What issues are union sticking points? Here are a few

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When leaders of the NBPA — the NBA’s player union — emerge from a Times Square area hotel on Monday afternoon, I fully expect them to say the people in the room voted to approve a modified version of the league’s latest offer. It makes sense to put the ball in the owners’ court.

The question then becomes: What areas are they going to modify? Multiple reports suggest a few things frustrate the players. Here are some possibilities.

• The mid-level exception for tax paying teams. It’s not so much this specific item (which impacts just a couple players a year) as it is a philosophical difference between the sides. The league wants to flatten out the payroll — rein in big spending teams but force lower spending teams to bring their payrolls up closer to the cap line. (The idea by the league is that this payroll balance will distribute talent more evenly and create more competitive balance. I — and those that studied the issue in depth — say that balance is a myth because of the gap between elite and role players in the league and how that plays out on the court.)

The players want teams that can afford to go into the tax not to be penalized — basically they want freedom of movement when they are free agents. They want 30 teams to be able to go after a player if they so wish. The owners want to tie the hands of the highest payroll teams. That plays itself out in a few areas that each individually do not account for a lot of players but as a group do allow player movement to the higher-payroll teams. Look for the players to loosen those rules some. This is something the owners may well balk at.

• The escrow. To make sure that the players as a whole hit a specific percentage of Basketball Related Income with their salaries (in total, as a league), part of each player’s paycheck is held back and put in an escrow fund. At the end of the season, a portion of that fund is returned to the players to bring the total spent on player contracts to the right percentage of league revenue. (Still with me?)

In the last deal, eight percent of player contracts were withheld for escrow, the league’s offer ups that to 10 percent. As Ken Berger at CBSSports.com explains, in the first couple years of this CBA the players are not likely to get that money back, so basically this is just taking more money out of their pocket. Nobody likes that, but it is really the only way to get close to the BRI percentages the first couple of years.

• The league’s proposal calls for a 12 percent reduction in future rookie contracts. Those were already real bargains for the league, but again if you can’t rollback existing contracts you have to get that money from somewhere for the owners. Also, the rookies always take it on the chin in these deals because veterans vote and the rookies are not part of the union yet.

Even if the sides can agree on a framework soon, there are a host of “b-list” issues that could prove troubling down the line, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo.

If the players were to vote to accept the terms of the owners’ current proposal, the litany of B-list issues – including contraction, drug testing, Developmental League assignments and draft age eligibility – would still have to be agreed upon.

Those so-called lesser issues could still drive a stake in the heart of the deal because the owner can insist that contraction would force the percentage of BRI to the players to go down. The idea of dramatically reducing a player’s salary if he is sent to the D-League also drew fire from players.

Those issues are not in the deal the players are discussing Monday in New York, but they have to be sorted out before there is a final deal. Which is to say, we’ve got a long way to go yet, folks.

Anthony Davis challenging Michael Jordan as best opening-game player on record

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Anthony Davis called himself the NBA’s best player.

He sure backed it up last night.

Davis posted a 32-16-8-3-3 to lead the Pelicans to a 19-point win over the Rockets, considered by many to be the NBA’s second-best team. The performance immediately vaults Davis to the forefront of any MVP discussions.

But for him, it was just par for the course. Davis has repeatedly dazzled in season openers. When 18-6-2-3 qualifies as the dud, you know Davis is doing something right.

Davis’ box scores in New Orleans’ first game each season:

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That makes Davis’ average season-opener game score 24.1, one of the best ever. Only Michael Jordan has a higher mark on record (since 1983, as far back as Basketball-Reference records go; minimum: three games).

Here are the leaders:

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Obviously, Davis cares more about how he finishes than starts. The Pelicans have made the playoffs only twice with him, getting swept in the first round in 2015 and falling in the second round last season.

But it should be clear by now: Davis comes to play as soon as the season tips.

PBT Extra: Boston can be team to dethrone Golden State Warriors

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I’ve heard it from friends. I’ve seen it on NBA Twitter. I’ve debated it with sports talk radio hosts.

“This NBA season is already decided, nobody has a chance against the Warriors.”

Not true.

Boston has a shot, as I get into in this PBT Extra.

Absolutely the Warriors are the odds-on favorites to win it all, if healthy they should three-peat. They were my pick. But I believe Boston has a legitimate shot to dethrone the Warriors — they have the wing athletes, the switchability on defense, the scoring, the versatility. A Boston/Golden State Finals is going six or seven games… if we get there. It’s just day two of a long season.

But I believe in Boston.

 

Boban Marjanovic dunks so hard (with his feet touching floor!), rim must be checked for levelness (video)

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The Nuggets had no answer for Boban Marjanovic.

Neither did L.A.’s rims.

The 7-foot-3, 290-pound Clippers center scored 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting with eight rebounds in 18 minutes. The Clippers outscored Denver by seven with Marjanovic on the floor, but got outscored by 16 otherwise in a 107-98 loss last night.

Marjanovic just doesn’t have the stamina to play huge minutes, though he caught an extra breather when officials stopped the game to check the levelness of a rim Marjanovic dunked on – with his feet still on the ground. Incredible!

Three Things to Know: Deandre Ayton outduels Luka Doncic in rookie showdown

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. This was the first full slate of games this season and three of the first four were #LeaguePassAlert games — welcome back NBA.

1) Suns, Deandre Ayton gets best of Mavs’ Luka Doncic in rookie debuts. It’s tedious but let’s start with the required-by-law caveat: It’s just one game — almost any reaction here is an overreaction. What matters is not where Ayton and Doncic are right now but how much better are they around Christmas? March?

That said, Ayton showed an offensive game that comes to him with ease and looked the better of the two promising rookies in an opening night showdown.

Ayton had to go up against DeAndre Jordan and did a good job of letting the offense come to him, not forcing it, and he finished with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 10 rebounds, and an impressive six assists. (Credit to new coach Igor Kokoskov the Suns moved the ball very well.) Ayton did most of his damage deep in the post, mainly when smaller players were switched onto him, but also nailed a few midrange jumpers. His first bucket came with an and-1 against Doncic down low.

That said, on the defensive end of the floor Ayton has a lot of work to do. He just looked lost, without recognition. The book on him coming in was he had never really been taught to defend until college and he just doesn’t have the understanding yet, and that showed. It’s just a reminder he has a LONG way to go on that end.

Dallas’ Doncic couldn’t get his shot to fall (5-of-16 overall and 0-of-5 from three) but the Dallas offense did look smoother with him running it. He still finished with 10 points, eight rebounds, and four assists — and a few highlight moments to remind you what he can be.

Phoenix’s Devin Booker was the real offensive star of the game — he scored 17 points in the final five minutes to seal the win and had 35 on the night for the Suns.

2) Pelicans beat down Rockets in opener, win by 19 (and it wasn’t that close). Last season, Houston’s switch-everything defense was seventh best in the NBA and the stops/steals it got helped fuel an elite offense. There were a lot of questions through the summer about how much the losses of Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute, and defensive guru assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik (retirement) was going to set them back.

It’s just one game, but the returns are not good.

The Pelicans picked apart the switches, got mismatches and clean looks, and flat-out thrashed Houston in its home opener 131-112. This was a 17 point game at the half and the Pelicans led by as many as 29 at points. Anthony Davis feasted on the Houston defense on his way to 32 points,16 rebounds, eight assists, and three blocks. He looked stronger and was scoring in the post, too, on Clint Capela at times.

The Pelicans big-man trio dominated this game — Nikola Mirotic hit his first six threes and finished with 30 points, and Julius Randle punished switches inside on his way to 25 points and eight rebounds. New Orleans is an interesting combination — they play as fast as any team in the league but will punish teams that go small ball on them. The Rockets struggled with all of that.

Houston will play better — James Harden and Chris Paul were good but not playing at their otherworldly potential, and the defense will improve. But there were other concerns. Carmelo Anthony came off the bench for the first time in his career and looked pedestrian and out of sync, not like a guy who can help the team in May, and shot 3-of-10. Worse yet, Michael Carter-Williams was a mess, getting torched defensively, and on offense the Pelicans at points literally did not guard him and that messed with the spacing and flow of the rest of the offense.

3) Kawhi Leonard looks good — if a bit rusty — in Raptors debut. We saw it with Gordon Hayward in Boston on Tuesday night (and to a degree Kyrie Irving as well): Miss a large chunk of the last season and there’s going to be some expected rust and struggles in the first game of the next season.

That was the Kawhi Leonard story in Toronto. He put up 24 points in his first game, but on 9-of-22 shooting. Early on it was clear the Raptors were feeding him to try to get him rolling, but that had a limited effect (although he did look better in the second half).

It’s just one game, and Leonard was moving and defending well, we need to give him some time to get his game fully back. The Raptors beat the Cavaliers 116-104 and as long as they keep winning Leonard can find his game again without pressure.

BONUS NOTE: Could not end this without a shout out to Allonzo Trier. You might remember him as the player who, when you tuned in to watch Ayton at Arizona last season, you said, “hey, who is No. 35, he’s pretty good?” Trier went undrafted but played his way onto the Knicks’ roster through a solid Summer League (17 points a game) and camp (14.2 average in preseason games, better than Kevin Knox).

Opening night he impressed dropping 15 and making some highlight reel plays. This is a rookie to keep an eye on.