Players union to audit five NBA teams

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National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts and NBA commissioner Adam Silver have exchanged barbs, trying to stake out their positions before a 2017 work stoppage.

Roberts has particularly raised the rhetoric.

Now, in addition to just talking a big game, she’s also doing something to help the union’s cause.

NBPA statement, via Kevin Draper of Deadspin:

For many years, the CBA has also included a provision that allows the union to engage its own independent firm to audit five teams of its choosing. This audit process can be initiated following the audit of the League and every franchise conducted at the end of every season by PwC. A similar protocol is followed in both hockey and football. To date, this option was used sparingly by the NBPA. Starting this year, the union will exercise this option and conduct the five-team audit annually.

Draper:

When asked which teams the union plans to audit, the union says, “We will not choose the five teams until after the BRI audit is completed.”

Even with the union demurring, you can bet that the Knicks will be one of the five, and that more generally the union will target teams that earn the most revenue and have a host of complicated related party issues. An informed guess would be that the Knicks, Nets, Mavericks, Nuggets, and Lakers will be audited, with the Rockets, Bulls, and Warriors candidates as well.

I’m astounded the union hadn’t regularly conducted these audits. Billy Hunter, y’all.

Now that the NBPA is exercising this right, who knows what it will find?

A key issue that Draper explores in great depth is related parties. Players and owners share Basketball Related Income (approximately) 50-50, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement specifies what does and does not count toward BRI. Money that would normally fall under BRI but does not go directly to an NBA team counts toward BRI if it goes to a related party. What’s a related party? According to the CBA, it’s a company owned or controlled by the same person/entity that controls the related NBA team.

Simply, this prevents owners from setting up shell corporations that make all the money while the actual NBA team cries poverty.

But this doesn’t completely close the loophole. What about when NBA owners have only partial stake in a company that would otherwise be considered a third party?

Draper:

In Brooklyn, for example, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov owns 80% of the Nets, while real estate developer Bruce Ratner owns 20%. Meanwhile, Ratner owns 55% of the Barclays Center, where the Nets play, and Prokhorov owns 45%. While both entities are entirely owned by the same two men, by the NBA’s definition, the Nets and Barclays Center are not related parties. If they were to engage in any revenue-shifting shenanigans, the players would be helpless to collect their money. They would prefer the Nets and Barclays Center to be considered related parties.

What type of shenanigans? Draper cites Andrew Zimbalist in the The Economics of Sports:

Suppose you are an owner negotiating an arena lease and are given a choice: pay $2 million in rent and receive 50 percent of a projected $4 million in signage income or pay no rent and receive no signage. It might seem that this is a choice between equals, but since the CBA gives 40 percent of signage income to the players, the owner would do better with the second option of no rent/no signage. Lease agreements offer manifold opportunities for such juggling, especially when the arena and team are owned by the same person or entity.

To some extent, the players might just have to live with the definition of related party they agreed to in this CBA. But the CBA also includes barter in BRI, and many of the potential issues Draper raises seem to qualify.

Perhaps, these audits reveal money the players think they’re entitled to. The CBA outlines an arbitration process, which has a three-year statute of limitations on issues brought forward.

It’s three years from the date of the act being questioned or three years from when it “became known or reasonably should have become known” by the side initiating arbitration. If the NBPA audits uncover anything now from more than three years ago, this is where the union’s lack of audits could really hurt it. It seems easy for the NBA to argue the union reasonably should have known of any problems if it had conducted more audits previously.

At minimum, expect the players to fight for a wider definition of related party in the next CBA.

If you’re interested in how this labor battle is unfolding, definitely read Draper’s piece in full, including his analysis of the potential for the Knicks and Madison Square Garden Company to syphon major money from the players.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
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Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.