Posted on: December 25, 2011 4:05 pm
DALLAS -- While admitting that he was "a little bit relieved" to be presiding over an opening day that almost didn't happen, NBA commisssioner David Stern vowed Sunday that the new labor agreement reached last month is "going to work over time" to create a competitively balanced league.
"We think we're going to come out of this pretty well," Stern said before his first opening-day stop, the NBA Finals rematch between the Heat and Mavericks. Afterward, Stern was set to make his way to Oklahoma City to watch the Magic and Thunder.
"We're beginning to see shorter contacts already under the collective bargaining agreement as teams cast a wary eye on two years from now, when the enhanced tax gets to be considerably higher and you have to be mindful of that," Stern said.
Of course, this being the NBA -- which has endured a rocky transition to the start of a 66-game season after a contentious, five-month labor fight -- some unresolved issues remain.
First, Stern addressed the fact that the owners of the two teams he was about to watch, Miami's Micky Arison and Dallas' Mark Cuban, were among the five who voted against the new labor deal. Arison has acknowledged that his no-vote was registered in protest, presumably over elements of the revenue-sharing plan that was a major sticking point for owners.
"That doesn't send any signal whatsoever," Stern said of the formal disapproval registered by Arison and Cuban, saying the revenue-sharing plan will amount to close to $200 million by the third year of the CBA -- giving "all teams the opportunity to compete," he said.
"The shorter contracts will make more free agents available on the market, and the enhanced tax system will make it more difficult for teams to use their resources simply to get a competitive advantage," Stern said.
But while Stern said the new agreement continues to embrace the concept of free agency, he solicited suggestions from the media audience as to how to address a more burning issue: the practice of players who are not yet free agents trying to force their way to the team of their choice, as Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul have done, and as Dwight Howard is in the process of doing.
"I'm an avid reader of many of your rants ... so what would you suggest?" Stern said to me when I asked him about the topic
"For example, a franchise tag," I said.
Stern pointed to a new measure in the CBA that allows a team to extend a star player by paying him 30 percent of the salary cap, as the Bulls recently did to retain reigning MVP Derrick Rose.
"After that, when a player has played a number of years in the league -- seven or eight -- and says, 'I don't want to re-sign in this particular city, I have a different choice,' it doesnt concern us at all that he has that option," Stern said. "This league has embraced free agency ... and has for decades. And that's fine."
Stern also pointed out that if a team decides to call an impending free agent's bluff and "try to persuade him" to stay after the season, there is a "strong incentive" in the form of the five-year contract with 7.5 percent raises that the home team can offer as opposed to a four-year deal with 4.5 percent raises that other suitors have available, he said.
"The difference at the max end is going to approach $30 million," Stern said. "So we'll be watching some interesting situations play out, whether players will forgo that difference."
Stern said the concept of players pushing to be traded to a team of his choice "goes back to Wilt (Chamberlain) and Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar). It's well-grounded in all sports, actually. And in fact, the NFL hasn't had to use its franchise player designation a lot. Either the player wants to stay or he doesn't want to stay, so I don't think we need it."
Among the other topics Stern addressed on opening day in Dallas before heading to Oklahoma City:
* On the trend set by the Heat with the formation of their Big Three last summer: "I don't think it's a slippery slope at all. I think the fact that players are able to move from team to team, having played under their contracts -- their rookie extension, whatever it is -- and find a team that is managed well enough so they are under the cap and they can acquire more than one player, we think that's fine. The ultimate for the league will be whether that's an interesting and fun team, and the Heat are an interesting and fun team."
* On the rising cost of stockpiling stars: "I don't think that free agency should be looked askance at because that's what players are entitled to do. It will get expensive over time for teams to acquire players with increasing contracts and the like, but it will have a way of working itself out. And I would say to you that this is going to be a system that is more likely than not to be here 10 years from now."
* On his role in the Chris Paul trade debacle: "I don't think it affected the integrity of the league. But I do think I could have done a better communications job."
* On the new CBA's impact on small-market teams: "A team that goes into the tax for a $20 million player in Year Three is going to pay $45M in tax money. We'll see who does that. And the way this is going to help the small team is that there will be more free agents available over time, playing out their four-year contracts and shorter -- because contracts are getting shorter. ... I hate to use the term 'small market,' because three of the smallest markets in our league are Oklahoma City, New Orleans and San Antonio. Don't cry for any of them, but they're small markets."
* On how and why the labor deal finally got done: "This process got speeded up because we sat down with the players and we agreed that Christmas Day was a wonderful magnet. If we were going to be able to play 66 games -- a 20 percent reduction, a 20 percent reduction in pay, etc. -- let's do it this weekend or we'll see you whenever. And whenever was going to be a very contentious whenever."
* On Cuban's criticism of Stern vetoing Paul's trade to the Lakers: "In the middle of this criticism of me throwing him under the bus, he managed to pick up Lamar Odom. Not bad."
* On what would've happened if the league had not taken over the Hornets: "We thought the team was gone. That would've been it. We wanted to give the team a chance in New Orleans, and we thought they could succeed there."
Posted on: May 30, 2011 7:01 pm
Edited on: May 30, 2011 7:04 pm
MIAMI – Driven by record TV ratings in the conference finals and worldwide interest in the Miami Heat’s quest for a championship, the NBA will embark Tuesday on a heavily anticipated NBA Finals. It should be good, and it better be. This could be the last competitive NBA event for a long time.
The Heat vs. the Mavericks promises the kind of drama that can cement a sport in the nation’s consciousness for years. And yet the league continues to face the very real possibility of a work stoppage, with the negotiating clock at T-minus 30 days and counting.
Publicly, the signals have been decidedly mixed since All-Star weekend in Los Angeles about whether a lockout – presumed inevitable for at least a year – can be averted. The rhetoric was significantly softened at All-Star weekend in February, and deputy commissioner Adam Silver made the most optimistic comments to date at the draft lottery in Secaucus, N.J., earlier this month, saying the “throttle is down” on efforts to hammer out a deal before the current one expires June 30.
But those olive branches subsequently were snapped in two by National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter, who has described the owners’ revised proposal – in which they offered the non-offer of phasing in their draconian changes over several years – as worse than the original one. Last week, the NBPA filed an unfair labor practices charge against the NBA with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging, among other things, that owners have not negotiated in good faith or provided suitable financial proof of their claims that the league is losing hundreds of millions a year under the current system.
So where are we? Thirty days out from what would be a debilitating and foolish display of stubbornness by both sides, sources familiar with the negotiating climate say it isn’t time to panic – but that time is coming soon.
“If there’s going to be a deal, I would say there are tipping points," one person familiar with the negotiations told CBSSports.com. "One tipping point is June 30. Once you get past June 30, people are inclined to sit around until the next tipping point, which is September.”
While the two sides remain far apart on the issues of a hard cap, reduced player salaries and an eventual elimination of guaranteed contracts, they at least are in agreement that they are farther along in negotiations than they were prior to the 1998-99 lockout, which resulted in a 50-game season. But one of the people familiar with the talks said there has been less progress at this point than there was in 2005, when noxious lockout fumes were in the air and catastrophe was averted with a surprise agreement during the NBA Finals. The owners, clearly, are no longer celebrating that victory, since they are trying to detonate most aspects of the deal that was ratified at that time.
Representatives for the owners and players met for a small bargaining session last week in New York, and a larger session is scheduled when the Finals shift to Dallas for the middle three games next week. Despite immense differences, the dialogue has been consistent for weeks – proof that neither side likes its chances if the dispute follows the NFL path to the courts.
“I think everybody is taking every opportunity right now to see if something can be done without a whole lot of distractions and rhetoric,” a person familiar with the negotiations said.
Developments in the NFL lockout have affected the NBA talks in significant ways. The NFL players’ initial victory in having their decertification validated in court, followed by the owners’ victory in temporarily preventing the lockout from being lifted, has only underscored the notion that commissioner David Stern and Hunter do not want this negotiation taken out of their hands and into the hands of politically appointed judges they don’t know. In some ways, both understand they’ll get a better deal through negotiation between now and July 1 than they’ll get in a courtroom after months of negative publicity and venom.
A ruling on the NBPA’s unfair labor practices charge isn’t expected for 6-8 weeks, sources say, which means the owners may have to decide to impose a lockout without knowing the outcome of the ruling. But the NLRB charge, sources say, has more to do with leverage than outcome. By putting their complaints in writing, the players have put the onus on both sides to hold good-faith negotiations and exchange legitimate proposals until the current deal expires.
“It puts the onus on both sides not to stall,” said another person familiar with the bargaining talks.
Of more importance is a ruling from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on the validity of the NFL lockout. Oral arguments are scheduled to be heard June 3, with a ruling possible before the NBA lockout begins. If the appeals court upholds the portion of U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson’s ruling that proclaimed the NFL lockout of a decertified union illegal, leverage in the NBA negotiations would swing significantly toward the players. At that point, the proverbial throttle would be pushed even harder toward a negotiated deal; why would NBA owners want to follow the same futile path through the courts that foiled their NFL counterparts?
A ruling in favor of the owners in the Eighth Circuit would shift the leverage to the NBA owners, and raise the chances of a lockout to a near certainty.
But while there is no disputing the communication and momentum, there are a few problems with comparing the NBA’s current situation to the NFL’s – or even the NBA’s in 1998 and 2005. As for the NFL comparison, legal experts believe the NBA owners would have a better case in the courts because they are claiming to be losing millions under the current system – and have provided audited financial statements and tax returns to prove it. NFL owners don’t claim to be losing money; they just want to make more.
As for comparing this to the NBA’s ’98 or ’05 negotiations, the NBA is in a different place than it was then. In ’98, salaries were out of control and the game was about to embark on the uncertain journey of life without Michael Jordan. In ’05, owners were looking for tweaks to the ’99 agreement. Now, they are looking to permanently and dramatically alter the landscape of the sport.
Which they most certainly will do with a prolonged lockout. They will forfeit the lofty place in the sports world that the NBA finally has attained after the golden era of Magic and Bird and the golden goose that was Jordan. The Finals begin in about 24 hours, but it’s T-minus 30 days and counting to the showdown that matters a lot more.
Posted on: February 13, 2010 6:47 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2010 7:19 pm
DALLAS – Steve Kerr and Danny Ferry met Friday at All-Star weekend, a sure sign that Cavaliers’ pursuit of Amar’e Stoudemire has intensified. But if anybody knows the downside of such a move, it’s Kerr.
One snag in a possible pairing of Stoudemire and LeBron James in Cleveland would be another kind of pairing that’s already been tried and didn’t work. Shaquille O’Neal and Stoudemire could not co-exist in Phoenix, one of many reasons Kerr was forced to undo his mistake and send Shaq to the Cavs.
According to sources, there’s a fear among some members of the Cavs’ organization that, while Stoudemire would be a good long-term pairing with LeBron, incorporating him on the floor with Shaq might present too difficult an adjustment for the rest of the season. In Phoenix, Shaq and Stoudemire were unable to make the low-post, high-post thing work – and that was with a world-class point guard, Steve Nash. With the Cavs, Shaq and Amar’e clogging the middle might frustrate LeBron and turn him into too much of a jump shooter.
This problem would be moot after the season, when Shaq presumably will sign with another team or retire. But with an NBA-best 37-11 record at the All-Star break, shaking things up would be risky. It only underscores how critical this decision is for Cleveland. Make a bold move to placate LeBron, only to risk accelerating his departure.
The Cavs brass are said to be consulting LeBron on all matters Amar’e, and it’s possible that James will be able to sell GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Brown that he could make it work. Having said that, sources say the Miami Heat’s interest in Stoudemire has not waned. Miami, though, has the luxury of possessing enough cap space to sign a marquee free agent to pair with Dwyane Wade this summer. The Cavs are capped out and would only be able to give LeBron another top-shelf free agent through sign-and-trades.
With that sense of urgency in mind, the Cavs have not moved off Washington’s Antawn Jamison as a solution. Jamison was James’ original target, and sources say the Wizards – despite playing hard-ball in discussions with rival GMs – are now committed to trading Jamison. Like Phoenix, the Wizards don’t merely want cap relief in exchange. They want assets and possibly a quality draft pick as well.
Here’s more of the trade chatter, culled from conversations with GMs, agents, and others in the know in Dallas and beyond:
• The Wizards-Mavericks deal has now expanded to include two more players and now looks like this: Washington gets Josh Howard, Drew Gooden, James Singleton and Quinton Ross in exchange for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson, sources say. You may be wondering, as I am, why Washington chose this deal instead of another blockbuster that would’ve sent Jamison and Butler to Boston for a package including Ray Allen. According to sources, a handful of Eastern Conference GMs pressured Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld to shy away from the Boston deal for obvious reasons. “It would screw up the balance of power in the East for three years,” one executive said. One theory circulating in Dallas is that Grunfeld didn’t want to alienate other teams he might need to do business with as he continues dismantling the roster in the wake of the Gilbert Arenas firearms fiasco.
• There’s hope in some circles that talks between the Rockets and Bulls on a deal centering around Tracy McGrady and Tyrus Thomas could be rekindled, although one source with knowledge of the situation said Saturday that Houston’s interest in Thomas could be separate from any McGrady scenario. McGrady’s $23 million expiring contract would help the Bulls amass the kind of cap space they’re seeking in their bid to lure two max free agents this summer. But several other teams – Portland, San Antonio, and Denver – could have more to offer.
• The Knicks continue to pursue Thomas in a package that would send Al Harrington and his $10 million expiring contract to Chicago. Harrington’s movement-killing tendencies on offense are frustrating coach Mike D’Antoni, who believes Thomas’ length and athleticism would be a good long-term fit. In any event, D’Antoni would get to look at Thomas in his system for the rest of the season before deciding whether to retain him as a restricted free agent.
Posted on: February 13, 2010 3:29 pm
DALLAS -- Steve Nash's eyes lit up Saturday when recounting his experience as a torch-bearer during the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in his native Canada. It was as though he were running a fastbreak and had spotted Amar'e Stoudemire alone under the basket.
But despite the thrill of rejoining Canada's Olympic movement for a day, Nash said Saturday he's still done playing for Team Canada in international competition.
"I'd love to play in the Olympics again, and I'd love to play for my country again," Nash said. "But it comes a point where it’s diminishing returns. You can't be everything to everyone. And the amount of time it takes me to prepare to play, I’d have to prepare most of the summer just to play at the standards that would be expected of me on the Canadian team. If I did that, there’s a pretty good chance I wouldn’t make it through an NBA season or be able to live up to my responsibilities in that respect. I gave over a decade to the Canadian team. I love it. I wish I could do it all. But I want these young kids to get a chance to build a team and a generation of basketball players that can exceed the expectation that we’ve set."
Nash called carrying the Olympic flame "the most moving experience of my life. ... I was feeling a sense of connectivity with Canadians -- in B.C. Place, our whole country proud in that moment to have the torch, to have my torch lit was a moment where I really felt connected to all Canadians. I had a huge smile on my face, a huge rush of emotion because of that pride."
It only gets better for Nash, who will start the All-Star Game Sunday alongside former Mavericks teammate Dirk Nowitzki.
Posted on: February 8, 2010 5:24 pm
Labor problems, the potential for blockbuster trades, and yes, some basketball will be on the agenda at All-Star weekend in Dallas. Something else will command the attention of NBA team executives on Friday: The idea of a play-in tournament to determine the eighth playoff seed in each conference.