NBA owners won. Big. But the players can live with it.

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As the talk starts to build of all the little concessions the NBA players got in the last week to make an NBA labor deal happen in time for games on Christmas day, remember this:

The owners won.

In a massive way. This is an Attila the Hun sweeping through Eastern Europe kind of win — devastating and total.

David Stern and the owners came into these NBA labor talks saying they lost more than $300 million last season and $400 million the year before that. By getting the players to agree to what is in practice a 50/50 split of basketball related income (although the deal allows the players to get to 51 percent if revenue increases enough) the owners got the players to essentially accept a 12 percent salary cut that will cover those losses.

This will come to more than $3 billion back in the owners’ pockets if the deal lasts the full 10 years (both sides can opt out of the deal after six years). What’s more, the deal means the players will have shorter contracts with lower raises going forward. Plus, the system now ties the hands of larger market, bigger spending teams helping depress salaries that way.

The owners will tell you they didn’t get everything they wanted, some will vote against this deal. Those guys are fools — they got more than enough to balance their books. Combined with more robust revenue sharing — soon to be triple what it was — small market owners should be able to break even or turn a profit. They should be able to compete (they could before, ask San Antonio and Oklahoma City). If they can’t, well, it’s on them now. It’s not the system.

All that said, the players got enough small victories — and a couple key ones — that this is a deal they can live with.

Early in the lockout, PBT spoke with former NBA players union president Charles Grantham and he said the smartest move the union ever made, the thing they could not give up in these talks, was keeping the salary cap tied to league revenue. Early offers from the owners wanted to detach the two — players salaries would stay flat at about $2 billion a year and all of the money from expected growth in the league (such as a new national television deal coming in 2016) would go straight to the owners pockets.

The players won that fight. They will get a smaller share of that revenue, but as the league’s revenue grows player salaries will go up. Grow the game and grow how much money you make.

The other two hills the players were willing to die on were guaranteed contracts and a hard salary cap. The owners relented on those as well. Yes, the owners now have more ways to get out of bad contracts faster, and yes the new luxury tax rules make it much more costly for high-revenue teams to spend big, but the players won those fights on principle.

There were other small victories, such as getting the threshold to get to the 51 percent of revenue lowered to a makeable goal. The players got the extend-and-trade so their biggest stars can better control their exits from teams. They got a solid mid-level exception for tax paying teams.

That was enough. It needed to be enough because the players were going to start losing more money in salary than they were making back fighting over the scraps of this deal.

But this negotiation was all about the money, and the owners got a lot more of it. They won. The small market owners in particular should now be able to turn a profit. The players got a way to save face at the end but the owner won and won big.

With this caveat…

In 1999, after a lockout that lasted into January, the owners were thought to have won. They got a cap on max salaries, so that there would be no more deals like the one Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal had gotten. They got a percentage that capped players’ salaries in total at 57 percent. Everyone said the owners won, including the players.

A dozen years later, the owner were crying that the deal was unfair and killing them. You never know how things will play out. And you can bet in 10 years, when this deal formally ends, there will be owners saying what a bad deal this is for them and how it is killing them. Even if the fault is their own management.

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.

Spurs playoffs hopes remain alive with 123-105 win over Rockets

Spurs playoffs
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The Spurs aren’t out of it yet.

Keldon Johnson had 24 points and 11 rebounds, and San Antonio kept alive its chances of becoming the first team in NBA history to make 23 consecutive playoff appearances with a 123-105 victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday.

San Antonio has won three straight and five out of seven since arriving in the Florida bubble.

DeMar DeRozan added 23 points. Jakob Poeltl finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

Johnson said his mindset since the season restarted has been to fill in whatever role is asked of him.

“Whether it’s hustling, running the floor – just doing whatever I need to do to help us win,” he said. “Help from my teammates has definitely helped the game slow down for me.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Johnson is playing with the confidence they saw when they drafted him 29th overall last year.

“That’s what he does,” Popovich said. “He’s a high-energy guy. He’s very physical. Very competitive. Very coachable. He’s just a winner.”

The Western Conference is guaranteed to have a play-in for its final playoff spot, with Memphis beginning the day with just a half-game over Portland and one game ahead of Phoenix and San Antonio.

The Spurs will need help to be one of the teams playing this weekend for the final spot in the Western Conference, but made sure they couldn’t be eliminated Tuesday with their win.

Russell Westbrook had 20 points and seven turnovers in his first game back in the lineup for Houston after missing two games with a bruised right quadriceps. Jeff Green had 17 points. Ben McLemore added 16.

The Rockets played without guards James Harden (rest) and Eric Gordon (ankle).

The Spurs took control in the second quarter, outscoring the Rockets 35-24. San Antonio led by as many as 29 points.

San Antonio built a 19-point lead in the first half. DeRozan set the tone with 15 points in the opening 24 minutes, with Lonnie Waker IV, Poeltl and Johnson each scoring 10.

Regardless of whether the Spurs make the playoffs or not, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is proud of how his young players have stepped up in during their time in the bubble.

“Part of it is you have to be realistic,” Popovich said. “I don’t think our chances of winning the championship were great at the beginning of this, nor are they now. If that’s a fact, then you need to do everything you can to develop and be prepared for next season.

“The development has been off the charts. We’re thrilled with it. So it’s a win-win no matter what.”

Popovich said it would be “thrilling” to get some help and have a chance to extend their season, but he’s not using it as a measuring stick for the season.

“We’ve already accomplished what we thought we were capable of accomplishing, that’s what’s important. If we got in now it would be icing on the cake.”