Players consolidate lawsuits, but court ordered talks best hope

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If you were holding out hope that David Stern and Billy Hunter were going to be having pleasant phone conversations over the holiday weekend, and that the NBA on Christmas still could happen, well, we’re sorry.

The next NBA owners and players negotiations will likely be because a judge ordered them, a source close to the labor dispute told ProBasketballTalk.

Those talks — and maybe a settlement out of them — would happen in the coming weeks, in time to have a partial NBA season. And when those talks start there will be significant pressure on both sides to reach an agreement, more than there has been at any point up to now.

On Monday, the players voluntarily withdrew their case in Northern California and will amend their case in Minnesota. It is now a consolidated case of the two, but still a class action on behalf of the players, something attorneys for the players said would speed the process along. Carmelo Anthony remains the first name on the lawsuit, other players listed include Chauncey Billups, Kevin Durant, Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo and more.

The league responded to that with some legal jabs, because that’s what they do.

“We assume that (lead players attorney David) Boies was not happy with either the reassignment of the case from Oakland to San Francisco or the fact that the new judge scheduled the first conference for March 2012,” said Rick Buchanan, NBA Executive Vice President and General Counsel. “This is consistent with Mr. Boies’ inappropriate shopping for a forum that he can only hope will be friendlier to his baseless legal claims.”

The league was forum shopping with its preemptive lawsuit back in August, but whatever. The league has until Dec. 5 to answer the claim, they likely will do by calling the union’s “disclaimer of interest” a sham. Bottom line for fans, if it comes to the judge deciding this case you can kiss the current season goodbye. Fans need to hope for a different resolution.

Over the weekend, we had passed along a report that there had been some recent “back channel” negotiations going on between the league and the players association.

That talk is “nothing significant” PBT was told. That’s not going to help.

Instead the battle remains on the antitrust legal front. The players’ attorneys are pushing for summary judgment (not an injunction, as the NFL tried and failed to get). Still, summary judgment hearings would not happen until the spring (April or May), which means by then the 2011-12 NBA season would be lost.

Hope of a partial season springs from the fact in the next few weeks (likely after Dec. 5) we can expect the judge to order more mediated negotiations between the two sides, PBT was told. Mandated mediation is commonly part of anti-trust lawsuits, essentially a chance for the judge to make sure the two sides really want to go down this path. To give the sides one more chance to settle their differences without a judge involved. (It is possible one side picks up the phone and calls the other to ask for a negotiating session, but that is the less likely scenario. The owners have said they wouldn’t do that and players attorney Boies said he would not because the league is not receptive.)

A judge likely will order mediated negotiations by the middle of December if not before, according to the source. Talks would start soon after. This would be similar to the talks when federal mediator George Cohen sat down with the sides last month.

The one key difference would be the level of pressure on both sides to figure this out — the players do not want to lose a season of salary ($2.2 billion), the owners do not want to lose a season of revenue (at a much higher percentage for them than the last deal), plus neither side wants to damage the game by costing a full season. What is the point of fighting over how to divide up the revenue pie if the pie itself gets smaller?

In addition, the threat of summary judgment — which would certainly be a huge loss for whichever side did not convince the judge of its case — is another motivation for both sides to figure this out.

The challenge is that people from both the owners and players have suggested they will come into the next negotiations with the last offer they made off the table. Stern has threatened a “reset” offer of 47 percent of BRI for the players and a “flex cap” that is really a hard cap. The players have suggested in kind their last offer of a 50/50 BRI split with more system issues leaning in their favor is something the owners may never see again.

This is not where either side wanted to end up. Union officials have said that the disclaimer of interest was the route of last resort — they wanted to negotiate in good faith. That’s why they didn’t decertify in July or August, they thought this could be worked out. After David Stern’s last ultimatum they felt they had no choice. League officials will tell you they expected this — which is why they filed a preemptive suit back in August — and that the union had bad timing to do disclaim interest now. The league says it has given far more than many owners wanted just to make a deal.

For better or worse, the courts are involved now. For fans they can just hope that the upcoming mediation sessions will turn out different than the last ones.

NBA Players’ union appeals both of Dion Waiters’ suspensions for conduct this season

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Dion Waiters was suspended the first game of the season for the Heat for “conduct detrimental to the team” following a clash with coaches and management.

Waiters got another 10-game suspension for “conduct detrimental to the team” right after — but not officially related to — his panic attack on the team plane following his apparent overdose on THC-laced “gummies.”

The NBA players’ union is appealing both suspensions, reports Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel.

This is all about the money Waiters did not get from his salary after being suspended without pay, an estimated $913,000 total. However, it does not include the $1.2 million bonus owed if he played in 70 games, a figure he could no longer reach after the 10-game suspension (Waiters has yet to step on the court for the Heat this season).

The suspension is up Dec. 1 and Waiters can return to the Heat roster then. This case will take longer to work its way through the appeals process than that, this is just about Waiters getting paid.

 

Paul George says he knew James Harden/Russell Westbrook pairing would work

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When James Harden and Russell Westbrook share the court this season, the Rockets are +8.9 points per 100 possessions. That is fueled by a surprisingly good defensive rating that has them giving almost exactly a point per possession.

All of that is much better than many pundits predicted, as they questioned how to isolation players with questionable defensive chops would fit together.

Not Paul George. He thought this would work from the start, as he told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“I knew it was going to work,” George said at the morning shootaround before the Clippers face the Rockets on Friday night. “Russ is a winner. Russ wants to win, Russ does whatever it takes to win. My time playing with him, Russ doesn’t really have an ego. He puts his ego to the side.

“He allowed me to be myself, he allowed me to be comfortable. And I had one of the best career [years] I had while playing alongside him. Russ is a heckuva teammate.”

James Harden — averaging 38.4 points, 7.5 assists, and 5.8 rebounds a game — would likely agree with George.

George, however, surveyed the situation with Westbrook and OKC — after Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers knocked them out in the first round — and decided to move on and team up with Kawhi Leonard with the Lakers. He may have liked Westbrook as a teammate, but the two of them (with that talent around them and few ways to make real upgrades) had limits on how far they could go.

That remains the question about these Rockets, one that is not going to be answered until next April at the earliest.

Report: Hornets interested in Pistons center Andre Drummond

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Andre Drummond is thriving.

The Pistons are not.

With Drummond headed toward free agency, that leaves major questions for Detroit. Should the 4-10 Pistons hope better health – especially for Blake Griffin – allows them to get back on track this season? Should they keep Drummond and attempt to re-sign him as a key player future seasons? Should they trade him to get value now?

Drummond’s market – both for a trade or in free agency – is somewhat limited. The NBA is overstocked with capable centers. His game, built mostly on rebounding, trends toward old-school. Drummond is better than most players of his ilk. The question is about cost.

But at least one team outside Detroit is apparently interested – Charlotte.

Sean Deveney of Heavy:

The target, according to league sources: Pistons big man Andre Drummond, a player in whom the Hornets have had an interest for at least a year.

Charlotte projects to have about $27 million in cap space next summer. That might be enough to lure Drummond with a multi-year deal.

But Drummond’s player option for next season he said he plans to decline is worth $28,751,774.

So, it might make sense to trade for Drummond now to secure his Bird Rights. That way, the Hornets could exceed the cap to re-sign him.

They’d also get an upgrade at center over Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo this season. Charlotte (6-9) is in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Even with Drummond, I wouldn’t pick the Hornets as likely to make the postseason, but that’s the type of low-level goal they often prioritize.

Charlotte has expiring contracts to facilitate a trade – Biyombo, Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Hornets would also have to surrender assets that tempt Detroit (draft picks and/or young players).

There’s a path to a satisfactory trade… if the Pistons are open to dealing Drummond.

Harassment charges against Lakers’ DeMarcus Cousins reportedly dropped

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DeMarcus Cousins got married this past summer, but his 7-year-old son didn’t attend the wedding due to a dispute with the boy’s mother and Cousin’s ex-girlfriend, Christy West. That blew up into an ugly situation where Cousins was ultimately charged in Alabama with a third-degree harassing communications misdemeanor, tied to the domestic situation.

Now, those charges have been dismissed, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Cousins remains out for the Lakers after tearing his ACL this past summer, and he is not expected to return. Because of the surprisingly good play of Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee — particularly as mobile defenders who can show out on the perimeter and recover — the Lakers have not missed Cousins’ presence.

I have no specific knowledge of this case or the truth of what happened between Cousins and his ex. As far as I know, there was nothing to this and should have been dismissed.

However, as someone who spent a chunk of years on a police/courts beat as a young reporter, I feel the need to add this: Domestic violence/harassment cases are exceedingly difficult to prosecute. It can be a he said/she said situation, and unfortunately, often the abused women recant their testimony (whether it was true or not). The situations are a complex mix of emotions and fear, ones that make getting justice difficult. Talk to any prosecutor (or long-time police beat officer) about domestic violence cases and they will tell you horrifying stories. It is a situation that, as a nation, we need to address.