Report: NBA players union paid $4.8 million to director’s family members, their firms

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And now we see what is at the heart of the current NBA players union fight — nepotism concerns.

This is already a fight where union president Derek Fisher pushed for an audit and Executive Director Billy Hunter got the union executive committee to call off the audit and call for Fisher to resign. And now you get the feeling this is going to get worse.

The union has been spending millions of dollars to do business with companies and lawfirms tied to Hunter, reports Bloomberg in a well researched story.

The National Basketball Players Association, whose business practices are being questioned by President Derek Fisher, paid almost $4.8 million to Executive Director Billy Hunter’s family members and their professional firms since 2001, according to public records…

Hunter, a former U.S. attorney who led the players through two work stoppages, has a daughter and daughter-in-law on staff at the union. Another daughter is special counsel at a law firm used by the association, and Hunter’s son is a principal at a financial planning and investment firm that last fiscal year was paid $45,526 a month to run the union’s financial awareness program and advise on investments, according to filings with the U.S. Labor Department.

“It’s not a criminal act, but it’s not something I would do,” said Marvin Miller, who led baseball players through three strikes and two lockouts as their salaries rose 12-fold between 1966 and 1982.

Therein lies the issue — this is not illegal. But it raises a whole lot of ethical red flags. You can make the argument that so long as the union is getting the services it pays for — quality legal representation, quality work on investments — that this is legitimate.

But you can bet that this would not be allowed — or would at least be heavily scrutinized — at a public company or government agency. It reeks of nepotism.

For example, Hunter’s daughter Alexis works for Steptoe & Johnson LLP, the firm the union hired during the lockout to file unfair labor practice charge against the NBA with the National Labor Relations Board during the lockout. Before that the league did business with her pervious lawfirm.

The Bloombert report details the union’s connections to a number of Hunter’s relatives. It also notes he made a $2.39 million salary in 2011.

NBPA executive committee member Mo Evans told Bloomberg that nepotism has been discussed by the committee.

Evans told reporters on April 20 that Fisher declined an invitation from the executive committee to defend himself on a conference call with Hunter. Nepotism at the union was among the topics discussed on the call, Evans said.

“Billy answered those questions to our satisfaction, was very open and candid with us, and we were satisfied, and again, the players were disappointed because Derek has yet to address us,” he said.

The executive committee released a statement asking for Fisher to step down and that he is not acting in the best interest of the players. This is getting ugly, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. And the thing is — and the reason it goes on — is that most of the players could not care less.

Watch Giannis Antetokounmpo go off for 32 points, 13 boards, lead Bucks rout of Thunder

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points and 13 rebounds and the Milwaukee Bucks surged to a 24-point lead in the second quarter in a 133-86 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

The 47-point loss was the Thunder’s worst of the season.

Chris Paul scored 18 points for Oklahoma City.

Both teams were without their second-leading scorers. Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton was a late scratch with a sore neck. An ankle injury kept Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari out.

The Bucks had won four in a row and the Thunder had won five straight.

The Bucks built their second-quarter lead behind 14 second-quarter points from Antetokounmpo, seven from Donte DiVincenzo, who started in place of Middleton, and back-to-back 3-pointers from Wesley Matthews.

A key moment occurred late in the second period.

With Milwaukee leading, 54-43, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer got a technical foul after approaching a referee during a timeout with 3:43 left in the quarter. That was moments after Eric Bledsoe was called for a charging foul that irked Budenholzer. After that, the Bucks went on a 17-4 run and led 71-47 at halftime.

Milwaukee outrebounded Oklahoma City, 67-36.

The Bucks made a season-high 21 3-pointers. The Thunder were 6 for 35 on 3-pointers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo shrugs off James Harden dig: ‘I’m just trying to do my job’

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There is some meat to the James Harden/Giannis Antetokounmpo beef.

Harden was pissed Antetokounmpo won Most Valuable Player over him last year and vented about it. When it came to this year’s All-Star Game, captian Antetokounmpo drafted Kemba Walker over Harden while joking he wanted someone who’d pass. After his team lost the All-Star Game, Antetokounmpo said his team’s strategy was to get the ball to whomever Harden was guarding and attack.

Harden ramped up the skirmish of words Friday when speaking to Rachel Nichols of ESPN, saying:

“I wish I could just run, run and was 7-feet and run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I’ve got to actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill.”

Antetokounmpo decided to let it die when ESPN asked pregame about what Harden said.

“I’m not the type of guy to take stabs at somebody. … I’m just trying to do my job which is win games and go back home to my family. At the end of the day, if that’s what he believes that’s what he believes. I can’t say anything about it. I’ve just got to keep being focused.”

If you’re circling dates on your calendar, March 25 is what you’re looking for, the day the Bucks host the Rockets.

Harden should believe he is the best player in the game — you don’t get to be where he is without that level of confidence. Antetokounmpo should believe the same thing about himself. We could say the same things about LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and a host of others. It’s part of what makes them great, and not a surprise.

If the MVP thing is eating at Harden he might not like this season’s outcome any better. While I haven’t done a poll, most voters I’ve spoken to have The Beard third behind Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. There’s still more than six weeks of basketball before votes are cast — and the Rockets as a team are surging — but right now, the Greek Freak looks like a repeat winner from what I am hearing.

Rockets protested game despite Tilman Fertitta’s dissent

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta talks big about his devotion to winning.

But when Houston had a chance to turn a loss into a victory by protesting due to an uncounted James Harden dunk, Fertitta balked.

Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:

“That’s my basketball people who got mad at ’em. Honestly, I don’t think we should have filed the protest because honestly we blew the 22-point lead. But if something is important to my players and basketball ops people, I give them a lot of leeway.”

I wonder whether Fertitta would have publicly shared his stance if the protest succeeded. I also wonder whether how supported Fertitta’s basketball employees feel considering he’s publicly revealing that he wasn’t on their side.

But this is actually one of the more encouraging stories of Fertitta’s ownership. He allowed room for debate. He listened to the other side. He posted the $10,000 protest fee.

It didn’t pay off this time, but that’s how good owners operate.

As expected, Rockets sign veteran Jeff Green for remainder of season

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Before they committed fully, Houston signed free agent Jeff Green to a 10-day contract. They just wanted to make sure the veteran forward was a fit in their small-ball system.

It turns out, he was a perfect fit.

Through four games, playing a little more than 19 minutes a game, Green averaged 9.8 points a game on a ridiculous 89.6 true shooting percentage. That’s not sustainable (he’s shooting 61.5 percent from three), but it was enough for the Rockets to sign Green for the remainder of the season, something the team announced Friday.

Green, at 6’8″, played on the wing most of his career. However, with the Rockets he backs up P.J. Tucker at center.

Green started the season a member of the Utah Jazz, but the fit there was not as clean. While he averaged 7.7 points per game in 30 appearances, the Jazz ultimately waived him to create a roster spot for Rayjon Tucker.

This contract only runs through the end of this season, but the Rockets could re-sign Green for next season, if the sides agree this summer. For now, the focus is on the Rockets’ hot streak and building on that as the league moves toward the postseason.