After meeting, union leaders reiterate they are unified front

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After every National Basketball Players Association meeting of any size, union leadership and players have stood together and preached unity. Often wearing matching T-shirts, because nothing says unity like matching clothing.

But this time the symbolism and words were needed.

With players smacking union leadership publicly and signs of division everywhere, the union’s executive committee stood side-by-side after a meeting Thursday and again preached unity heading into a weekend bargaining session with the league. Union president Derek Fisher and director Billy Hunter again denied that there is any rift between to them.

“We’ve had no problems, and that’s the reality,” Hunter told the Associated Press.

Fisher again denied he spoke with David Stern to set up a side deal, as Ken Berger of CBSSports.com tweeted:

Asked if he promised NBA negotiators he’d be able to deliver a 50-50 deal to players, Fisher said, “No I did not.”

The players, however kept their “we’re nowhere close to a deal” face on. They said it was system and percentage of basketball related income combined, not just one simple thing that keeps the two sides apart.

“Obviously we’re going to have individual members in individual sets of circumstances that want to get back to play. We want to get back to play,” Fisher said. “But we realize the ramifications of agreeing to a bad deal at this moment. … This particular collective bargaining agreement will forever impact the circumstances of NBA basketball players. We can’t rush into a deal we feel is a bad deal just to save this season.”

Hopefully the union did find some unity in the last 24-48 hours, because a fractured union can’t make a labor deal. Maybe they were never as fractured as it appeared. Who knows? We do know the two sides start talking again on Saturday and we’ll see if they can finalize everything and get the season rolling.

Report: Isaiah Thomas could return to Nuggets right before All-Star break

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The Denver Nuggets have shown off their depth this season. Three starters — Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap — have missed a chunk of time and yet until a few days ago the Nuggets were the top seed in the West, and they are still a clear second.

And all of that without Isaiah Thomas, their biggest name reserve. He has been recovering from hip surgery last March.

The Nuggets are hoping Thomas will make his debut next month, right before the All-Star Break, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Thomas has been gathering momentum in his rehabilitation process from hip surgery in March, and there’s hope among Thomas and the Nuggets organization he could return as soon as a Feb. 11-13 homestand against Miami and Sacramento, sources said.

There’s strong confidence that he will return no later than the first game after the All Star break on Feb. 22 in Dallas, league sources said….

The final hurdle for Thomas remains playing full 5-on-5 scrimmages. He is expected to start that process soon.

Thomas was playing well and playing through pain in Boston, becoming a fan favorite and pulling that team into the postseason, before his hip injury caught up with him. He tried to recover without surgery playing for the Cavaliers and Lakers last season, but that never really worked like he hoped. He had the surgery and signed a one-year deal with the Nuggets.

Thomas could provide a playmaking guard off the bench, although Monte Morris has filled that role for the Nuggets so well he gets mentioned as a most improved player candidate. Coach Mike Malone will need to finesse the minutes to get both of them touches and involved. How much Thomas can help the Nuggets in the playoffs depends on how he recovers (he has always been a defensive liability because of his size, which factors in as well).

If Thomas can show he would have value as a bench player he will have teams calling next July about a much bigger contract. He has motivation, and he’s popular around the league — people want to see him succeed. But is he fully healthy and does he still have the lateral explosiveness that made him so hard to stop on drives to the rim? We should find out the final couple months of the season.

Report: Kings’ Buddy Hield in 3-point contest

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Players who’ve attempted more than seven 3-pointers per game while making more than 40% of them this season:

Sharing company with only the greatest shooter of all-time will earn Hield a spot in the 3-point contest.

Carmichael Dave of KHTK Sports 1140:

Sacramento getting three players into the Rising Stars Challenge for the second straight year speaks to the team’s nice collection of young talent. Bogdan Bogdanovic (who won MVP last year) and De'Aaron Fox return to the game. No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III replaces Hield, who ages out.

Hield has a chance in the 3-point contest, though the league is better from beyond the arc than ever. He’ll certainly have plenty of competition.

PBT Extra: Five players to watch heading into the NBA’s trade deadline

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It’s going to be a slow NBA trade deadline this year.

The reason it will be relatively quiet on Feb. 7 (the deadline day) this year is reflected in the five players to watch talked about in this PBT Extra. The bottom line: There are far more buyers than sellers.

Take Trevor Ariza in Washington, for example. A number of playoff teams are looking for wings on expiring contracts to help them out — the Rockets and Lakers are at the front of that line — but Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said the team the team will not tank, so is Ariza even available.

Or, what about Terrence Ross in Orlando? Another wing a lot of teams have interest in, but is Orlando selling?

And while the Dallas Mavericks have made public overtures about reconciliation with Dennis Smith Jr., sources tell me the plan on both sides is still to find a trade, it’s just right now the offers are lowball ones (because the Mavs have no leverage and there will be good young point guards such as Terry Rozier and D'Angelo Russell available in July as restricted free agents, and teams like them better).

Still, there will be trades. These are the guys to watch.

Report: Hornets rookie Miles Bridges to compete in dunk contest

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Want to see more dunks like this and this?

Watch the dunk contest during All-Star weekend.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Miles Bridges, the No. 12 pick in last year’s draft, has quickly proven himself as belonging in the Hornets’ rotation. He’s active, capable of getting to the rim and picks up defensive concepts quickly.

But like most rookies picked in the middle of the first round, he hasn’t yet earned a national profile.

The dunk contest will be his opportunity to change that.