When labor talks restart, who can be NBA’s Robert Kraft?

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Right now, the lawyers are the guys putting on the show. The players have their big-gun attorney David Boies filing an antitrust lawsuit. Within a couple days David Stern (a lawyer) and his legal team will respond with their own legal maneuvers trying to crush the rebel alliance, and that will garner headlines.

But the way this will end is with settlement talks.

The argument technically shifts from “how do we build a collective bargaining agreement?” to “what collective bargaining agreement can we reach so we can throw the lawsuit out?” but it is essentially the same — two sides talking across a table. When the owners and players agree on a CBA the lockout and all this will end.

They did that in the NFL when Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Colts center Jeff Saturday threw the lawyers out of the room and agreed to keep negotiating, regardless of what advice they got from said lawyers. From ProFootballTalk, here is what Saturday said:

“The big shift came when owners and players began to negotiate by ourselves,” Saturday told NFL Network. “You really began to see men’s personalities and what they believe in. Robert Kraft was instrumental in getting this deal done. … Each and every one of us understood what he was going through.”

Have the NBA negotiations ever been humanized like that?

The NFL sides met for 16 straight days and hammered out a deal. The NFL season started on time.

For all the legal wrangling (and the differences in the talks), that is how the NBA lockout will end. Lawyers will want to use litigation to solve problems the same way surgeons will want to cut even when it is not the best strategy. Somebody needs to take charge, be rational, put Stern and the hardliners to the side, and just make this happen.

The problem is, who can be the NBA’s Robert Kraft?

Mark Cuban? He has the personality, but would the hardliners really accept the deal from one of the biggest spending owners (The only team that has spent more in the last decade on salary is the Knicks. Thanks, Isiah!). Small-market owners see him as part of the problem, not the solution.

Michael Jordan? He’s a hardliner that the players don’t trust right now so he will not work. It’s not the personality of Jerry Buss (or even Jeanie) to leap into this kind of fray, plus they again are big spenders. James Dolan? Do you really want him to craft a complex business deal about basketball? Same with Micky Arison. He can pick the place I go to dinner anytime but not sure he gets to be the man here.

Could a hardliner from the owners become the voice of reason and pull it off — Ted Leonsis (Washington), Herb Kohl (Milwaukee), or even, gulp, Dan Gilbert? (Insert your own “CBA written in Comic Sans” joke here, I’m not doing it for you.) Maybe a moderate such as Peter Holt (San Antonio) could, although he has been in front the whole time and nothing.

It’s the same on the players’ side — who could be their Jeff Saturday? Derek Fisher, Chauncey Billups, maybe even Etan Thomas?

Both sides are not going to like the ultimate deal struck, that’s how negotiations work. But if the NBA season is to be saved in some form, the sides need to start viewing each other as people not enemies to vanquish. Somebody is going to have to take charge, be rational and not take no for an answer.

Sadly, I just don’t see who can do it.

Warriors vs. Bucks or Raptors betting favorite to be NBA Finals matchup

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Who will we see in the NBA Finals come June?

The West looks cut and dried — if the Warriors are healthy, it’s hard to imagine any other team in that conference giving them too much trouble.

The East? That’s wide open. A good case can be made for Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, or Milwaukee finding their way in. (For a more detailed breakdown, listen to the latest PBT Podcast where Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports and myself break down the East in more detail.)

The bookmakers over at BetOnline put together these odds on potential Finals matchups, and after the first four options the odds get pretty long.

Milwaukee Bucks vs Golden State Warriors 9/2
Toronto Raptors vs Golden State Warriors 9/2
Boston Celtics vs Golden State Warriors 5/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Golden State Warriors 5/1
Indiana Pacers vs Golden State Warriors 28/1
Brooklyn Nets vs Golden State Warriors 33/1
Boston Celtics vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Milwaukee Bucks vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Toronto Raptors vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Charlotte Hornets vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Detroit Pistons vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Miami Heat vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Orlando Magic vs Golden State Warriors 66/1
Washington Wizards vs Golden State Warriors 66/1
Boston Celtics vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Milwaukee Bucks vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Toronto Raptors vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1

A few quick thoughts on that list:

• Interesting that the Sixers and Celtics are just a little behind the Bucks and Raptors in the minds of the bookmakers.

• I don’t know that I’d have Houston in front of Oklahoma City as the second-best option in the West. Not this season. The Thunder have the defense and star power to do playoff damage.

• If you’re thinking about putting money on Washington or Orlando to make the Finals — against anyone — just donate that money to charity instead. That way it will do some good.

Likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson leaves Duke-North Carolina game with knee injury

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Zion Williamson will probably be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

He’s a generationally good prospect. The rest of this draft also looks relatively weak.

In fact, Williamson has such a stranglehold on the top pick, some have suggested he sit out the rest of his freshman season.

His injury during Duke’s game against North Carolina tonight will only heighten those calls.

Duke:

Hopefully, Williamson is OK.

And hopefully, the system changes. The NCAA is a cartel in which schools conspire to cap compensation for athletes at a scholarship plus some expenses. In a free market, Williamson would earn far more.

Unfortunately, it probably can’t be both. If Williamson escapes this without major injury, the status quo will likely endure.

But, if this injury even allows him to play again this season, it might be a warning shot that causes him to sit until he can enter the NBA draft.

Again, I hope he’s healthy enough to make that decision for himself.

Jayson Tatum guarantees Celtics will win 2019 NBA championship

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Friday morning, Jayson Tatum guaranteed the U.S. team would beat the World team in the Rising Stars game that night. The U.S. team won.

So, Tatum was asked Saturday morning whether he wanted to guarantee anything for that night. He guaranteed he’d win the Skills Challenge. He won.

So, then ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Tatum whether he wants to guarantee anything else. And he really let it ride.

Tatum:

We’re going to win the Finals this year. February 16th, mark it. Jayson Tatum says we’re going to win the Finals this year.

Obviously, Tatum wasn’t going to pick against Boston. But this wasn’t that. He could have easily avoided such a grand proclamation.

Instead, even if he were just caught up in the emotion of an All-Star Saturday Night victory and taking the interview especially seriously, Tatum put a little more attention and pressure on the Celtics.

I’m not convinced that’s what this team needs.

Kristaps Porzingis reportedly gave Knicks wish list of trade destinations: Nets, Clippers, Heat, Raptors

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Kristaps Porzingis will sign long-term with Dallas this summer, and Porzingis he was on the same page.

But he will be a free agent. Restricted, but a free agent, nonetheless.

Porzingis’ exit from the Knicks provided a clue about where he’d want to go if he explores leaving the Mavericks.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

The four teams Porzingis had on his wish list of trade destinations were the Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors, according to two people with knowledge of the list who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Porzingis had little leverage to get to any of these teams. Because he’ll be a restricted free agent, the Knicks or any team acquiring him would retain immense team control over him.

The Nets and Clippers project to have cap space this summer. The Heat and Raptors don’t.

But even if Porzingis signs an offer sheet elsewhere, Dallas will will likely match it.

Still, Porzingis will become an unrestricted free agent someday – 2020 in the unlikely event he accepts his qualifying offer or a future year if he signs a multi-year deal this summer. It’s probably best to file away this list until then.