Union wants to negotiate, Stern says no wiggle room in offer

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After a long day of negotiations through the media, we stand looking off the cliff of a lost NBA season, and there are not a lot of positive signs on the horizon. Here are where things stand as of this writing.

First, there are no meetings planned between the owners and players union for Wednesday. That may still happen, but as of right now nothing is set. It’s pretty hard to strike a deal if you are not talking, so consider this the first bad omen.

On Tuesday NBA players’ union team representatives met, rejected the owners offer on the table and said they wanted more negotiations. According to tweets from Marc Stein at ESPN, the consensus at that meeting was to go with the 50/50 split of league revenues the owners want if the owners will give a few more things on system issues.

Then just more than an hour later David Stern went on NBA TV and said the owners were not changing their offer. At all. Neither system or revenue. When David Aldridge asked Stern if there was wiggle room on the owners offer, he replied:

“As of Sunday morning at 3 in the morning there was none left.”

Stern cleverly used a phrasing to suggest things could change, but don’t bet on it. The offer may be the offer. Stein says union reps were told that the league would be able to pass the offer on the table by a 17-13 vote (one of those yes votes coming from the league, which currently owns the Hornets). That’s not a lot of margin to be selling more change to the deal.

If the offer does not change, the players will not take it.

Then Stern has said he and the owners will revert to a rollback offer that includes player salary rollbacks, a hard salary cap, the players getting 47 percent of league revenues and other things the players would outright reject and be willing to lose a season to avoid. Basically, Stern would let his hardliners win.

That would spark the decertification on the union process — Paul Pierce and supporters of decertification reportedly have enough signatures to force a vote. They needed 30 percent of the union, which is about 130 players, and reportedly they have more than 200 signatures. Which is something union director Billy Hunter told CBSSports.com he was fine with.

“Listen, I’m cool with Paul and all these guys. I think it’s very important. I’m happy that Paul and the others are involved in the process. That’s always been the problem with athletes, that a lot of stuff is foisted on them and they have no input. Paul has been actively engaged, he understands, he’s been in five or six of our negotiating sessions, he talks to me, and when they had the (decertification) calls, he called and let me know that they were having the calls. And I said, ‘Hey, I’m not at all opposed to you doing that.’ … I endorse what Paul did.”

It would take about 45 to 60 days between when the players filed a signed petition with the National Labor Relations Board asking for a vote on decertification and when the actual vote would take place. That would leave a window for more negotiations. But if the owners really stick with their rollback plan there will not be much to talk about — a hard salary and salary rollbacks are the kind of thing the players will stay out for a season over. And decertify over.

As CBA expert Larry Coon told us, the likelihood of the players voting to blow up the union would depend on when the vote takes place. If it is before the league’s deadline to cancel the season it might be hard to get the votes, but after the players likely would vote to decertify and sue the league on anti-trust grounds.

All this means that Wednesday the sides need to sit down, treat each other like adults for a change, and pound out a compromise deal.

I wouldn’t bet on it happening, though.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.

Sixers hire Elton Brand as new General Manager

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Filling the 76ers vacant general manager position dragged out all summer for one main reason:

They liked what they already had in-house. The Sixers were an especially collegial and collaborative group with their decision making, and if they brought in a big name from the outside — former Cavaliers’ GM David Griffin, or the two guys who went deep into the interview process Utah assistant GM Justin Zanik on Rockets VP Gersson Rosas — it would change that dynamic.

Which is why they have decided to keep this in the family, and will promote Elton Brand from vice president of basketball operations to general manager. It’s a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark.

Brand, a former Philadelphia player, was the general manager of their G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats, before becoming the VP of basketball operations. He will replace Bryan Colangelo, who was forced out following a Twitter scandal involving his wife.

There were other title changes within the organization as well.

What this means on the ground is don’t expect any significant changes with the Sixers’ plans — nor should there be. They are banking on Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz — now with a functional jump shot, they hope — to be at the core of a contending team, then next summer they will go big game hunting again for an elite free agent. (There is more pressure to get a deal done this summer before the big extensions for those young stars start to really kick in.) That said, this is a team poised on the brink of a great run.

And if things are going well, why make a dramatic change? Brand can help them on the course already set.

Pat Riley: Dion Waiters not recovered for start of training camp, “unlikely” for start of season

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This is a setback.

When Dion Waiters had ankle surgery 30 games into last season, the hope was that he would be healthy for the start of this season and return to the post All-Star form of 2017, when his hot play (15.6 points per game, 41 percent from three and carrying a heavy offensive load) led the Heat to offer him a four-year contract.

Turns out, that’s not going to happen.

It was Pat Riley who made the announcement, speaking to the media.

Waiters was not healthy last season, and while he averaged 14.3 points a game he was not nearly as efficient — 30.6 percent from three, shooting 39.8 percent overall, a PER of 10.5.

This could move Dwyane Wade into the starting lineup to open the season. Beyond that, the Heat have the guard depth to survive this with Wade and Wayne Ellington at the two, plus Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Malik Newman, and Briante Weber heading into camp.

Waiters being out also is bad news for the player but could save the franchise money on another front: Waiters receives a $1.1 million bonus if he plays in 70 games this season. If he misses the start of the season, he becomes far less likely to make that threshold.