Players vote to reject offer, decertify union. Season likely doomed.

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This is Armageddon. Nuclear winter is upon NBA fans.

The players got together in New York on Monday and not only voted to reject the league’s ultimatum offer, but voted to start the process to decertify the union.

“We’ve arrived at the conclusion that the collective bargaining process has completely broken down, and as a result in the last hour we have served a notice of disclaimer on (David) Stern and the NBA,” union director Billy Hunter said after the meeting. “We plan to disseminate that to all 30 teams. …

“The players are not ready to accept the ultimatum. They thought it was completely unfair on the part of the NBA ownership and management. … We have negotiated in good faith for two years, but the players have felt they have given enough.”

That step — a notice of disclaimer essentially says the union has no interest in representing the players in negotiations any longer and is abandoning that right — is the first step in anti-trust lawsuits that will be filed by players in the coming days. This is the step the NFL players’ union took and something agents have pushed the NBA union to do since July. The timing essentially blows up the negotiating process when there wasn’t a lot of time left to save the 2011-12 season.

The courts move slowly, but the union has reached its breaking point. It has gone to the one, big card it could play.

The reaction of the owners will be to hunker down, play hardball and try to force their entire wish list — such as salary rollbacks and a hard salary cap — on the players. The owners are not going to be scared by this at all.

Basically, Commissioner Stern is going to let his hardliners have the run of the place. Guys who were already willing to miss a season get to have their way.

Meanwhile, NBA fans lose. And so does the league.

“This is where it stops for us as a union,” said Derek Fisher, union president.

It might be where a lot of fans stop if a full season is lost. But the union is moving forward with these plans.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo, several players have hired top anti-trust attorney David Boies. If the name is familiar, he was involved in the NFL’s anti-trust cases. Boies is the guy who had the anti-trust cases against Microsoft (and had some success there) and he was they guy representing Al Gore in Gore vs. Bush.

Technically, what this legal move does is turn the union into a “trade association” that works for the players but does not represent them in negotiating a CBA. Ultimately when a deal is struck, the union will reform.

Stern did not back down in an interview on ESPN, saying the players got bad advice on negotiating tactics if this was their move.

“It’s not going to work,” Stern said. “If they were going to do this, maybe they should have done this a long time ago so we had a chance to save the season. But they seem hell-bent on self-destruction.”

The league already has filed a lawsuit trying to block decertification of the union, and there have been arguments on the players’ efforts to have that case dismissed (but no ruling yet). That situation just becomes a lot more messy.

The players’ announcement came after about a four-hour meeting where about 50 players were looking at a take-it-or-leave-it offer from the league. That deal offered the players a 50/50 share of league revenue (once the owners took a healthy cut of expenses off the top) and a much more restrictive system of player movement than had been allowed before. The offer the players had wanted would have returned about $280 million a season (in last year’s dollars) to the owners, but the players wanted a less restrictive system. The owners had long said the two were not tied. It wanted both the money and the system changes.

Stern has said that if the players rejected this offer, the owners would counter with a “reset” offer that would give the players just 47 percent of basketball related income (down from 50 in the last offer and 57 percent last season) and a hard salary cap. The players’ meeting was well-attended and featured not only team representatives but also Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and many other star players. They all raised their hands in the press conference and said they supported this move.

Stern has warned the players against decertification and called it a “nuclear option.” The players just pushed the button.

It is a dark, dark day for the NBA.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.

How corrosive is tension between James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston?

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Golden State is not going to be contending for a title next season. Sorry Stephen, but you’re just not.

That throws open the doors to the West crown and, eventually, the NBA title, and teams will be lining up to take their shots. The Lakers just added Anthony Davis to go with LeBron James. Denver should improve and is looking for wing help. Utah feels just one playmaker away. The Clippers are big game hunting, and if they land one they become a threat.

Houston, however, should be at the front of that line… if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. Contract extension talks with coach Mike D’Antoni are stalled, and at ESPN Tim MacMahon put together a fascinating inside look at the tension between at his isolation-heavy and at his peak James Harden and the intense but declining Chris Paul.

But Paul noticeably lost a step last season, as evidenced by analytics and the eye test. Paul pushed for more plays and sets in the Houston offense, more screening and deception, despite Harden being in the process of putting together a historically dominant individual offensive season.

“Chris wants to coach James,” says a source familiar with the stars’ dynamic. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'”…

It has reached a point, team sources say, where Paul cherishes the chance to play without Harden on the floor. On several occasions, according to team sources, Paul barked at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench while he was running the second unit. Harden simultaneously would lobby — or demand — to check back into the game.

There’s tension there, but is it corrosive to the point of the team unraveling? Or, as GM Daryl Morey and everyone else with the Rockets says, is this just blown out of proportion? Time will tell.

Two things to point out.

First, tension between two stars and alpha personalities is far from new in the NBA (or any other professional sport), and it does not mean a team is in trouble. These things can be worked out, they just flared up more in the wake of the round two loss to the Warriors.

Second, these guys are stuck with each other. Obviously, the Rockets aren’t trading Harden. They would be open to trading CP3, but at age 34 and owed $124 million over three more seasons, there are no takers (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener, which they don’t). The players around them may change, the coach could change, but Harden and Paul have years left together.

This team is so close to a title, it’s hard to envision them really coming apart at the seams next season. These guys are too professional for that… although in wild NBA crazier things have happened.

Report: Bucks trying to trade Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova with draft-pick sweetener

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Coming off their best season in decades, the Bucks will send four quality players into free agency – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic.

How will Milwaukee keep its core intact?

Maybe by unloading Tony Snell ($11,592,857 salary next season, $12,378,571 player option the following season) or Ersan Ilyasova ($7 million salary next season, $7 million unguaranteed the following season).

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

With Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic, Milwaukee faces no salary-cap restrictions on keeping just those three. The only cost is real dollars, including potential luxury-tax payments.

It’s trickier with Lopez. Giving him the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which projects to be about $9 million) – the most they can pay without opening cap space – would hard-cap the Bucks at a projected team salary of about $138 million. That could be a difficult line to stay under.

Unless Snell or Ilyasova are off the books.

Neither player has a desirable contract, which is why Milwaukee is shopping them with a draft pick attached. But both can still contribute. Ilyasova is a smart veteran power forward who shoots well from outside and takes a lot of charges. Snell is also a good outside shooter, and though his all-around game is lacking, there’s a dearth of helpful wings around the league.

The Bucks have the No. 30 pick in Thursday’s draft. They could select on behalf of another team then trade the draft rights. The Stepien rule applies only to future drafts.

Beyond that pick, Milwaukee is short on tradable draft picks. The Bucks have already traded two protected future first-round picks and their next three second-rounders. Dealing another first-rounder would require complex protections. Perhaps, a distant second-rounder is enough.

It’s important for Milwaukee to figure this out. Giannis Antetokounmpo likes this core group, and everyone is watching his level of satisfaction with the Bucks as his super-max decision approaches.