NBA owners pass lottery reform, new rules on resting players

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver got what he wanted.

How much good it will do, and what will the unintended consequences will be, will hang over this like a cloud. But Silver got the PR wins he wanted.

Wednesday the NBA’s Board of Governors — made up of the 30 team owners — passed new rules on resting of healthy players, particularly for nationally televised games, plus passed NBA Draft Lottery reform that starts in 2019. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been a strident proponent of both legislative agendas, pushing owners and team executives on his belief that passage was important for elements of the league’s economy, competitive balance and public perception…

In the new resting legislation, Silver will have the discretionary ability to fine teams for resting players in several instances, including sitting multiple players outside of unusual circumstances in a single game, and healthy players in nationally televised ESPN, ABC and TNT games…

The NBA needed a three-fourths majority to pass draft lottery reform, which is designed to discourage teams from tanking to pursue the best possible odds to select highest in the draft order.

The vote on lottery reform was 28-1-1, with Oklahoma City voting no and Dallas abstaining, according to Wojnarowski.

Let’s talk resting first — this is about perceptions and public relations. It’s a bad look for the league when they tout a Golden State vs. San Antonio Saturday night game and Steve Kerr sits Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant (the Spurs were without Kawhi Leonard in that game due to injury). Every study shows that rested players (meaning at least one day off between games, but the more the better) both perform better and are less likely to get injured, and it makes sense if the Cavaliers want LeBron James at his peak in May and June they give him nights off in January to keep him fresh. To the NBA’s credit, it started the season a couple of weeks earlier this season and reduced the number of back-to-backs, mostly eliminated four-games-in-five-nights, and now makes sure teams get rest before nationally televised games.

But make no mistake, guys will still get nights off. Coaches will just not do it on the highest profile nights, nor will they rest multiple stars on the same night (at least until the final couple weeks of the season, when all bets should be off). Also, coaches will go to the old trick of saying a guy is injured if they want to rest him (by a month into the season every player has enough bumps and bruises to say he needs a night off if they want).

Lottery reform is more complicated. That’s not a surprise to the league office, which has said this is just one step in what could be a much longer process.

This move creates the perception that teams don’t benefit as much tanking, which is true only if a team is going for the worst record in the league. However, these new rules don’t change the underlying issue: For 25 NBA teams, the only way they can land and keep a superstar (at least for eight years or so to start their career) is through the draft, and the best way to do that is to get a high draft pick. What this does do is take away some incentive to be ultra-terrible to get the best odds, but teams will still aim for the bottom three if they are in that kind of rebuild.

The three worst teams each will have a 14 percent chance at the No. 1 pick, and the odds go down from there (but not as steeply as they did before). Here is a handy chart — via Wojnarowski and ESPN — that explains the new lottery odds.

So if you have the worst record in the NBA, rather than most likely having the No. 2 or 3 pick, your “expected pick” is the three or four. Is that really going to keep teams from tanking? Kristaps Porzingis went fourth. Teams may not go as deep a dive, but they will go, and it will still be a topic.

More importantly, it just moves the tanking line. Last season, the 42-win Pacers got the 7 seed in the East and thumped by the Cavaliers in the first round. However, if they were five games worse, they would have been the 12th seed going into the lottery, with a 7 percent chance at a top-five pick. You can bet some owners/GMs will look at that calculus and say they are willing to forgo the $5 million to $8 million in gate revenue from a couple playoff games to have a shot at a high pick (some owners will want the cash). More importantly for the league, you can bet some segments of the fanbase will call for it.

What this vote does gives the league is a PR win — “we have taken steps to reduce player rest and tanking,” issues Silver was sick of talking about at his press conferences and in interviews. There is some good stuff here — the spaced out schedule is needed — but whether either proposal gets at the real issues (like too long a regular season) is still up for debate.

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”