Hunter references a shifting power structure within ownership.

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Billy Hunter provided enough soundbytes on his appearance on Bill Simmons’ podcast to keep folks entertained for a few days. The “we don’t want to be totally exploited” is the header. Also of note is the reveal of Mark Cuban’s “Game Changer” proposal which proposed no cap and just an aggressive luxury tax. The union and big spender owners of course loved the idea, the small-market guys vommed on it, Hunter said. 

But lost in all this was a quiet story Hunter provided which gives more information into the dynamics of the lockout than maybe anything else that has come out. It’s begins at around the 23-minute mark of the podcast

Two quotes of importance from the segment where Simmons asks Hunter about 

“We did a deal at the twelfth hour, but it was only at the twelfth hour that David and the owners were willing to compromise. I think now there’s a different group of owners that make up NBA so consequently I think they’re a lot more dug in. And they don’t owe their success I think as much to David as before.” 

 

“I think the reason why  David is being so stubborn is because David has a new crop of owners. He’s got all these guys who have come in who are extremely successful, who have made billions of dollars, who have a different perspective. … With the downturn of the economy in 2008, I think some of the owners probably suffered some significant losses in their ancillary businesses and so consequently they think they should make it up on the backs of these franchises.”

Those two bits are going to quietly slip by in the midst of the conversation about leverage, and his relationship with David Stern, and whether the owners were sold on losing a season from the beginning. But then, these two quotes tell us more about the dynamics inside the room than anything else we’ve heard. 

A common element in previous shifts within the Board of Governors resided in the fact that so many of the owners went with Stern. Jerry Buss has seen David Stern build him an empire, and vice versa. There’s a mutual trust there. Donald Sterling was brought into the league by his friend Jerry Buss, as told in David Halberstam’s “Breaks of the Game.” Peter Holt has lead the BoG for years, and has always followed Stern’s leadership, which is what made his recent appearance as a mega-hawk so surprising. Glen Taylor is a long-time friend of Stern’s. In short, during the last deal, there were owners who had seen their investment triple under Stern’s watch and his growth of the league in the 80’s and 90’s. 

But the new owners are entirely different. Many of them are younger, many of them are more cutthroat, and most importantly, none of them owe Stern anything. Instead, they look at the system he’s helped build which has resulted in financial losses on top of the beatings they’ve taken in other areas and resent it. Players have more earning power than ever, but franchises are losing money. If you don’t trust in Stern, if you don’t believe that David knows best, what do you do? 

You revolt. 

There should be one voice in the room, one head, one leader for the league’s efforts, the man who knows more about the league and its issues than anyone. But instead, versus the boogeyman image some, particularly agents through their favorite outlets, are pushing, Stern is being undercut. He was taken out because he was sick. But those meetings went on and Dan Gilbert and Peter Holt were not only allowed but encouraged to put the hammer to the union in last Thursday’s trainwreck with Stern on the sideline because of this new push. In essence, it’s no longer “Father knows best,’ it’s “Stern will get us what we want or we’ll go get it ourselves.” 

That, pieced together with the appearance of Paul Allen, paints a dangerous picture for the future of these talks and the league. 

If you want peace in a troubled region, what you first need is political stability. If you want success and profit in a business, what you first need is leadership and direction. But instead, the NBA is a cartel acting as a group. And within that group there are competing interests within competing interests. There are hawks who just want revenue sharing, doves who want revenue sharing, hawks who want system changes without revenue sharing, and doves who want everything to stay the same. 

Now, Hunter’s statements are spin, meant to prod the media into interpreting the league as unstable and plagued by infighting. You know, articles like this one. But this wouldn’t be written if the events of the past six months hadn’t come through. Everyone outside of the room knows that losing a season is suicide, it’s a lose-lose situation and worst of all, unnecessary. But it’s being pursued, and, again, according to Hunter, it has been pursued since 2007. 

This lockout is about a lot of things. It’s about LeBron. It’s about ego. It’s definitely about money. It’s about opposing paradigms. It’s about business. But it’s also about shifting paradigms and a league which Stern no longer rules with an iron fist. The owners may be confident in Stern’s ability to do his job as commissioner. But they’re more confident in their ability to exert their will and make the world they want it to be. 

Look at their wealth. Why wouldn’t they?

The common refrain is that this is small-market vs. big-market. Hunter was very particular to use the market terms, especially with Simmons who is a big market fan who most often supports big market initiatives. But this conflict is more aligned with new money vs. old money, and suddenly moderates like Jerry Buss are advocating revenue sharing, and both Mark Cuban and Wyc Grousbeck have conflicting reports about their status as hawks or doves. They smell the winds of change, and they want to be on the winning side. 

They just haven’t figured out that everyone’s losing this. 

Maintenance rest starts early: Kawhi Leonard, Gordon Hayward, Jimmy Butler all out Saturday

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Last season the NBA leaned in on teams resting players, particularly in high-profile, televised games. The NBA built in rest before those games to help, and teams mostly played along, but players who teams wanted to be cautious with still got their rest. That is not changing now, NBA teams have science to back it up.

The rest is starting early this season — Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard, Boston’s Gordon Hayward, and Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler are all out Saturday night on the second night of back-to-backs.

Neither of these should be a surprise. Both Hayward and Leonard are coming off injuries that cost them a season and both are clearly feeling their way back into this season (Leonard seems ahead of Hayward on that front so far). Both Toronto and Boston have their eyes on May and June, there is no reason to push a player and risk injury in October that could be a much more significant setback.

In Toronto, OG Anunoby will start on the wing for Leonard. In Boston, Aron Baynes will start as Brad Stevens goes big.

In Minnesota…

It will be interesting to see how the Timberwolves come out against Dallas without Butler, who is their spark plug. Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns should step up and have big nights to lead the team, this is a game Minnesota should still will, but how will they respond on a back-to-back? Something to watch.

Lakers’ James to make home debut against Rockets tonight

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — LeBron James will make his regular-season home debut as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers when they host the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.

James, a four-time NBA most valuable player, signed with the Lakers in July after leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to four straight NBA Final appearances, including their first championship in 2016.

He has played in every NBA Finals since 2010, also winning titles in 2012 and 2013 with the Miami Heat.

James had 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in his Los Angeles debut against the Trail Blazers in Portland on Thursday night, but the Lakers lost 128-119.

The Lakers will likely need a better start with their long-range shooting against the Rockets. Los Angeles missed its first 15 tries from 3-point range before finishing 7 for 30 (23.3 percent) against Portland.

James said he and his new teammates are still going through a feeling-out period.

“It takes a while to get to where you can close your eyes and know exactly where your guys are,” he told reporters after his Lakers debut. “It’s going to take patience from our team, from all of us, to just figure out one another, figure out what we are good at, figure out what we are not so good at, how we can be better at it.”

The Rockets returned their core players from last season’s team that lost to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, and they added 10-time NBA All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony to the mix. They seemed to run low on energy in their season opener against the visiting New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night, however.

After getting outscored by 17 points in the first half, the Rockets were unable to generate a push against the Pelicans and lost 131-112. New Orleans shot 53.1 percent from the floor.

“I thought they were tired,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who coached the Lakers for two seasons (2012-13 and 2013-14).

James Harden, who averaged an NBA-leading 30.4 points last season en route to winning NBA MVP honors, was held to 18 points on 6-for-15 shooting.

Anthony, who played the last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, scored nine points off the bench on 3-for-10 shooting.

Harden, a Los Angeles-area native, is averaging 30.3 points in 32 career games against the Lakers.

One of the bright spots for the Lakers in their season opener was the play of reserve shooting guard Josh Hart. The second-year player scored 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including 3 for 5 from 3-point range.

Hart played 27 minutes, the same as starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. who was limited to five points on 1-for-3 shooting from the floor.

Hart didn’t want to talk about his offense afterward, but rather how he could improve on his defense after Portland reserve shooting guard Nik Stauskas scored 24 points and shot 5 of 8 on 3-pointers.

“Just got to make sure we get the adjustments down and get better on defense,” he told Spectrum SportsNet.

Raptors’ pregame video on Canadian broadcast is group therapy session for Toronto

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Raptors fans are pumped — and they should be, their team knocked off the Celtics Friday night with Kawhi Leonard dropping 31 points (and still showing some rust on the offensive end, he is going to get better). Toronto is positioned to be the one team in the East that is a genuine threat to the Celtics (sorry Philly, not just yet).

Yet Raptors fans as a whole expect the worst, they come with a grey cloud following them and an inferiority complex, Leonard is a free agent next summer, and there is a history of players leaving Toronto…

Which is why the Sportsnet Canada broadcast pregame video is remarkable — it’s a group therapy session for Toronto and all of Canada. To be clear, this was not shown in the arena before the game, it was on the national broadcast, but still, check it out.

Letting go of the past, not worrying about the future, and living in the moment is always good advice.

Leonard said the key to keeping him in Toronto is winning, and Friday night was a good first step down that road. Of course, there’s more to it than that and other teams are going to be in the mix (keep an eye on the Clippers), but sources around the league I talk to think the Raptors have a chance. Sort of like Paul George in Oklahoma City, if he has a very positive experience, it’s possible he opens his mind to staying. Plus, he can get five years, $190 million from the Raptors and four-years, $139 million from anyone else, for a guy coming off basically missing a season due to injury that security and guaranteed money may matter.

Nobody knows what will happen next summer — Leonard and his family/advisors have been unpredictable. Leonard likely doesn’t even know yet.

Which is why Raptors’ fans should let go of the past, live in the moment and savor this season — it could be the greatest one in Raptors’ history.

 

Watch highlights of Pelican’s franchise-record 149 point blowout of Kings

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We’re just two games into the season, but the New Orleans Pelicans have the best offense in the NBA, averaging 127.9 points per 100 possessions. In what has felt like a high scoring start to the season in general (it’s too early to draw conclusions), nobody has been blowing up like Anthony Davis (28.5 points per game) and the Pelicans.

Friday night they dropped a franchise record 149 points on the Sacramento Kings.

Nikola Mirotic had 36 leading eight Pelicans in double figures. Check out the highlights above. And light a candle for the Clippers and Nets, the next two teams up to try to stop the Pelicans freight train.