NBA owners, players reach tentative deal, games to begin Dec. 25

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Finally, we are going to have NBA basketball again.

After more than 15 hours of negotiations Friday into Saturday morning (following a week of secretive talks), the NBA owners and players have reached a handshake deal on a new collective bargaining agreement the sides announced. (Ken Berger at CBSSports.com broke the story.)

“We’ve reached a tentative understanding,” said NBA commissioner David Stern at a hastily put together 3:30 a.m. press conference. “(The deal) is subject to a variety of approvals and very complex machinations. We’re optimistic that will all come to pass and the NBA season will begin Dec. 25.”

That will be a Christmas Day start with a triple-header followed by a 66-game season, providing both the owners and players ratify this deal.

There are a lot of details still to be worked out — first up are all the “B” list issues such as draft age and drug testing, things the sides do not all agree on but are not serious enough to block a deal. Then the players’ union has to be reformed (remember they dissolved to allow for antitrust lawsuits to be filed) and finally the owners and players will have to vote on a final version of the agreement.

All of that is going to take 10 days to two weeks. The lockout will not officially be over until then.

Training camps and a free agency period will begin simultaneously on Dec. 9, Stern said.

At that press conference neither Stern nor NBPA director Billy Hunter were willing to talk about a lot of details of the agreement because neither had spoken to their entire constituency yet. However, this deal is likely close to the last offer from the owners and Stern to the players. There may have been a little movement, but not a lot from the offer the players rejected less than two weeks ago.

The players got a little more than 50 percent of league revenue (BRI) but not 51 percent, according to Chris Broussard of ESPN. It is apparently going to be a band in the 49-51 percent range, but will essentially fall as 50/50. In the previous labor deal the players got 57 percent of the league revenue and that was ultimately the big issue in these talks — the owners say they were losing money and wanted a bigger cut of the more than $4 billion in annual revenue the NBA generates. With this they should about cover the $300 million the owners claim to have lost last year.

Talks Saturday took a turn towards blowing up again when players attorney Jeffrey Kessler — the real pit bull for the union — was on a conference call with the talks and said the players demanded 51 percent of the revenues. There was a feeling that might blow the whole talks up, but cooler heads prevailed.

One thing the deal will do is prevent larger-market, big-spending teams from competing in the free agent market as they had in the past, said NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver. Again there were no details but with a stronger luxury tax and other punitive measures it will be hard for teams to spend up to and around $90 million a season. The deal also raises the salary floor — those small market teams need to spend up to 85 percent of the cap the first two years and 90 percent after that.

This would be a 10-year deal where both sides can opt out at year six.

Neither side loves this deal, which is how a good compromise should end. There are owners and players that will vote against it, but it is expected a majority of both will pass it.

In the end, Spurs owner Peter Holt summed it up best:

“We want to play basketball. Let’s go play basketball.”

Amen.

Report: Cavaliers, Larry Nance Jr. talking contract extension

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When the Cavaliers made the trade deadline deal with the Lakers last February, they got Larry Nance Jr. (the son of a Cavs legend) and Jordan Clarkson (surrendering Channing Frye, Isaiah Thomas and a 2018 1st round draft pick that became Moritz Wagner).

Nance is the one the Cavaliers seem intent on keeping, and they may extend him, reports Tom Withers of the Associated Press.

This seems like a good fit for both sides, if they can find a number that works. The Cavaliers are committed to not bottoming out right now — which is why Kevin Love got a new massive contract — and Nance fits with that.

This is not going to be a max contract, but Nance has made it clear he likes playing in Cleveland and wants to stay. After he came over last season he averaged 8.9 points on 55 percent shooting, 7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.4 steals a game. Those numbers could go up with LeBron James no longer in the picture.

LeBron James on earning Lakers’ fans loyalty: ‘I signed a four-year deal’

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Living in Los Angeles, with most of my friends Lakers’ fans, I can tell you that the majority of the city is excited and on board with the LeBron James era. They get that he’s right, the Lakers are not yet on the Warriors’ level, but they like the idea of the game’s best player with the Lakers’ young core, and the potential of that with another star player in the next 10 months or so. They are excited.

Most Lakers fans that is. There is a segment, best described as the “Kobe Bryant could walk on water” crowd, who are not sold on LeBron as a Laker. Who see him somehow as a threat to their Kobe worship. They question LeBron as a “real Laker” and his loyalty.

That took all of two days of training camp to come up, and for LeBron to shoot it down. Via Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated.

LeBron nailed this. He has signed on and trusted Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka more than he had anyone since Pat Riley — LeBron never signed long-term deals in Cleveland and trusted Dan Gilbert. He trusts Magic and Jeanie Buss. That is huge.

LeBron’s Laker era is ultimately going to be judged by winning a title, because all Lakers’ eras are judged that way. Kobe would talk about nothing else. LeBron understands that reality. But the era of being able to buy an NBA title is gone — the Lakers have free agency advantages few other franchises do (thanks to the location and the brand) but that is not enough. The biggest question for the Lakers is not can they land another star before next season, but rather can the core of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and the rest be the guys that stand with LeBron? If at the end of games this season it is LeBron sharing the court with Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley, the Lakers have much bigger problems than who is the next star they sign.

LeBron is all in. He can help cement his legacy with a title in Lakers’ Forum Blue and Gold, but he knows he needs help. And he’s willing to wait for them to get it. At age 33, what else can you ask of the man?

Kevin Durant says he is taking free agency ‘year by year’

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Talk to sources around the league about the Warriors and they think Kevin Durant — not Klay Thompson, who is also a free agent next summer, or Draymond Green in the summer of 2020 — will be the first to leave the team. It may not be this summer, especially if they three-peat, but he was last in and will be first out.

Durant, for his part, is not playing the speculation game.

When asked about it, Durant was vague, reports the USA Today’s Erik Garcia Gundersen.

“Just one of those things where you’re confident in your skills and taking it year by year. And keeping my options open was the best thing for me. I could have easily signed a long-term deal but I just wanted to take it season by season and see where it takes me. And I think this year is going to be a fun, exciting year for us all. I’m looking forward to just focusing on that and we’ll see what happens after the year.”

Golden State owner Joseph Lacob admitted he would have given Durant whatever deal he and his agents wanted. They chose the short-term option, keeping a lot of doors open.

The conventional wisdom around the league is that this summer Durant will opt-out this summer then sign a five-year contract. Probably with the Warriors, but the door is open, and there are a lot of teams with max salary slots. Maybe Durant is ready to have his own team again and move on. Maybe he is happy where he is.

Durant doesn’t know the answer to that question, yet. Nobody does. But that has other teams ready to pounce, just in case one of the world’s top two players decides it’s time to move on.

What if the Timberwolves don’t trade Jimmy Butler?

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I expect the Timberwolves to trade Jimmy Butler soon. Most people expect the Timberwolves to trade Jimmy Butler soon.

But they’ve thrown enough uncertainty into the process that nothing should be taken for granted. Tom Thibodeau said he expects Butler to report to training camp if not traded within a week, and as of yesterday, the president-coach was reportedly still trying to convince Butler to stay in Minnesota.

What happens if the Timberwolves don’t trade Butler and he refuses to report?

If he withholds playing services for 30 days after training camp begins, he won’t accrue a year of service and can’t become a free agent next offseason. He couldn’t sign with another professional basketball team unless Minnesota agreed.

That 30-day clock seemingly isn’t ticking, as Butler is excused while recovering from offseason hand surgery. But if the Timberwolves want to get serious about keeping Butler, they could press the issue.

But Butler would have options, too. He could – a la Mo Williams with the Cavaliers – undergo surgery and claim he’s not healthy enough to report. Players, especially ones as damaged as Butler, often have medical issues to clean up. That could mean embellishing the effect of the hand surgery or undergoing a new surgery altogether. An elective surgery could legitimately sideline Butler. Claiming Butler is actually healthy enough to report when he says he isn’t could get quite messy if the team objects.

Again, I don’t expect it to get that far. I doubt the Timberwolves, particularly owner Glen Taylor, desire to hold Butler hostage like that. Even if they do, Butler could just report and play. He can become an unrestricted free agent after the season and leave then.

But these are the extreme options on the table if this situation devolves further.