not motivated by spite, what exactly is Gilbert’s impetus to settle quickly? You think he’s in a big hurry to go 19-63 again? Better for him to lose the season, break the union, fix the system and win that way than to fight the Timberwolves for worst record again. Trying to beat the players in a negotiation is more fun than that. Letting Dwyane Wade age another year next to James without playing would be a happy bonus for Gilbert, even if it isn’t his outright goal.

via NBA lockout pits selfish owners against each other – Dan Le Batard – MiamiHerald.com.

You may be the sort to think that Gilbert is a businessman, concerned with his business, the one of making money. That he wouldn’t allow personal feelings to drive a decision-making process of this magnitude. To that I would offer you to revisit Gilbert’s personal and public jabs at James. All Gilbert had to do was release a statement about his disappointment with James and then move on, and not keep needling, and he would be considered a victim. As it stands, Gilbert has come off as someone playing a personal vendetta out, and it appears to have taken to the lockout as well.

In the bigger, non-Comic-Sans sense, though, this lockout really is about the summer of 2010. You had teams from Dan Gilbert and Robert Sarver’s teams head to East Coast teams with huge payrolls. The Heat aren’t a huge market. But Arison, as LeBatard notes, is obscenely rich, as opposed to Gilbert, who’s just ridiculously rich. Then a year and a half later, we’re in danger of losing a season because those same owners are diametrically opposed to anything short of a system that puts them into a closer bracket financially with those teams, and, oh, yeah, would cost Arison a year of his super-team.

A nasty consequence of this comes with the implication that the owners are revolting against player power. That’s what the past year has been about. James, Bosh, and Wade forming their own future. Carmelo Anthony forcing a trade, but not just anywhere, to the exact team he wanted. The hints that Chris Paul would be joining Melo and Amar’e. It all points to a redesign of the power structure in the NBA, which has always been star-lead but team-controlled, to a system where manifest destiny is the norm. The lockout seeks to end all that.

To be sure, the players will get benefits from staying put. But the lowered cap, be it through a hard cap or advanced luxury tax structures, seeks to hinder the ability of a player’s suitors from nabbing him in free agency. The elimination or redefinition of the mid-level exception is geared to keep supporting players’ salaries low and from being an albatross. In short, the team regains control of the players. That’s part of the objective. It’s not the biggest objective, that’s simply to take back lots and lots of money to stop the bleeding of losses in one move. That’s reasonable.

But the moderates and extremists among the owners are made up of owners who can afford to spend to win, who treat the team as an expensive toy, and owners who have lost their stars and are vindictive about it, or in the case of Peter Holt, know that next time they may not be so lucky as to have a reasonable, loyal superstar to re-sign.

Players play on contracts. They’re supposed to be movable commodities. But in the owners’ mind, those commodities are to be moved by the owners, not by the whims and desires of the product. At least not to the level the power play over the past year and a half has shown. Certain owners are committed to disallowing the players from determining their future. And some, it certainly seems, are committed to punishing those players who turned their backs on the teams that drafted them.

Jordan Clarkson urges NBA to allow players to compete in more global events

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The NBA is trying to walk a fine line. On the one hand, the league and its owners want to globalize the NBA — it is the best, most watched basketball league on the globe and they want people in Europe and Asia to follow the NBA the way American soccer fans follow the Barclays’ Premiere League. That will make the owners more money, and never forget this is a business first, second, and third. With that, the owners allow players to compete for their native countries in major events, such as the FIBA World Cup or Olympics.

However, there is a “club vs. country” tug of war in the NBA. Players want to represent their countries — and sometimes are pressured to do so — while NBA teams see injury risk. They look at the story of Dante Exum blowing out his ACL playing for Australia as a cautionary tale.

So when the Cavaliers’ Jordan Clarkson wanted to play for the Philippines in the Asian Games (his mother is a native of that country, so he is allowed), the NBA shot it down at first saying this tournament was not part of the agreement between FIBA and the NBA that allows the league’s players to take part in major international events (the Olympics, the basketball World Cup, etc.). However, the league eventually flipped and allowed a “one-time exception” for Clarkson (plus Houston’s Zhou Qi and Dallas’ Ding Yanhuyang).

Now Clarkson says he wants the NBA to allow players to compete in more global events, he told Agence France-Presse at the Asian Games.

“After being told no so many times, I refused to give up. I kept fighting,” he said. “I’m here now, ready to compete.”

“I think they get the point — in Asia kids are picking up a basketball. I feel like the NBA is allowing us to do our thing.”

Basketball is a growing sport in Asia — it’s huge in the Philippines already, and it’s growing fast there and in countries such as China. The NBA wants its foot in the door there. It wants to be part of that market — the NBA plays exhibition games in China every year for a reason.

The Asian Games — the second largest multi-national sporting event in the world behind the Olympics — is a good exception to make. Clarkson and other NBA stars playing there — including in the future — is good for the NBA.

However, the league is going to face a challenge trying to find that line in future years between promoting the game and the NBA internationally and protecting its investments in its players.

Watch the top 60 blocked shots of last NBA season

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We love blocked shots. One player is attacking the rim, another gets in his way and rejects that shot. Frankly, we overestimate their importance on defense at points (because it’s a quantifiable stat in a world where defense is hard to quantify), but they matter.

And they are fun.

Check out the top 60 blocks from last season, as put together by NBA.com. It all starts with a chase down block by Kevin Durant (who has improved his rim protection in recent years) and ends with Anthony Davis showing why he is a beast.

It’s Sunday, and what else are you going to do? Watch preseason football?

Grizzlies expected to bring rookie Jaren Jackson along slowly

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Jaren Jackson was one of the standout rookies of Summer League. It started in Salt Lake City at the Jazz Summer League, where he looked like the future of the NBA five — knocking down threes, being athletic enough to run the court on the break, blocking shots, and being physical inside. In Utah, he averaged 15.7 points per game and five boards a night.

Expect the Grizzlies to bring Jackson along slowly, however, once the regular season starts. Jackson likely will come off the bench behind the starting frontline of Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green. That will not be popular with the fan base, but the Grizzlies want to trust their veterans and make a playoff push.

Look at what Grizzlies executive John Hollinger told the Peter Edmiston of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

I think whatever happens, we want it to happen organically, and not get ahead of ourselves, and make sure we’re taking all the right steps on him, and not getting too excited and skipping ahead….

“We don’t want to put him into overtly physical matchups yet because he’s 18 and his body is still filling out,” he said.

Strength is almost always the biggest challenge facing young big men in the NBA (and Jackson is still 18, he will turn 19 during training camp). These are grown men they are going against nightly, and while Jackson had plenty of strength to hang with the Summer League crowd, things are very different when the big boys come to play. Even in an NBA moving away from old-school power ball, it still matters.

While the Grizzlies will work to not rush Jackson, that plan is somewhat dependent on players with a history of injury issues staying healthy. Jackson is not going to get 30 minutes a night, he’s not going to get the touches that fellow rookies such as Trae Young and Luka Doncic will receive, and he may not be in the mix for Rookie of the Year. We’ll see how things shake out, but on a Grizzlies team looking to put itself in the playoff conversation, the coach likely will lean on veterans he trusts.

Where Jackson will rank in this draft class three years from now could be very different. He has the potential to be the star of this class (or at least one of a few breakouts, this is an interesting group).

Victor Oladipo: ‘I play nothing safe now’ because ‘that really didn’t get me anywhere’

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Victor Oladipo transformed last season.

Traded to the Pacers, he showed up to camp in better shape than he had ever been before, and with a new confidence in his handles and shot making. Coach Nate McMillan realized what he had, put the ball in Oladipo’s hands, and got out of the way. The result was a 48-win Pacers team where Oladipo was the league’s most improved player, made an All-NBA Team, the All-Defensive Team, and was an All-Star for the first time.

Oladipo, after going to the USA Basketball mini-camp in Las Vegas, is back in a Miami gym with the same team of trainers and staff who transformed his body and game a year ago. In a fantastic profile by J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star, Oladipo talks about the mental transformation he has undergone as well.

“I push the envelope. I play nothing safe now,” Oladipo says. “I’m the guy if we’re down two, I’m pulling up for three. I work too hard to not push the envelope. I used to be conservative but that really didn’t get me anywhere.”

His trainer, Al Watson, talked about getting Oladipo better prepared for defenses that focus on him and late-game situations.

“Last year we started doing a lot of tightening up his ball-handling skills. This year we took it to another level because I watch a lot of film on him,” Watson says. “In the fourth quarter, he’s like the point guard. Wanted to focus on a lot of combination moves, working on traps. It’s no secret now. They’re going to be double-teaming him.

“You look at the great players, Kobe, they had to do a little bit of everything. His shot from the perimeter may be off so he’s got to learn, ‘Let me get myself going, get to the mid-post, get some fouls.’ He’s got to be able to attack with all different facets of the game. We do a lot of sprinting, getting to your spots. Got to get open. I touch everything with in-game situation stuff.”

Oladipo’s team includes an off-the-court group trying to better position himself to make money off his stardom. He doesn’t want to play it safe off-the-court, either.

Indiana is going to lean heavily on Oladipo again. They added some depth — Doug McDermott, drafting Aaron Holiday — and are counting on more from players such as Myles Turner. However, by and large, the Pacers are running it back, and they are sneaking up on nobody this season. Internal improvement will be their key.

Oladipo is ready. He’s not playing it safe anymore.