Dear Mr. Thomas: A response to Etan Thomas’ Op-Ed

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Etan Thomas published an op-ed on ESPN.com on the state of the labor talks, discussing 23… pause… questions surrounding the lockout. There’s a lot of quality things in there, but as always, there are two sides to every story. Except the story that Dan Gilbert, Paul Allen, Robert Sarver, and Michael Jordan should not have been involved in this process in any direct manner. That story’s pretty air-tight. Same for KG. But anyway, here’s some answers for Mr. Thomas and his questions. So I’m not block-quoting the entire material and stealing ESPN.com’s pageviews, I’d recommend opening it one tab and this in another.

1. Well, probably for players to stop commenting publicly on Twitter that they’d take it. Or stop telling the Washington Post that if they’re not going to get a better deal than 50/50 in the future that they should take it, like John Wall did. Or stop making it clear they’re not paying attention to the labor stuff by telling reporters “I’m not paying attention to the labor stuff.” And if you want the real answer to that question, maybe ask your agents why they think they can manipulate the union through the media the same way by putting in scare elements that don’t exist in the proposal like the D-League element. How’s about that?

2. Come on, now Mr. Thomas. If there’s one thing we’ve learned throughout the history of the NBA, there is always an owner overwilling to pay for a terrible player/team, much less a good one. Even with the restrictions, the big spender teams will still spend. And lots of smaller ones will too because they’ll think that championship is right there and that will make it worth it. Its’ a disincentive. Not a wall. The flex-cap? That’s a wall. They said they wanting to curtail spending. They came off the hard cap. It’s a ridiculous concession, I’ll agree. But let’s not act like the players or anyone else can predict how the owners will spend, especially when in the past it’s been “lots, in bad ways.”

3. I don’t think that’s what they think at all. Considering Adam Silver came out last time and said it was a hard pill to swallow, directly, in those words, they’re more than aware of how bad it is for you. That’s part of the power play. Let’s not act like they d think you’re too stupid to understand it’s a worse deal. They just don’t care. They’re being malicious, not short-sighted. That’s you guys. You’re the flip. Well-intentioned, not seeing the whole board.

4. Not for nothing, but I’m of the opinion that something described as an “exception” shouldn’t be used regularly. It should be used for certain circumstances. But I’m willing to bend there. The point with it only being for teams not in the tax (or cut in half as is currently reportedly proposed) would ring true here if you hadn’t just said no one would be in the tax. So which is it? No one will spend in the tax, or no one will use the MLE because they’re in the tax? Because otherwise, that MLE still exists as an option, just less of one. I’m not trying to tell you it’s great, or that it should have been cut as it has. I’m saying don’t spin that it’ll never be used. That’s rhetoric and everyone is sick of that from both sides.

5. Yes. And they were idiots for thinking that. Good for you guys for blasting the G.O.A.T. because he sold you out. It’s a disgraceful turn for someone there should have been no misconceptions about regarding his character off the floor. Great basketball player. But for that guy, who has been a part of a dozen horrible basketball business decisions to come in trying to bully you just because you had his posters on your wall when you were kids is an insult to your intelligence and conviction.

6. He expected you to take the deal because he’s exerting leverage. And considering the option of “bad deal nor or worse deal later” is still a choice, it’s reasonable for anyone to expect you to take the deal, opt-out in six years, and live to fight another day. It’s understandable you want to fight. But you’re making this personal from Stern, and it’s on that level that they’ve managed to get you on tilt throughout this process. The more you react emotionally as a union, the worse it’s gotten. If you want to get leverage back, raging at the machine is not the path.

7.  Again, because that makes logical sense. I likened it this week to people being upset that an innocent man wouldn’t take a plea bargain. Everyone thinks “if you’re going to be convicted anyway, you take the deal, spend less time, and go on with your life.” But the innocent man can’t accept that, because he’s innocent. The problem is that you’re not going to prison. You’re still getting paid a great wage for your work, still going to have another chance at changing things back in six years, still going to be some of the best paid entertainers in the world. It’s not fair. But it’s logical to take the deal. If you don’t, that’s fine, but don’t get indignant that fans and media want you to save that nose just because you hate the face.

8. Woah, woah, woah, there, Mr. Thomas. This has made me nuts all week. The sports media has never  been as friendly to you as they have been throughout this process. You don’t want people questioning why it is that you’re paid as much as you are to play a game? How about you not question the hard work that has proven to be responsible on the part of a group of journalists who wanted to cover you guys actually dribbling and shooting instead of wandering in and out of meetings in sweaters and hoodies? (Not you, Mr. Thomas, your taste in suits has been impeccable. Speaking of which, where’d you get that vest last week?) The NBA media has repeatedly pointed out to the public you’re not the ones who started this, you’re not the ones being unreasonable. So why do you insist on repeatedly coming after them just because it’s convenient? It’s cheap, easy, and reeks of hypocrisy after your comments about not coming after athletes in labor talks just because they’re paid well.

9. But you won the last labor deal, according to anyone who considers such things. And the 2005 showdown. Your point is valid, but that speaks more to the nature of business than anything. Also, if you knew this was how it would be from so far back, why are you so woefully unprepared each time it happens?

10. Done. Great idea. No kidding. If they’re so bad at making money with the NBA, they should get out of the “making money with the NBA” business.

11. Mostly because that’s a drop in the bucket and most of those contracts aren’t negotiated by agents who (very successfully) blow up the costs. If you want to aim for cutting costs instead of player salaries, you should have gone with “how about not overspending on our buffet meals,” or “how about we ride coach,” or “quit giving the media pre-game meals.” Are you happy, Mr. Thomas? I’m now going to get the crap beat out of me by beat writers everywhere.

12. Not a bad idea. Unfortunately not enough media will cover it, rendering it without power. You need an icon, and sadly, you guys are it and you make too much to curry the public’s favor. It’s unfortunate, but it’s how it is.

13. Um, well, yes, that’s how that would work, there, Mr. Thomas. It’s not exactly rocket science.

14. There are quite a few who think the players also make up that 1 percent and that’s not helped by some of the political statements of your colleagues, or the lack thereof, despite the massive amount of charity work and funds you and your colleagues have raised. Speaking of, you are aware of how much charitable work and funds are lost every day the lockout continues, right? You didn’t start it, but if you want a reason to end it, I’d implore you to consider that as one. Greater good, sir.

15. There are, and not to try and speak for the Occupy Wall Street Movement (the only thing I occupy is my couch with my kid when “Sesame Street” is on), but the reality is that the Occupy Wall Street Movement is at least on its surface fighting a perceived oppression and corruption. It’s hard to ague the NBA players face either when the worst case scenario here is that you still make hundreds of thousands of dollars per month. It’s just a rough comparison. It’s not without merit, though, at least on an intellectual level.

16. If this was Nike being occupied, how would you and the players feel?

17. There have been studies that say that won’t happen. They’ll always come back. The economic terrors that face us don’t make people turn on sports, it makes them turn to it as a distraction. Considering the socio-economic background of the vast majority of the NBA (Spencer Hawes as an obvious example of an exception), players don’t need to be educated on how bad it is under the poverty line, obviously. But shouldn’t that serve to grant them perspective on the minor gap they’re fighting over?

18. Their response is obviously that if higher competition (which, let’s be clear, I think is a sham in the context of their demands, but we’re going to humor them for a moment) will lead to more fan participation, which will drive revenues and popularity, which leads to higher ratings which leads to stronger revenues overall and more money for the players despite a 57 percent cut. It’s easy to argue the league is being unreasonable. Arguing this will make the league demonstrably worse is a bit trickier. If you want to go that route? Aim for the “fans like trades and flexibility” swing. That will go over much better than “their proposal makes the league worse!” That won’t fly well with most.

19. No. They don’t care. And I’m not saying the media does a better job. We do worse, because we just get used by both sides. Nothing will impact the owners. They’re hiding behind limousine windows and will do what they want. The only threat is a legal one, and if you’re truly as educated as I believe you are, Mr. Thomas, you know that’s not a viable strategy.

20. Kudos to you for wanting to take race out of it. I’m not an expert on races so I can’t speak to it. But there certainly is a perception issue to the fact that so many of the owners are white and so many of the players and their leadership are black. It’s an uncomfortable subject for everyone but probably one that needs to be discussed, especially since so many of the owners’ positions seem to be reactions to LeBron James’ and Carmelo Anthony’s exertion of power over the past year. They don’t like that the players have exerted power and control over their lives. And that position has a number of ugly side-effects.

21. Because of your own union’s position that they are fighting not just for themselves, but for the rights of future players. The union has long made this into a moral fight, not just an economic one. I won’t pretend to say I know which of the two it truly is, it’s probably a mix of both. But for Jordan to have fought that fight and then completely bailed when it was convenient for him speaks of a betrayal of values, of as selfish, self-centered approach most people don’t like. Jordan doesn’t have to care they don’t like it, but it would be irresponsible of the media, the players, and fans to paint an excuse for Jordan just because he’s popular.

22. I just got done talking about that, so I won’t follow-up, except to say that if the players really believe that the owners are being greedy and that greed is bad, they need to keep that in mind the next time their agent goes into a negotiation to pull in more than that player is worth. You can argue against selfishness and greed, but you need to hold to it. Otherwise, admit everyone’s greedy and move on. That’s what most people do.

23. My dad raised me to believe that you can’t let people bully you. You have to stand up for yourself, and you have to draw the line for yourself. But let’s be clear. Most people in this country really would be happy to just be able to earn the wage you and your colleagues can. They don’t need as much money as you make to live the lives they want to lead. It’s unreasonable for the owners to have asked what they have, it’s in my non-legal opinion that the league has failed to bargain in good faith, from the length between negotiating sessions to their intractable approach, and it’s clear that you’re going to get screwed when this process is over, regardless. But you need to acknowledge that not everyone would fight for this, that is a choice you’re making as a union. If you explain those reasons better, without stupid hashtags or off-the-cuff statements (hint: insulting the work of MA students is not the way), and manage to keep JaVale McGee locked in a closet (or at least in the Philippines), you’ll do better. Your position is reasonable, if not always sympathetic, but don’t forget that the customers who feel you should take the deal aren’t always being selfish or ignorant, they just have a different perspective.

And seriously, someone buy Matt Bonner a suit.

Thanks your time you likely did not grant me, Mr. Thomas.

Sincerely,

Matthew R. Moore

NBC Sports’ ProBasketballTalk.com

Masai Ujiri ‘confident’ Kawhi Leonard will return to Toronto Raptors

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TORONTO (AP) Still absorbing the magnitude of his team’s accomplishment, Raptors President Masai Ujiri is confident Kawhi Leonard and the rest of Toronto’s core will reunite next season in a bid for another title.

“We’re on to the next issue, which for us is coming back and being champions again,” Ujiri said Tuesday in his first news conference since Toronto won its first title nearly two weeks ago. “We want to experience this moment here again and again and again.”

Retaining Leonard is the most pressing issue. The two-time finals MVP is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent. Toronto can offer a five-year deal worth about $190 million – one year and some $50 million more than any other team.

“I know what we’ve built here,” Ujiri said. “I’m confident, and you see how these things go.”

Ujiri stressed the main selling points of his pitch to Leonard: health, trust, success.

“I said we have to be ourselves, and we were ourselves for the whole year,” Ujiri said. “I think he saw that. I think we built a trust there.

“I believe winning a championship, him seeing who we are, working with his medical staff combined with our medical staff and getting him to where he wanted to be,” Ujiri added.

Injured for all but nine games in his final season with San Antonio, Leonard played 60 games this season and another 24 in the playoffs. After averaging career bests of 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in the regular season, Leonard raised his averages to 30.5 and 9.1 in the playoffs.

Ujiri says he and Leonard have had multiple talks the past several days, discussions he called “positive.”

The Raptors will stay in touch and meet formally once free agency begins Sunday. After that, Ujiri is not worried about how long Leonard takes to decide.

“I texted Kawhi last night, I talked to his uncle this morning,” Ujiri said. “For us, there’s that trust regardless of wherever it goes, and there’ll be constant communication.”

Center Marc Gasol also has a player option for next season, and guard Danny Green is a free agent.

“I think they know what the effect of Kawhi’s decision is, but we’re really approaching it like we want to bring everybody back on this team,” Ujiri said. “That’s a priority for us.”

Less urgent is a potential extension for forward Pascal Siakam, a runaway winner of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. The parties plan to meet during the summer league.

“Pascal has gotten to a place where he’s definitely a priority for us and it’s definitely going to be a conversation that we’ll have,” Ujiri said.

Ujiri said little about his confrontation with a deputy following the Game 6 clincher. The deputy’s lawyer, David Mastagni, says his client is on medical leave with a concussion and jaw injury and is considering a lawsuit.

Ujiri says his lawyers are updating him about the investigation.

“I am confident about who I am as a person, my character and as a human being,” Ujiri said. “For now, I’ll just respect their process there and wait for the next steps.”

Asked to address reports linking him to NBA job offers, Ujiri stresses that his family loves Toronto.

“My kids are Canadians,” he said. “For me, the blessing is being wanted here and finding a place that makes you happy and finding challenges that really make you grow as a person.”

As for celebrating the NBA title with political leaders, Ujiri says the team has yet to decide on a White House visit if invited. He adds that seeing Canada’s prime minister would be a “priority.”

Ujiri did have one regret Tuesday – not bringing the Larry O’Brien Trophy with him. But minutes before the news conference ended, the golden trophy arrived and was placed on the table next to him. Ujiri carried it out as he left.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

PJ Tucker says Chris Paul-James Harden rift is ‘fake news’

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There have been reports out of the Houston Rockets organization that both James Harden and Chris Paul are upset with each other. The situation has reportedly become untenable, with Harden as the franchise cornerstone apparently hoping that general manager Daryl Morey will be able to ship Paul off somewhere else.

It was already expected that Morey would be trying to move Paul’s contract this summer. Paul has fallen off, and the rift between the two players was noticable. Still, it’s a tall task to move CP3’s deal — it’s enormous, and his skills are clearly in decline.

But at least one player things that all of this talk is just… talk.

According to Rockets swingman PJ Tucker, there aren’t big issues between Paul and Harden. In fact, speaking to The Athletic Sam Amick this week, Tucker called the supposed conflict “fake news” and that the tension after the team’s Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors wasn’t anything out of the ordinary given the circumstances.

Via The Athletic:

“I’m sick of the fake news man. It’s fake. Everybody – I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue.

“It was what it was. Everybody’s mad. Everybody’s pissed. You can’t – I’m sick of all the highlight of whoever this person is trying to come up with all this crap, like I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue with each other. Like, I’m the center, focal (point) of the argument because I’m always yelling at somebody and they’re yelling at me. So for me, it’s like ‘If you’re not arguing…’ You don’t think Kobe and Shaq argued?”

The problem here is that reports have said that Harden is sick of Paul trying to coach the team. Meanwhile, Paul has found that Harden’s ability to generate offense for himself isn’t necessarily what he thinks is best for the squad. It’s an impasse.

And of course, Kobe and Shaq hated each other so much they broke up a dynasty. Paul and Harden don’t compare to that tandem in their prime right now, and Tucker’s example is ignoring the fact that Shaq got shipped off to the Miami Heat.

It’s possible that Tucker is giving out the information he knows to be true. It’s also possible that he’s simply being a good teammate for the Rockets. And, begrudgingly, I will admit it’s also possible that the discourse between Paul and Harden is par for the course for stars of their stature and competitive nature.

Still, I won’t hold my breath for things to get smoothed over in Houston.

Report: Klay Thompson could be interested in Clippers if Warriors don’t max him

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Most everyone has expected that Klay Thompson will return to the Golden State Warriors next season. That seemed even more of a lock after Thompson tore his ACL, which might scare off outside teams.

Thompson is certainly a max-level player, and the Warriors will need to decide whether they are going to offer him that contract this summer. It’s not clear whether Thompson would be willing to take a discount, or if he’s finally ready to cash out in a big way.

Golden State will have a hard time keeping their core intact as everyone continues to get more expensive. Finding some leeway with Thompson’s contract has been seen as one way for the Warriors to at least limit their luxury tax bill.

But according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, there are other teams interested in giving Thompson a hefty sum if the Warriors decline to offer him a max deal.

Via ESPN’s “Woj & Lowe” special:

“The one team that I think — my information is — he would be very open to going down to sit down with are the Clippers. And if they have a chance to sell Kawhi Leonard with Klay Thompson, certainly that’s an appealing sell for any free agent.”

It seems unreasonable that the Warriors would not try to max both Thompson and Kevin Durant. Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe said as much during their special.

But we have seen made promises to spend in the past, and often that decision has been reversed. Golden State might end up choosing a handful of their core players to keep, and either Durant or Thompson could be left looking elsewhere.

There will be plenty of suitors for either of these guys, and both are still max-level players despite their catastrophic injuries. Whether both, one, or neither will be in San Francisco next year is the question heading into July 1.

Danny Green on fans trying to delegitimize Raptors title in light of Warriors injuries: ‘We don’t care’

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The Toronto Raptors are your 2019 NBA champions. For some folks, this title comes with a caveat thanks to injuries suffered by Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Many fans feel as though there should be some kind of asterisk next to their championship in the record books.

This is, frankly, is sour grapes at best and patently insane at worst.

What-ifs are some of the more fun things to contemplate in a league like the NBA, but reality is inescapable. What has come to pass is the truth, and in front of our very eyes we saw the Golden State Warriors go down in six games to Toronto. And should have been five.

Raptors guard at Danny Green shares the same sentiment, saying is much too the New York Times Marc Stein in his newsletter this week. When asked about the prospect of adding an asterisk to the Raptors championship in light of Golden State’s injuries, Green disagreed.

Via NYT:

In a phone interview Monday night, Toronto’s Danny Green forcefully scoffed at the asterisk question before I could even finish the sentence. “We don’t care,” Green said. “Doesn’t matter to us.”

Should I be surprised that this is an actual conversation happening between NBA fans in 2019? Probably not. I’ve been around for too long. But here I am, and the incessant idiocy of excuses remains ever-present.

Now, if only we knew with this kind of certainty where Kawhi Leonard was going to sign this summer.