David Stern was all business, and that was good for the game

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David Stern said Thursday as he talked about stepping down as commissioner that he is not a big fan of the “L”word — legacy. So we’ll call it his story. It could make a good novel.

David Stern’s story is a uniquely American story. His is a story about a smart, savvy, businessman chasing the dollar on behalf of the other, richer men that hired him. He could be genial, he at times was ruthless.

David Stern was all business with the NBA.

The result features so much good — you can argue he saved the NBA and today players and owners prosper because of his vision. But there is a ying to the yang — two lockouts to start with, there are fans in places like Seattle left wanting. Good or bad, everything on his ledger is a result of him chasing money. He will tell you about the good of the game, but for him what is good for the game is seen through the prism of dollar signs.

Ultimately, how you look at Stern’s legacy speaks to how you look at America’s corporate culture. Above everything else Stern was he was a businessman. Adam Silver, the incoming commissioner when Stern steps down in 2014, both embraced and praised that about Stern.

“David has transformed an industry, not just the NBA, and he has done it over 30 years plus…” said Silver at a press conference Thursday, adding that Stern had been the NBA general council before he became commissioner. “I think David is the one who turned sports leagues into brands, if you want to speak business. As (Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor) pointed out, 40-fold increase in television revenue, all kinds of other business metrics we can look at that would define David as one of the great business leaders of our time.”

Stern was a great business and marketing mind, and what great business minds do is seize on an opportunity.

That opportunity came first in the form of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, then Michael Jordan after them. Those were transcendent personalities, people who made you want to tune in and watch basketball because it was fun and graceful and part work of art. Then they could sell the game afterwards.

But Stern knew how to market those men and to lift the entire NBA by doing so. In 1981 four of the six NBA finals games were shown by CBS on tape delay, but a few years later the NBA was must watch television. Stern knew how to market his stars and while some complain about the NBA being star driven not team driven, the bottom line is that stars drew eyeballs.

If it had not been for Stern and his vision for the television product, the NBA would not be close to what it is today.

He was a marketing man, and that made the NBA owners a lot of money. You don’t get to keep your job as commissioner for 30 years unless your bosses are happy, and the owners have been happy. Franchise values rose with those television deals, which led to new arneas, which led to more and more revenue streams. He grew the league by adding team. He grew the revenue by pushing the league internationally

And the players benefitted, too — they get a cut of all of that revenue. Players’ salaries are required to be a part of the league’s revenue.

But any chase for money has unpleasant consequences.

It was how share all that revenue which led to Stern’s darkest hours — the two NBA lockouts under Sterns watch. His rich owners wanted more money and Stern was happy to be their bulldog and get it from the players. To take that profitable league he built and say how owners couldn’t make money any more came off as condescending, but it didn’t slow him down.

Stern was good was finding rich owners and not really worrying about what they wanted — which led to Seattle being screwed out of a franchise, and the five other cities that saw teams move while Stern was owner.

Even down to the simple things — the NBA’s dress code of a few years ago was aimed at softening the hip-hop image of players and making them more palatable to the older, more conservative, more suburban people paying for the ever-more-expensive luxury boxes and corporate seats near the floor.

In the end, that chase for the almighty dollar may have hurt some but it left us with a better game. It’s a game we can now see for free on our HD televisions almost nightly. The NBA’s rule changes — like the no hand checking on the perimeter — opened up the flow of the game and made it more entertaining. Even things like taking the three-point line from the old ABA helped space the floor and has led to a better product. David Stern understood how to get a product that fans want and could be more easily sold.

The NBA and basketball in general are better off and more popular because of Stern. His legacy is not without scars and tarnish, but in the end the league was better off because of his nearly 30 years in charge.

And through it all, David Stern was all business.

Assessing Jimmy Butler’s trade value

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Thanks to his trade request, Jimmy Butler instantly became the hottest name on the NBA’s trade block. How much is he worth to teams that want to deal for him? The answer is particularly complex, with numerous – significant – factors pulling each direction.

Pro: Production

This sounds simple, but it’s an important place to start: Butler is really good at basketball. He aces every test. Traditional stats, advanced stats and old-school scouting all reveal an elite player.

Over the last two years, Butler has averaged 23.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. A large majority of times a player hit those marks for a full season, he got MVP votes.

Butler’s real plus-minus has steadily climbed over the years – from 69th to 23rd to 18th to 7th all the way to 4th last season. His individual numbers aren’t empty. He immensely positively impacts winning.

Just watch him play. He’s a force on both ends. He digs into his man defensively and takes charge offensively. He’s not fancy, but he steadily creates and converts good shots while adding an excellent all-around game. He just does so many little things – making the right pass, the right rotation, etc. – to help his team.

Con: Age

Butler will turn 30 before playing on his next deal. He’s reaching the age most players decline, and a long-term deal would surely take him past that point.

Con: Mileage

Tom Thibodeau coached four All-Stars who were in their 20s with the Bulls – Butler, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. The other three have aged terribly, and it doesn’t seem like total coincidence. It’s not just heavy playing time, though Butler has consistently ranked near the top of the league in minutes per game. Thibodeau also pushes his players hard in practice.

Con: Cost

Butler’s max next summer projects to be $190 million over five years if he re-signs or $141 million over four years if he leaves his team. Given the previous two concerns, that’s a scary amount of money.

Few think as highly of Butler as I do. Even I would be leery of maxing him out over the most possible years.

Pro: Work ethic

Butler is one of the NBA’s hardest workers. Even while taking a social-media shot at Andrew Wiggins‘ brother, Butler was working out.

He didn’t just get lucky in his rise from overlooked college recruit to No. 30 pick to NBA star. He earned his rise by putting in the work.

Pro: Example set

Not only does Butler’s strong work ethic help him, it can inspire teammates. Some young players just don’t understand how much effort it takes to thrive in the NBA, but they can look to Butler as a model. Ideally, everyone follow his lead.

Con: Patience

However, not every player wants to work that hard. Some just want to get by, and Butler – understandably, considering his background – doesn’t have much patience for that. His testiness toward teammates who didn’t match his competitiveness and effort caused problems in Minnesota and Chicago. If he wants to be a leader for all situations, Butler must get better at lifting teammates who aren’t on his level. Coarseness doesn’t work on everyone.

Pro: Kyrie Irving friendship

Butler is close with Kyrie Irving, and there has been plenty of chatter about the two playing together. That type of talk occurs way more often than stars actually team up. But getting Butler could mean an inside track on signing Irving, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Pro: Availability

Butler’s trade request tanked the Timberwolves leverage. They proceed as if they’ll keep him, but everyone knows he wants out.

Some interested teams will wait to try signing him outright next summer rather than surrender significant assets now.

Minnesota is also pressed by Karl-Anthony Towns‘ reported discord with Butler. Towns’ Oct. 15 extension deadline looms.

Con: Flight risk

Butler can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. An extension before then seems unrealistic. Any pledge Butler makes now would be nonbinding. There’s always a chance things go south over the next season and Butler leaves a team that trades for him.

Even the Clippers, Knicks and Nets – Butler’s reported preferred destinations – can’t be assured he’ll re-sign.

Bottom line

Butler is an awesome player. The cost of trading for him should be high. The cost of re-signing him should be high.

Given the circumstances, teams might be able to trade for him without surrendering as much as a player of his caliber would usually command. But that likely comes with giving him a massive contract next summer, and that deal could age poorly.

Teams ready to win now or soon that have key players with strong competitive streaks should target Butler. There are more than enough such teams to drive up the price.

That’s why Minnesota has a valuable asset – for now – and Butler is positioned to cash in next summer.

Report: Timberwolves rebuffing Jimmy Butler trade calls

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Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau reportedly had no interest in trading Jimmy Butler despite the star’s trade request. In fact, some believe Thibodeau would rather leave Minnesota than take a step back by dealing Butler.

Just how serious is Thibodeau about keeping Butler?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m curious whether Thibodeau and Taylor are on the same page as far as not entertaining offers for Butler.

There’s a selfish logic to Thibodeau’s stance: If the Timberwolves fail to reach the playoffs this season, he could get fired. Keeping Butler maximizes Minnesota’s talent right now, and even if Butler leaves in unrestricted free agency next summer, that buys Thibodeau time to figure out something.

Taylor can take the longer view, trying to do what’s best for the franchise. Maybe he feels immediately ending all talks right now maximizes the Timberwolves’ leverage.

Or maybe this is all Thibodeau’s doing so far.

At some point, Minnesota should hear out offers. That doesn’t mean trading Butler. Perhaps keeping him and trying to change his mind – and Karl-Anthony Towns‘ – is the right course. It depends what other teams offer. But the Timberwolves should at least explore the market.

This puts the ball back in Butler’s court. Will he report to training camp? Not showing up would certainly add pressure for Minnesota to take these calls more seriously. But it’d also escalate the situation into something even more dramatic.

Pistons PG Reggie Jackson says ankle injury still keeping him off court

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If Reggie Jackson didn’t injure his ankle, maybe Stan Van Gundy is still running the Pistons.

Detroit went 27-18 when Jackson played and 12-25 otherwise last season. The Pistons missed the playoffs by four games then fired Van Gundy.

Ed Stefanski takes over running the front office, and Dwane Casey is now coach. But they won’t necessarily get a healthy Jackson, either – even though Jackson played the final 12 games of the season.

Jackson, via Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

“Probably didn’t heal the way everybody thought it might once we had time off,” Jackson said. “Just haven’t been able to get on the court, but been doing everything I can to get healthy.”

“It actually feels good. I feel like I can cut again,” he said. “Once I get going fully, just see how it feels. But it feels night and day compared to last year. … I think anybody who watched, I never looked right. I never ran right. But that’s what you do. Everybody has nicks and bruises in this game. I wouldn’t change it any other way. I would still come back and play. It was just unfortunate that it wasn’t healed.”

“I’m going day to day,” he said. “I don’t necessarily know. I’m going to come in and do what they tell me, what they allow me to do. I think the organization, our coaching staff and the training staff have a great game plan on when I’ll be back and how to implement myself back into the workouts.”

Jackson not playing would be problematic for the Pistons, who look like a fringe playoff team. Ish Smith would be OK as a fill-in starting point guard, but moving Jose Calderon into the regular rotation could be dicey.

Calderon, who turns 37 next week, is fine in spurts. But I wouldn’t want to overly rely on him at this point. And, though Smith can hold his own as a starter, he looks much better as a reserve.

Even if Jackson gets healthy enough to play by the regular season, that wouldn’t solve everything. His endurance has been a problem at times, and limited offseason training could make that even more of an issue.

Report: Karl-Anthony Towns told Timberwolves he couldn’t coexist with Jimmy Butler

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Karl Anthony-Towns denied Jimmy Butler sleeping with Towns’ girlfriend caused a rift between the Timberwolves teammates.

But that doesn’t mean the rift is nonexistent.

Towns reportedly won’t sign his rookie-scale extension until Minnesota handles the Butler situation, and the standoff apparently isn’t at all over haggling about contract terms, particularly what would happen if Towns qualifies next season for the super-max.

Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN:

They’re offering him as much money as they can.

I’m led to believe that a big reason why he hasn’t signed it is that he – through his agent, Leon Rose – went to the Wolves and said, “Hey, I can’t coexist with Jimmy. Do something about it.” So, Figure out the Jimmy situation. On top of that – whether it’s right or wrong, this is the way he feels – that it’s been Jimmy and Thibs ganging up on him.

Towns can sometimes play passively, especially defensively. Two people who tend not to tolerate passive play, especially defensively, are Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau. I’m not sure they’re ganging up on Towns as much as they’re each conveying similar messages individually.

That said, I can also see why Towns would feel like they’re ganging up on him.

Ideally, Thibodeau would have taken Towns’ message and worked with Butler to find a way to better communicate with the center. Towns is an elite young talent, and it’s worth making him happy.

But Butler’s trade request opens the door for another solution. Minnesota can just excise the problem, though it’d probably mean a talent downgrade.

The biggest issue is the Timberwolves didn’t heed Towns’ warning and find common ground for everyone. That seems to reflect poorly on Thibodeau as a connecter, a necessary skill for successful head coaches and team presidents.