Former players union head says 2017 lockout coming, owners already ahead

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If you ask league executives, pretty much everyone expects a 2017 lockout. They see the owners putting in the groundwork now for another work stoppage in three years and most people see it as inevitable. The only question is how long it lasts and if it costs games.

Three years from now, the summer of 2017, is the first year that either the players or owners can opt out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement — one that came after a lockout that almost cost the NBA a full season. You can be sure one side will opt out (probably the owners, who even though they made massive financial gains in the last CBA want more, because when did you ever know a rich business owner to say “we’re doing well enough now, let’s spread the wealth around”?).

Adam Silver is already throwing out some priority issues — raising the age limit is one we’ve discussed— and marshaling forces. The players are way behind on this as they continue the search for a new executive director (remember Billy Hunter was ousted after the last lockout), said former players union executive director Charles Grantham speaking with Sean Deveney of the Sporting News.

“Ideally, whether labor or management, you begin work on the next negotiation the day after you sign the last agreement,” said Grantham. “For the players, they have not been able to do that. They still need to find a director, and once they have one, they need to assemble a team and work on a strategy. They’re way behind.”

“You’re seeing somewhat of a notice put out by the NBA and the new commissioner that they have an interest in increasing the age to 20, they want a hard cap,” Grantham said. “The NBA is going to want more.”

When we say the owners are laying the groundwork, know we are talking first and foremost about the new television deal. Those negotiations are going on now, with existing rights holders ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports (TNT and the NBA Network) as well as others in on the talks. The last rights deal got the league $7.5 billion over eight years and the next deal may well double that.

Why that matters — a chuck of that money is non-refundable and will get paid in the event of a lockout. While the players will not be getting checks the owners will be to help ease the pain of keeping the business operations of the team afloat. The owners can simply hold out longer than the players.

The players and their new executive director — they are reportedly down to two candidates, both of whom spoke to the player union All-Star weekend in New Orleans — have some very basic strategy to figure out.

In the last lockout the share of the “basketball related income” (BRI) that the players got went from 57 percent of the pool to basically 50 percent. That was a massive giveback. They are never getting all of that back. The question is do the players want to “go to the mattresses” (to use the Godfather term) for maybe a percentage point, or do they hold fast on the percentage (no way the players go for a hard cap, that will cost a season at least), focus on what other things they want out of a negotiation and go in with a plan to get those things. Then say they want to find a way to increase that BRI pool as a way to increase salaries (a new national television deal certainly helps that, it will jump the salary cap/luxury tax numbers considerably when it kicks in a few years down the line).

Whatever the players grand plan ends up being, they are not strategizing that right now, Grantham is right in noting. And he’s also spot on that the owners are.

Celtics reportedly near 10-day contract with big man Greg Monroe

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When Aron Baynes went out with a twisted ankle against Philadelphia, it was quickly clear how much they missed the big man in certain matchups — they need his size against the Joel Embiid‘s of the world. The MRI came back clean and while Baynes is out Saturday against the Hornets but could return Sunday for the Celtics.

Boston is still thinking about adding some big man insurance, some experience, and some depth for the stretch run in the form of Greg Monroe, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. The deal is not yet inked, however.

This likely gets done.

There is some familiarity here, Monroe played an efficient 26 games with Boston last season. He averaged 10.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists a game, with a PER of 23, going about 19 minutes a night. This season he signed with Toronto, where he played 38 games off the bench but was traded to the Brooklyn Nets who waived him.

Paul George has spoken to Kawhi Leonard about free agency experience

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Paul George was forcing his way out of Indiana and his people were making it clear — he was going to be a Laker. Any other team that traded for him it was going to be a rental. But Oklahoma City jumped in and rolled the dice they could win him over, and they put together the best package (Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis). It paid off. After a season in Oklahoma City, George re-signed with the Thunder last summer and did not even meet with the Lakers. This season George is having an MVP-level season.

Kawhi Leonard‘s relationship with the Spurs organization had deteriorated last season and he pushed last summer to be traded, with his camp wanting him to come to Los Angeles (although the Clippers were always rumored as the more likely destination). But Toronto jumped in and rolled the dice they could win him over in a year (he’s a free agent in July), and they put together the best trade package (DeMar DeRozan was at the heart of it).

Sound familiar? With the Thunder in Toronto (and beating the Raptors) George was asked if he and Leonard had spoken about free agency, and he said they had, but George was not about to drop any details.

There are all sorts of rumors and speculation floating around the league about Leonard, with some recent buzz his camp is still pushing for Los Angeles (but are divided on which team). The Clippers are making their presence felt around him and I had heard from sources, dating back to last Summer League, it was the more likely destination of the LA teams (Leonard is not a fan of drama, and LeBron James‘ Lakers know drama better than TNT). There are also rumors that a deep playoff run could keep Leonard in Toronto, with an organization that has bent over backward to accommodate him and keep him healthy with time off to rest that quad tendon.

The fact is, nobody knows what Leonard is thinking. Leonard doesn’t talk, and when he does he doesn’t say anything. He isn’t on social media and doesn’t look at it. He is less concerned with his brand and image than any star in the league. The team of advisors around him is not experienced or predictable.

After the Raptors’ season ends, whenever that is, he will make a decision. How much whatever George told Leonard plays into that, we’ll likely never know. It’s not like Leonard is talking about it.

Paul George scores 28 as Thunder beat Raptors 116-109

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TORONTO (AP) — Paul George scored 28 points, Russell Westbrook had 18 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Toronto Raptors 116-109 on Friday night.

Dennis Schroder came off the bench to score 26 points and Jerami Grant had 19 as the Thunder snapped a four-game losing streak and avenged Wednesday’s 123-114 home defeat to Toronto.

The Thunder made 20 of 43 shots from 3-point range. Oklahoma City made a season-high 22 3-pointers against the Lakers on Jan. 17.

Kawhi Leonard scored 37 points and Pascal Siakam had 25 for the Raptors, who played without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

Lowry missed his second straight game because of a sprained right ankle. Coach Nick Nurse said there’s no structural damage to Lowry’s ankle, but soreness remains following a collision with New York’s Mitchell Robinson on Monday. Nurse said Lowry is expected to return next week.

Danny Green scored 19 points and Serge Ibaka had 11 but Toronto couldn’t hold a double-digit lead in the third quarter for the second straight game. The Raptors gave away a 20-point lead before recovering to win in overtime Wednesday, but weren’t able to match that on their home court.

Oklahoma City trailed by 10 points to start the second half, and was down 13 with 5:23 to go in the third before rallying. Westbrook gave the visitors the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter on a layup with 1:18 left in the period, putting them up 80-79. The Thunder closed the third with a 20-4 run to take an 83-80 lead into the fourth.

Leonard cut the gap to 93-91 on a free throw with 7:33 to play but George hit 3-pointers on either side of a fast-break layup by Grant, giving Oklahoma City a 101-91 edge with 6:21 left.

The Thunder missed eight of their first 10 shots of the game. Toronto was 5 of 6 from 3-point range in the first, with Green making all three of his attempts, and the Raptors led 29-22 after one.

Leonard scored nine points in the second and Green had six as Toronto led 58-48 at halftime.

 

James Harden ties career best with 61, Rockets beat Spurs 111-105

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden matched his career high with 61 points, including 27 in the first quarter, to lead the Houston Rockets to a 111-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

Harden hit three straight 3-pointers to give the Rockets a 103-100 lead and scored all of Houston’s points in a 13-2 run late in the fourth quarter.

Harden topped the 50-point mark for the eighth time this season, compared with 10 such performances from the rest of the league combined. He matched his career-best total set earlier this season against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

The NBA’s leading scorer surpassed the 30-point mark in the second quarter and the 40-point mark with 9 minutes remaining in the third.

Before Harden’s late surge, the Spurs led by six points with 4 minutes left in the game. The Spurs had overcome a 15-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 81 entering the fourth quarter.

Harden was 7 of 10 from the field in the first quarter, including 3 of 4 from the 3-point line, and also went 10 for 12 from the free throw line. His 27 points in the period were the second-most in franchise history, trailing only Vernon Maxwell’s 30 in 1991.

Harden finished 9 of 13 from 3, 19 of 34 from the field and 14 of 17 from the free throw line.

Houston has won 13 of its last 15 games and eight of its last nine at home.

Bryn Forbes led San Antonio with 20 points, while Derrick White added 18 and DeMar DeRozan had 16.

Houston led 36-24 at the end of the first quarter and 62-47 at halftime.