New report suggests financial, ethical issues at NBA players union

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UPDATE 6:39 pm: Union Executive Director Billy Hunter released a statement. What you think of it pretty much describes what you think of Hunter. Here it is in its entirety:

“The NBPA is currently reviewing the full independent special report simultaneous with the public. While I strongly disagree with some of the findings contained in the report, I am pleased it recognized that I have not engaged in criminal acts nor was I involved in misappropriation of union funds. Regarding my contract — my third in a long tenure of the organization — it was ratified by the NBPA Executive Committee and signed by President Derek Fisher. I believe the contract and extensions are valid. I am pleased to discuss with the Player Representative board any concerns about my contract.

“In my work for the NBPA, my priority has always been to promote the interests of the players. Through the benefit of hindsight, as with any executive, there are always things that could have been done better. But on the major issue, I am pleased that this report has confirmed what I have always known and said, I did nothing illegal.

“During my tenure, the salaries of NBA players have more than doubled and they are the highest paid athletes in the world. When I arrived at the NBPA in 1996 the challenges were significant. The Union’s financial liabilities exceeded its assets. Today the Union is solvent and its financial future is secure. The Union and players endured two lengthy and costly lockouts. Our greatest accomplishment is the unity and solidarity that the players maintained throughout those very difficult rounds of bargaining.

“Prior to the report’s issuance, the NBPA began implementation of some of the recommendations suggested, including a revised hiring policy and a new anti-nepotism policy. I look forward to continuing my work with the NBPA, adopting additional recommendations from the report and opening a new chapter of NBPA governance. I believe through these steps the NBPA will emerge from this review a stronger organization and continue to meet the needs of its membership. I will be reaching out to the membership to discuss the report and address ways to pursue the best path forward for the NBPA.”

3:47 pm: During the NBA lockout there was clearly a divide within the National Basketball Players Association (the NBA players union) — it was sort of “are you with executive director Billy Hunter or not?”

The lockout ending didn’t end the dispute. On Thursday the results of an investigation into the union raised a lot of questions about how the union does business. That includes Hunter’s own $15 million contract not going through the proper approval process.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports and the NBC Sports Network has the details on what the report by the firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison found. For the record they found no criminal issues with the union, but a whole lot of red flags on other issues saying Hunter put personal issues and interests ahead of the players and the union.

As previously reported by Yahoo! Sports, Hunter “never told the union’s executive committee or player representatives that his current employment contract, which was executed in 2010, was not properly approved under the union’s By-Laws, even though by at least November 2011 outside counsel to the Union had told Mr. Hunter that the necessary approval had not occurred and remained necessary.”

• As detailed in an April report by Y! Sports, Hunter “involved family and friends in union business as employees or vendors without full disclosure and the disinterested approval of the union’s officers and directors.”

• “Created an atmosphere at the NBPA that discouraged challenges to his authority, including by allowing the union’s former general counsel, Gary Hall, to stop former secretary-treasurer Pat Garrity from speaking freely about conflicts of interest to the executive committee.”

So, he acted like every other executive in a suit in New York.

Hunter, no doubt, will challenge all the claims made. I’m not going to guess who is right and who is wrong. In a lot of ways this is a power struggle so everything is spin.

The real question is what is next. The union as a whole is scheduled to meet All-Star Weekend in Houston, you can bet this comes up. Is it time for a change in leadership at the union? If so, what direction do they go? Or, is it better to let Hunter stay and try to clean up issues.

Why it matters to fans is this — in five years you can bet one side is going to opt out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was just formalized and signed more than a year ago. Who sits at the negotiating table when that happens matters. For the owners it will be Adam Silver, the current deputy commissioner tagged to take over the big chair when David Stern steps down in 2014.

Who sits in the chair for the players union (along with economic and other factors) will determine whether things get resolved or if the NBA goes the way of the NHL with its labor fights.

Australian NBL pumps breaks on report LaMelo Ball has bought a team

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It was a stunning headline, especially considering LaMelo Ball is just 18:

He bought a team in the Australian National Basketball League, specifically the Illawarra Hawks, the team he played for some last season. It’s an insane story.

And it’s not quite true. At least not yet. The NBL released a statement that pumped the breaks on the idea of a sale to Ball and his manager, Jermaine Jackson. Part of the statement reads:

“The league can confirm LaMelo Ball and his management had discussions about being involved with the club while he was playing in the NBL last season. At this point we are continuing to work with current licence holder Simon Stratford on a number of options for what we hope will be a fruitful outcome for Illawarra and the NBL.

The NBL has final approval on any transfer of licence and no application has been made to date. The NBL has no further comment at this stage.

Did LaMelo and his manager jump the gun? Or, is this a negotiating ploy by the NBL and Stratford to get more money by jacking up the price on a sale?

Those two follow a host of other questions, including what percentage of the team would Ball and his manager own? What would their involvement be?

Ineligible for college stateside, Ball chose to play in Australia under the NBL’s Next Stars program. It worked, he’s projected to be a top-five, maybe top-three pick. He left the NBL after suffering a season-ending foot injury, although that came under a cloud of criticism from Hawks owner Stratford.

The ultimate revenge would be to buy the team, if that is actually happening.

Doc Rivers’ reaction when Clippers traded for Lou Williams, “I was not having Lou”

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Lou Williams is integral to the Clippers’ title dreams.

Since coming to the Clippers, he has averaged 20.6 points a game off the bench, twice winning Sixth Man of the Year, and his pick-and-roll with Montrezl Harrell is as smooth and dangerous a combo as there is in the league. Come the playoffs, while teams are trying to deal with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Lou Williams will be a change of pace scorer with a second unit that can quickly tilt the game towards Los Angeles.

But when Williams first got to the Clippers, Doc Rivers was not thrilled.

Rivers talked about Williams on The Bob Ryan and Jeff Goodman Podcast (hat tip SI).

“When we traded for Lou, I was not having Lou,” Rivers said. “I saw a guy that kept getting traded. And I appreciated his offense, but not nearly, never thought it was this good… When he finally showed up three days before training camp, I was not having him. I was like, ‘We’re not gonna work’, you know?..

“I brought him up in the office and I told him my feelings,” Rivers said. “I said, ‘Lou, you’re one of these guys that wanna do whatever you wanna do, and you don’t want to buy-in. We asked everybody to come in. Everyone did except for you… I don’t know how this is gonna work.’ And he said, ‘I’ve been traded five years in a row. Why would I buy-in to you?’, and I didn’t have an answer.”

Both Williams and Rivers have bought into each other now. Williams has control of the offense when he is in and Rivers said he just wants Williams to “be in the right place” on defense. That defense leads to issues playing Williams at the end of big games, but used as a scorer Williams is tough to deal with.

He can still get buckets with the best of them.

 

For NBA coaches, the new game is a waiting game

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MIAMI (AP) — Orlando’s Steve Clifford figures he’s like every other NBA coach right now: Wake up, go to whatever now serves as the office, study his own team, maybe think about possible opponents, and resume planning.

Of course, nobody knows what they’re planning for — or when these plans will get used.

A stoppage in play doesn’t mean vacation time has arrived for NBA coaches, especially those like Clifford in position to take their teams to the postseason — assuming this pandemic-interrupted season is able to resume. They’re all spending more time at home, not able to run practices, but none seem to be sitting idly either.

“Not knowing the restart date is the toughest challenge professionally,” Clifford said. “Obviously, we’re all limited in what we can do, and basketball takes a back seat right now to family and health. But I will say this: When I talk to our guys, the one common question that comes up is ‘When do you think we can start again?’”

And that’s a question with no answer. The waiting game is the only game in town right now.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was coaching the fourth quarter against Charlotte on March 11 when the NBA announced it was suspending the season, a move made once it became known that Utah center Rudy Gobert was the league’s first player to test positive for COVID-19. Spoelstra found out right after the final buzzer, as he walked to the Heat locker room.

He instantly realized that losing to the Hornets that night didn’t ultimately matter much. Spoelstra and his staff are holding Zoom meetings every other day, but he’s also enjoying the benefits of time away — getting more time with his two young sons, his wife and grilling for the family most nights — and is emphasizing to his coaches and players that this is a time to help those less fortunate.

He’s checking the news as well, on a limited basis.

“My routine is checking after dinner, and I usually get on my computer, watch a little bit of what’s going on,” said Spoelstra, who often wears a T-shirt emblazoned with “Stay Positive” and like many coaches he taped a video telling fans the importance of hand-washing and other precautions. “So, I’m staying abreast of the current status of things, but I definitely do not try to start my day that way and I do not obsess about it during the day.”

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle also went the video-message route, doing one for the going-stir-crazy crowd to demonstrate his “Balance, Balance, Shot Drill” that allows players to work on their shooting form even when they don’t have access to a court or a rim.

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan took advantage of downtime to appear on a virtual coaches clinic, and had a safety message for those who attended — online, of course — before spending about an hour breaking down his philosophy.

This is the first in-season stoppage of its kind in NBA history, but Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer is equating the unknown — in terms of when the next game will be — to what the league went through with lockout-shortened seasons in 1998-99 and 2011-12.

His message to his staff: Things may be slow now, but when the suspension ends the pace of everything will be frantic. So while some projects like things in the video room and breakdowns of his roster are being tackled, Budenholzer is also having staff get ready for potential playoff opponents with a first-round series against either Brooklyn or Orlando likely for the NBA-leading Bucks.

“Things happen really fast, whether it’s three games in three nights, or playoff series are shorter or the time between the end of the regular season to the first playoff game, everything can be shorter or can happen quicker,” Budenholzer said. “We can put a little bit of money in the bank now with preparation for first round but also if you go a little bit deeper, the East.”

For 30 teams, 30 coaches, there’s many ways to spend the down time.

And they all know that they’re in the same boat — waiting and wondering.

“It’s hard for all of us,” Clifford said. “It’s hard to set a plan for yourself that will have you ready. But that’s the parallel, not just for us, but for everyone around the world no matter what profession that you’re in.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci was a high school point guard

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You know Dr. Anthony Fauci as the guy trying to inject facts and reason-based decisions into the federal government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. You’ve seen him, the guy with the Sisyphean task of standing behind President Donald Trump at press conferences and not reacting with shock or disgust.

It turns out he was a high school baller.

In a profile of Fauci, the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen wrote about Fauci the high school point guard, who led his 1-16 team to a win against Fordham Prep, led by future Knicks executive Donnie Walsh.

Classic point guard, excellent ballhandler, pesky defender. Six of his classmates and teammates described him as a tenacious competitor in short shorts and striped socks whose feistiness on the court defied some parts of his personality and reflected others.

That sounds like a young version of the person he is now.

Dr. Fauci is one of the people the NBA is listening to as it tries to figure out if or when the league can re-start and what its next steps might be. Right now, all of that is beyond the NBA’s control and more in the hands of the rest of us and whether we as a society follow Dr. Fauci’s suggestions.