Tag:Dwight Howard
Posted on: October 27, 2011 2:33 pm
Edited on: October 27, 2011 8:14 pm
 

Time to compromise; here are two to get deal done

NEW YORK -- As bleary-eyed negotiators reconvened Thursday in Manhattan after a 15-hour session that yielded progress on the difficult system issues needed to strike a deal, the next step is a precarious one: marrying a new system with a reduced split of BRI for the players in a way they can accept and, ultimately, ratify.

The two sides have been here before, and it's at this intersection of system and split where the talks have spectacularly blown apart before -- most recently, last Thursday, when the owners insisted on the players accepting a 50-50 split as a precondition for continuing negotiations.

With both sides recognizing that they have one last chance over the next few days to not only avoid losing more games but also, perhaps, salvage those already lost in a compressed, revamped 82-game schedule, the time for ultimatums and preconditions has passed. It is time for compromise and real, 11th-hour movement in both sides' bargaining positions. Without it, there will be no deal and there will be widespread, unnecessary economic carnage.

One of the interesting phenomena of this messy work stoppage is that, despite the public's knee-jerk reaction to blame the players and cast athletes as greedy villains, NBA fans have become educated about the issues and facts involved and seem, by and large, to recognize that the players have been in an untenable negotiating position. The owners have asked for an awful lot, and seem awfully determined to get it. But in exchange for agreeing to a reduction in their share of BRI from the 57 percent under the previous deal as a fait accompli -- and for openly and forthrightly negotiating certain system changes that the owners believe will help create more competitive balance and payroll parity -- the players need something in return. NBPA executive director Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher need to bring a deal to the union membership by the end of the weekend that allows them to declare some measure of victory.

Here are a couple of ways that can happen, and unsurprisingly, they are interrelated, like many aspects of these negotiations:

It is clear that the owners' ideal BRI split is 50-50, but the time for seeking the ideal was July, August and September. It's late October, almost November, so there needs to be one final push from the owners on BRI to make the system changes more palatable to the players. It is the players, remember, who already have given up more than $1 billion over six years compared to what they would've gotten under a 57 percent system by offering to go as low as 52.5 percent. They players should be willing to meet the owners somewhere in the middle, but not all the way to 50 percent.

If this deal getting done hinges on the owners getting their 50-50 split come hell or high water, then I am scared for basketball humanity.

Here is how it can get done -- and, once again, silly me, I am being logical and sensible about this. The difference between the players' position of 52.5 percent and the owners' offer of 50 percent is approximately $100 million a year. As Hunter alluded to Thursday morning, there are tradeoffs to be made between system issues and movements in the BRI split -- in other words, an economic move by the owners would make some of the system restrictions they are seeking more palatable.

"We’ll continue to remain focused on some key principle items in our system that have to remain there in order for our players to agree to what is already a reduced percentage of BRI," Fisher said.

In other words: Work with me here, guys.

By reducing the players' share from 57 percent to 50 percent, the owners are seeking a 12 percent reduction in salaries -- from the $2.25 billion they would've received under the old system to $1.97 billion. There are thousands of ways to get there, but a key one that hasn't been discussed much would achieve a substantial amount of the further reduction needed for the two sides to meet in the middle without the affected players feeling it much -- if at all.

Both sides seem to have agreed to leave the structure of max contracts largely intact under the new agreement, meaning stars would still be able to get 25 or 30 percent of the cap, depending on the situation. But if players across the league are facing a 12 percent pay cut, why would max contracts be sacred?

Next season, there will be 22 players at or just below the max -- ranging in pay from $13.7 million (Kevin Durant) to $25.2 million (Kobe Bryant) for a total of $392 million. Since league negotiators are open to phasing in some of the system changes they are seeking to create more balanced payrolls, a 15-20 percent reduction in future max salaries -- say, 20-25 percent of the cap instead of 25-30 -- would result in approximately $70 million a year in future savings. That's nearly all of the annual difference between the two sides' economic positions.

While the vast majority of max players deserve what they get and more, they also earn tens of millions more through marketing and endorsement deals. If max players absorbed a bigger share of the reductions the owners are seeking, it would ease the bridging of the gap between 50 and 52.5 percent -- say, to somewhere in the middle, such as 51 or 51.5 percent -- and there's a way to do it without the star players feeling the reduction.

UPDATE: The NBPA annually receives licensing money from the NBA and typically has distrubuted it evenly among the league's approximately 420 players. Last season's share was $37 million, a person with knowledge of the arrangement told CBSSports.com. The NBPA has withheld the licensing money for several years and kept it in a fund to help players through the lockout. When the lockout is over, the money will be distributed.

Through giving players a share of licensing money commensurate with their own jersey and merchandising sales, the star players would receive some of the money given up through the reduction in max salaries. A negotiated increase in the amount of licensing money paid to the players would sweeten the pot, with minimal impact on the owners' share of BRI. Licensing money -- revenues from merchandise sold with team or league logos and/or player names -- is part of the approximately $650 million in deductions that come off the top of overall revenues before they are counted in BRI and split with the players.

So if you're among the next wave of max players to sign extensions -- Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Deron Williams -- the haircut you'd take on the max salary could be minimized by a bigger share of the licensing money. 

Sometimes, the solutions make too much sense.
Posted on: September 28, 2011 3:30 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2011 5:01 pm
 

Efforts to save season reach 'key moment'

NEW YORK -- Calling it a "key moment" in efforts to reach a collective bargaining agreement, commissioner David Stern said Wednesday that the full negotiating committees from both sides will meet Friday and through the weekend as they try to save the 2011-12 season.

"There are enormous consequences at play here on the basis of the weekend," Stern said after league negotiators and representatives for the National Basketball Players Association met for a second straight day at an Upper East Side hotel. "Either we’ll make very good progress, and we know what that would mean – we know how good that would be, without putting dates to it – or we won't make any progress. And then it won’t be a question of just starting the season on time. There will be a lot at risk because of the absence of progress."

In addition to the players' executive committee and the owners' full labor relations board, union president Derek Fisher said several "key players" will be attending Friday's meeting. Among them are expected to be LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, sources said, with other stars like Amar'e Stoudemire and Kevin Durant possibly joining the negotiations.

Deputy commissioner Adam Silver said the two sides agreed to expand their presence because "whatever decisions we are now going to be making would be so monumental" as to require the presence of those who'd be signing off on them.

You didn't have to read to closely between the lines to catch the meaning from Stern and Silver, who sought to ratchet up the pressure on getting a deal or risk not simply an on-time start to the season, but indeed the whole thing. With training camps already postponed and a first batch of preseason games canceled, Stern said the two sides are "at a period of enormous opportunity and great risk."

"I can't say that common ground is evident, but our desire to try to get there I think is there," Fisher said. "We still have a great deal of issues to work through, so there won't be any Magic that will happen this weekend to just make those things go away. But we have to put the time in. We have a responsibility to people to do so."

The incremental rise in doomsday talk from Stern signaled that the negotiations are entering a new phase, where the threat of a canceled season will become a leverage point for both sides. If no agreement is reached by the end of the weekend -- the four-week mark before the scheduled regular season opener -- it would be virtually impossible to get a subsequent deal written, hold abbreviated training camps and a preseason schedule, and pull off a shortened free-agent period.

And yet neither side evidently was prepared to move enough Wednesday to get within reach of a deal. That moment of truth, one way or another, should come in the next 96 hours.

Once the league agreed to replace its insistence on a hard cap with the more punitive luxury tax and other provisions -- a "breakthrough," as one person familar with the talks called it -- it sparked "the process of negotiation" that the two sides have arrived at now. 

"There could be some compromises reached," the person said.

According to multiple sources familiar with the talks, the owners did not enhance their economic offer Wednesday, instead focusing on using systemic changes to hit the number they are seeking to achieve -- still 46 percent for the players over the life of a new deal. The problem, sources say, is that the players are not willing to accept a deal at that percentage, and that some of the systemic adjustments the league has proposed as alternatives to a hard team cap will act like a hard cap -- such as a luxury-tax system that rises from dollar-for-dollar tax to $2 or more.

NBPA executive director Billy Hunter has called a hard team salary cap a "blood issue" for the union, and Fisher wrote in a letter to the union membership this week that he and Hunter will continue to oppose any deal that includes one "unless you, the group we represent, tell us otherwise."

In addition to what they presented as hard cap alternatives -- which also included a reduction in the Bird and mid-level exceptions -- league negotiators also have presented a concept that could drive a wedge in the players' association. In exchange for keeping certain spending exceptions in place -- albeit in a reduced form -- one idea floated by the owners was a gradual reduction in existing contracts -- the "R" word, as in rollbacks -- that would minimize the financial hit for players who will be signing deals under the new system.

Such a proposal would alleviate the problem of players such as James, Wade, Stoudemire, Anthony, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson having outsized contracts compared to stars who'd be faced with signing lesser deals under a new system. In essence, the players who already are under contract would take a percentage cut in the early years of a new CBA -- 5 percent the first year, 7.5 the second and 10 percent in the third year, sources said -- so that players like Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams wouldn't bear a disproportionate share of the burden when they sign their max deals under the reduced salary structure the owners are seeking.

The provisions are not geared strictly for the star class of players; in fact, the proposed rollbacks would be across the board, "for everyone," a person with knowledge of the idea said. And while this concept may alleviate the problem of having future stars bear more of a burden, it would create other problems -- not the least of which is the players' unwillingness to accept a percentage of BRI in the mid 40s that would make such rollbacks necessary.

It is for this, and other reasons -- such as restrictions the owners would want even in a soft-cap system -- that a person familiar with the owners' ideas told CBSSports.com Tuesday night that what they were proposing was deemed "alarming" by union officials.

And it is why Stern said Wednesday, "We are not near a deal."

"I'm focused on, let’s get the two committees in and see whether they can either have a season or not have a season," Stern said. "And that’s what’s at risk this weekend."

But amid all the comments made throughout these negotiations, it was an ordinary fan who hit a home run Wednesday with the most sensible statement yet. As Hunter and other union officials spoke with reporters on the street outside the hotel hosting negotiations, a guy in a white luxury sedan stopped in the middle of the street and started pounding on his door panel.

"We want basketball!" the fan shouted. "Stop the playing and get it done!"

He then drove off, heading west, having made the most sense of anyone.

Posted on: July 8, 2011 2:51 pm
 

Yao: A giant on and off the court

With the news Friday that Yao Ming has decided to retire, the NBA lost a giant whose stature made him a force on the court and an ambassador for the spread of basketball throughout Asia.

His impact on the floor and in the record books was muted by injury, but Yao’s influence on the globalization of basketball will be felt for years, if not decades.

Yao, 30, endured years of pain and injuries to his feet and lower legs and most recently could not overcome a stress fracture in his left foot that caused him to miss all but five games in the 2010-11 season. The 7-foot-6 center has yet to file official retirement paperwork with the NBA office, but that would be a mere formality after Yahoo! Sports reported Friday that Yao has informed the Rockets, league office, and NBA China in the past 48 hours of his intention to retire.

It was the presence of Yao, along with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, that lifted the NBA to new heights of popularity and revenue-generation in China during the past decade. The league launched NBA China in 2008, and Sports Business Journal has estimated that between $150 million and $170 million of the NBA’s annual revenues are generated in Yao’s native land.

Some of the NBA’s biggest America-born stars have endorsement and charitable ventures linked to China, such Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and the recently retired Shaquille O’Neal. Several of Yao’s teammates with the Rockets, including Luis Scola and Shane Battier, also have benefited. The top 10 best-selling NBA jerseys in China are all worn by American-born players, led by Bryant, who has owned the top spot for four straight years.

Bryant, received in China like a rock star during the Beijing Games, has made several promotional trips to China for endorsement work with Nike and has created the Kobe Bryant China Foundation to raise money and awareness for education and health programs. If Bryant provided the momentum for basketball’s robust commerce in China, it was Yao who lit the flame.

Yao retires as a once-dominant force whose impact on the court was derailed by injuries that cost him 170 regular season games over the course of his career. His best season was 2006-07, when he averaged 25 points, 9.4 rebounds and shot 52 percent from the field. For his career, Yao averaged 19 points, 9.2 rebounds, and in an aberration for a player his size, shot .833 from the foul line.

It is the end of a career, but also a new beginning – the start of an era with only one dominant center left in the game, Dwight Howard, and potentially billions of dollars in new marketing opportunities for the NBA in China and beyond. Yao started it all.
Posted on: June 1, 2011 5:19 pm
Edited on: June 1, 2011 5:22 pm
 

Shaq: The Last Big Interview

MIAMI – With Shaquille O’Neal announcing his Big Sayonara on Wednesday, it was the perfect time to reminisce about the Big Fella’s impact. Nobody ever did it like Shaq, or will ever do it like Shaq again.

He was one of a kind, an original. He was the last of the dominant centers, the first to market himself across platforms – from sports, to hip-hop, to movies, to pop culture.

I thought back to my last great interview with O’Neal, last October when he was embarking on what would become a frustrating, unfulfilling, and ultimately failed one-year experiment in Boston. After failing to get a “ring for the King” in Cleveland, O’Neal had hoped to capture his fifth championship and the 18th for the Celtics by teaming with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo. In the end, father time came calling for Shaq and sent him exiting, stage left.

Before he goes, a detailed look at that last interview in New York – a particularly candid moment that harkened back to a time when Shaq’s game was as loud and penetrating as his voice and ideas:

On the era of the dominant center: “I think I killed off all the centers, and now all the centers want to play the European-style basketball. There’s only one-and-a-half or two real centers left -- Dwight Howard and Yao Ming. Every now and then, Yao Ming steps outside and wants to shoot jumpers. But it’s gone more toward the European style. The days of the Patrick Ewings and Rik Smits and Kevin Duckworth and Robert Parish, those days are over, thanks to me.”

On whether it will ever come back: “No. Never.”

On his hip-hop career: “I was the one that did everything right and made it to the top and did it respectfully and kept it going. A lot of guys tried to come in, but I actually came in from the bottom, worked my way up with the crew and did this and did that. I was just a young kid coming from the projects of Newark, N.J., fulfilling one of his dreams.”

About the opportunities basketball has given him: “The good thing about being a humble athlete and a humble guy is, you get to meet people and you get to shake people’s hands. We all know that we all come from the same place. For me growing up, on the way to the court I was mimicking LL Cool J, and once I got to the court I was Dr. J. So it was pretty much even. And I always stated that the thing that made me a great athlete is because I’m a great dancer. I have rhythm.”

On any individual goals he had left: “If I did have an individual goal, it probably would be to pass Wilt Chamberlain in scoring. … Then I could feel complete with myself saying that I was the most dominant player if I had more championships and more points than him. But I don’t have any other individual goals that I’m going for. I’m just trying to get No. 5 this year.”

On whether centers can still be difference-makers: “No, not shooting jumpers. … I’ve never lost a series to a guy shooting jumpers – besides Pau (Gasol), but Pau has a couple of extra weapons with him. There hasn’t been a center that has won shooting jumpers. Pau is 60-40 – 60 inside and 40 shooting jumpers. So I think the centers are getting a little more Pau Gasolish.”

On whether that could change: “Dwight Howard plays like a true big man like we all played. … He’s actually in my eyes a true center. The game has changed, but to me he’s 95-5 – 95 inside and every now and then he’ll try to face up and shoot it off the glass. That’s how I like to see dominant big men play.”

On his love of sports cars: “I’ve always loved sports cars. I had a couple of Ferraris and had a Lamborghini. But I was coming off the 395 one night trying to get to the beach – chillin, looking good, smelling good. I don’t know why, but I hit something and spun around and the only thing I was thinking about was hitting that ___ wall and going into the water. I closed my eyes and when I stopped a ___ truck was coming this way, so I had to get in my mode and put that ___ in reverse and do like some Bruce Willis ___ and I traded it in the next day. No, as a matter of fact, when I came to Phoenix, I sold it to Amar’e (Stoudemire). I was speeding and I was trying to get to a party and I don’t even know what happened. I was just thinking about hitting a wall and thinking about all the courses I took, like if the car hit the water, what the ___ you gotta do.”

On being so critical of Howard in the past: “I wasn’t critical. It’s just that I know how to add fuel to the fire. But he does play like a true big man. I can’t say that he doesn’t play like a true big man. I was just saying last year that when I was his age, I didn’t have the luxury of calling a double to help me on Patrick Ewing. I would’ve loved to have help on ___ Pat Ewing and Rick Smits and all those guys, but I played them straight up. So if you want my respect, play straight up. That’s all I said.”
Posted on: March 28, 2011 1:25 pm
 

With Stan, Dwight chastened, some Magic is gone

NEW YORK -- The basketball microscope in New York is focused squarely on the Knicks, who stumble into their second game in six days against Orlando Monday night on a six-game losing streak and in full-blown crisis mode as they try to adjust to the franchise-shaping trade for Carmelo Anthony

But what of their opponent? The Magic, a perennial championship contender in each of Stan Van Gundy's four seasons as coach, are having an identity crisis of their own. Three months after a pair of similarly impactful trades, Orlando is still trying to relocate its bread and butter. 

After sending Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus to Phoenix and Rashard Lewis to Washington in December, the Magic are still top 10 in the league in the major defensive categories -- points allowed (fifth), opponent field-goal percentage (fourth), and opponent three-point percentage (eighth). They remain mired in an astonishing trend at the other end of the floor, averaging 15.5 turnovers per game. During that stretch, the Magic have beaten the Heat but lost to the Lakers, Bulls, and even the Warriors

What Orlando's identity will be come playoff time remains a mystery to Van Gundy -- and, to some extent, to the other person who should be creating the identity. Dwight Howard came into the season vowing to stop having so much fun and start getting serious, but that promise is up in the air -- especially since his aggressiveness has been taken away since receiving his 16th technical foul March 4 against Chicago. 

"Same guy," Howard said recently when asked if he's changed since the one-game suspension he received automatically for the 16th tech. "I get upset about the way guys foul me. But it's not about the way things are called. Somebody fouls and after the foul they continue to foul me, and I get upset at the refs because they allow that. My teammates are trying to do a better job of coming and consoling me so I don’t say anything else." 

Van Gundy, too, is trying to do a better job of filtering his opinions since being blasted by commissioner David Stern over a rant in which Van Gundy likened Stern to an evil dictator when asked to plead his case that Howard shouldn't have been suspended. All this means that the two most important figures in Orlando's push to get back to the NBA Finals, Howard and Van Gundy, have been muzzled -- Van Gundy off the court and Howard on it. 

"I'm not a dirty player. I'm not a dirty person," Howard said. "I would never try to hurt anybody on the court. That's not who I am. That's not how I play." 

How the Magic will play when the playoffs roll around remains a mystery. With Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkolgu all fixtures in Van Gundy's rotation, it's little wonder the Magic are a worse defensive team than they were before the trades. That was expected. But without backup from Gortat, Howard is faced with a dilemma: How can he be the lone enforcer around the basket for a team that badly needs one to make up for perimeter defensive deficiencies while at the same time worrying about flagrants, technicals and the growing (and unfair) perception that he's a dirty player? How can he live up to his preseason "no more Mr. Nice Guy" promise while still carrying his fun-loving demeanor with him from the locker room to the floor? 

"I'm still the same person," Howard said. "I just know when to turn it on and turn it off. One thing my teammates said at the beginning of the year is, they don’t want me to just be this mean guy because they look forward to me coming in the locker room and just having a pretty good time. And I know when it's time to get serious. They don’t want me to change who I am for other people. 

"Other people I guess wanted to see me get more serious, but I've never played around with basketball," Howard said. "But I just know that fans come to the games to be entertained. I'm not a UFC fighter. I don’t have to go out there and growl every two minutes to show my team. I just have fun and that's what it's all about." 

How much fun the Magic have in the playoffs will depend on solving their turnover mystery and regaining some semblance of defensive consistency. Both of those problems are fixable. The bigger dilemma will be getting Howard to play once again with abandon, without concern for whistles or perceptions, and getting the irascible Van Gundy to lose the filter that Stern surgically implanted between his upper and lower lip. For better or worse, the NBA needs the old Dwight and Stan back. More than ever, so do the Magic.
Posted on: March 23, 2011 8:12 pm
Edited on: March 23, 2011 9:53 pm
 

Van Gundy: Rose-y outlook for MVP

NEW YORK – Stan Van Gundy has read the tea leaves – and lots of NBA articles, including on this site, evidently – and declared the MVP race over. 

“I don’t think it’s wide open,” Van Gundy said before the Magic played the Knicks Wednesday night. “I mean, the media seems to have made their decision and they’re the ones who vote, so I think it’s over. … Derrick Rose has it. I haven’t really read or heard a media guy who is going another way at this point. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t win it.” 

Van Gundy, clearly chastened by recently having been called on the carpet by commissioner David Stern for voicing his opinions, suffered a momentarily lapse into his previous persona when asked about the MVP race – which he clearly believes, once again, that Dwight Howard should be winning. 

“To me, with his rebounding, his scoring and his defense, I just don’t think there’s anybody who impacts as many possessions in a game as Dwight does,” Van Gundy said. “I think Derrick Rose has been great. I will have no problem if Derrick Rose wins the MVP. They’ve got the best record in the East, and he’s been clearly their leader. You can make a great case for him. 

“He’s been great,” Van Gundy said. “But I still don’t think anyone impacts the game as many possessions in a game as Dwight does.” 

Howard, speaking in the locker room before the game, declined an invitation to state his own case for MVP. 

“Derrick Rose has been playing great basketball,” Howard said. “I’m not a guy that likes to talk about myself, but I think I do a lot for my team in order for us to have a chance to win every night. I think that’s about it. I don’t like talking about myself.” 

As chronicled here, my personal opinion for about two thirds of the season was that LeBron James would get my vote for MVP. But Rose has come on – not statistically or efficiency-wise all the time, but in terms of lifting the Bulls to elite status in the East and being their undisputed floor leader and scorer. Since losing two straight on the road in early February, the Bulls have beaten Miami and Atlanta twice and San Antonio and Orlando once apiece. In February and March, Rose is averaging 25.7 points and 7.1 assists in 23 games.

Earlier this month, Matt Moore and Ben Golliver had a spirited MVP discussion in our Eye on Basketball blog that you can relive here.
Posted on: December 17, 2010 2:13 pm
Edited on: December 17, 2010 9:28 pm
 

Post-Ups (UPDATE)

Houston and Portland, we have problems. 

Two teams that have been tantalizingly close to championship contention in recent years are suddenly in turmoil due to injuries -- franchise-shaping injuries to their franchise players. 

Portland had no sooner come to grips with the loss of Greg Oden -- again -- when the gathering storm of controversy between ailing star Brandon Roy and veteran point guard Andre Miller popped up. The Rockets, struggling without point guard Aaron Brooks, now may have to completely rethink their style of play and strategy for the future with word that center Yao Ming could be out for the year with a stress fracture in his ankle. 

“They built around Yao and they’re going to have to change who they are and become a more transition-oriented team,” a rival executive said. * No one ever thought the Rockets would commit to Yao beyond this season until they learned whether he’d be able to return to the court and be productive. With the answer to that question now being no, it’s time to scrap the notion that Houston can rely on Yao to ever be the centerpiece of a title-contending team. 

Changes are needed in the short run, too. Once Brooks returns -- and that will be soon -- the Rockets will need to forget about Yao and push the pace in a way that fits the talent they have. Kevin Martin is a transition player, and Brooks certainly is. So is recently acquired Terrence Williams, who could be a key part of this new strategy if the change of scenery also changes his attitude. 

As for the Blazers, it would appear that their incredible aptitude for overcoming serious and numerous injuries has come to an end. In the past, winning masked the uncomfortable co-existence of Roy and Miller. Now that Portland is struggling, there’s no way to hide the fact that Roy and Miller aren’t a good fit in the backcourt together. Sources already have told CBSSports.com that Blazers officials are considering going young and moving some of their older pieces -- such as Miller, Marcus Camby and Joel Przybilla. Miller, with a fully non-guaranteed $7.8 million in 2011-12, has off-the-charts trade value -- especially for a contender in need of a steadying force at point guard. 
UPDATE: A person familiar with the situation told CBSSports.com Friday that Roy's recent comments about the difficulty he's having playing with Miller were no accident. "He's an unhappy camper," the person said. "A very unhappy camper. For Brandon to talk like that, he's got to be at his breaking point."
Sources continue to tell me that Orlando, which is concerned about not measuring up to Boston and Miami in the East, would be the perfect fit for Miller. The Magic are not going to accept carrying a $94 million payroll into the playoffs, only to lose in the conference semifinals -- which seems to be their fate as currently constructed. Rashard Lewis’ impact continues to diminish, Vince Carter is little more than a jump-shooter, and Jameer Nelson is too inconsistent to rely on as the floor general of a championship-contending team. 

Miller could be the elixir for Orlando. All he does is find open shots for his teammates, and Dwight Howard would be thrilled with Miller’s elite talent as a lob-passer. Howard, who will be part of a blockbuster free-agent class in 2012, has quickly grown frustrated with the Magic’s obvious limitations. 

The piece that could get it done is Marcin Gortat, who’s a starting center on any team but one that has Howard. Though Gortat’s contract goes out three more years, it’s at a reasonable rate for a starting center -- topping out at $7.7 million in 2013-14, when Gortat has an early-termination option. 

Blazers GM Rich Cho has liked Gortat since his days working as Sam Presti’s right-hand man in Oklahoma City, so such a deal would seem to make sense from all angles. Gortat would give Portland a reasonable insurance policy in case Oden never becomes worthy of his No. 1 overall selection in 2007, and Roy would have the ball in his hands more -- which is something he can’t have when playing alongside Miller. Whether Roy’s knees will hold up under those demands is a valid question, but one Portland may very well need answered one way or another. 

UPDATE: According to one source, Roy’s contract is insured against injuries to either knee. There is an outside, secondary policy, the person with knowledge of the policy said, and it also covers one of his ankles. Another person familiar with the details pointed out there are restrictions tied to the length of disability and stipulations related to the timing of a particular injury. Either way, that’s an insurance policy the Blazers never want to have to dust off. Better to put the ball in their franchise player’s hands and see what happens. What have they got to lose? 

Nothing, which is the opposite of what we have in the rest of this week’s Post-Ups: 

* Executives working the phones during these early days of trade inquiry say the teams that appear most determined to make deals before the Feb. 24 deadline are Portland, Detroit, Minnesota, Memphis and Charlotte. But while execs have seen the usual volume of calls, the urgency to clear cap space and/or dump salary isn’t nearly as high as it was last summer. Leading up to the 2010 deadline, multiple teams were hellbent on clearing cap space for a robust free-agent class. Not only will this summer’s free-agent class pale in comparison, teams also are unsure of how and when free agency will take shape due to labor uncertainty. 

* Amid commissioner David Stern’s latest CBA rhetoric, sources say there won’t be any bargaining meetings the rest of the year due to scheduling conflicts and the holidays. As of now, the goal is to gather key participants for a smaller negotiating session in January leading up to an all-important full bargaining session during All-Star weekend in Los Angeles. Union officials will be most disturbed by Stern’s assertion during a trip to Memphis this week that the NBA needs to transition to a hard salary cap in order to restore competitive balance. The players view this as a smokescreen, believing that the league wants a hard cap simply as a mechanism to reduce salaries. Meanwhile, Stern dismissed aspects of the NBPA’s proposal that were geared toward improving competitive balance, saying those changes actually would cost owners more money than the current system. So that’s where we are: nowhere. 

* One aspect of the players’ proposal, complete details of which were reported for the first time last week, has gone largely overlooked. The NBPA proposed a broad outline for redistributing draft picks as a way to respond to the owners’ desire to enhance competitive balance. The precise method would be subject to negotiation, but the union envisioned taking draft picks away from the top-tier teams and giving extra picks to the bottom feeders. For example, the top three or top five teams in the draft order would see their first-round picks go to the bottom three or five. So using last year’s lottery order and redistributing the top five teams’ picks, the Wizards would’ve selected first and 26, the Sixers second and 27th, the Nets third and 28th, etc. Not a bad idea, although I wonder if some of those teams would simply be inclined to sell the second of their first-round picks. Either way, it would give struggling teams more assets in their quest to return to playoff contention. 

* As the Nuggets continue to weigh their options with Carmelo Anthony, rival GMs and high-profile agents are divided on whether Anthony would even be a good fit for the Knicks if New Jersey wasn’t able to get him to agree to an extension. There’s no doubting the star power Anthony would bring to New York. Would he make the Knicks better? Clearly, he’d give them the closing perimeter scorer they lack, and in that way he’d be a perfect complement to Amar’e Stoudemire. But would Anthony make the Knicks that much better than a defensive- and transition-oriented wing, such as Gerald Wallace or Andre Iguodala? “I don’t think the Knicks win any more or less games if it’s Gerald Wallace vs. Carmelo,” a rival GM said. “They’re already scoring 120 points a game. I think they have enough offense.” Others point out that Anthony is a low-efficiency shooter and a ball-stopper; coach Mike D’Antoni could live with the former but detests the latter. But my point is, if the ball stops with Anthony and its next stop is in the basket, so be it. In some ways, the inside-outside combination of Stoudemire and Anthony -- with a capable point guard, Raymond Felton, divvying up the shots -- would be more dangerous than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But here’s what the Melo-doesn’t-fit crowd will tell you, and I concede this point: The Knicks controlled the pace of Wednesday night’s game against Boston for 47-plus minutes. At the end, when they needed someone to stop Paul Pierce, they had nowhere to turn. Anthony is capable of playing better defense than he’s been asked to in Denver; he showed it in Beijing with Team USA. But it’s worth wondering if a player like Wallace or Iguodala would get you just as much scoring in transition and as the second option on Felton-Stoudemire pick-and-rolls and be capable of defending the other team’s closer on the last possession. Other than the fact that Donnie Walsh never panics, this line of thinking could have a lot to do with why he isn’t crushed by the Nets’ all-out pursuit of Melo. “The Knicks are in a pretty good position to sit back and see where the cap falls,” another executive said. “I don’t think Knicks will give up much to get [Anthony], and I don’t think they have much to give up to begin with.”
Posted on: November 15, 2010 9:42 am
Edited on: November 15, 2010 9:52 am
 

Kobe rips owners: 'Look in the mirror'

LOS ANGELES – With labor talks reaching a critical stage between now and the All-Star break, Kobe Bryant weighed in for the first time Sunday night with some strong words for NBA owners.

“I think the owners need to look in the mirror,” Bryant told CBSSports.com when asked about the $750 million to $800 million reduction in player salaries being sought by the owners. “They need to make the right judgment themselves and stop trying to force us players to be the ones to make adjustments. They’ve got to look in the mirror and decide what they want to do with the sport, and we as employees will show up and do what we’ve got to do.”

Bryant, the highest-paid player in the league under what is likely to be his final contract, is scheduled to join Michael Jordan as the league’s only $30 million players in the final year of the deal in 2013-14. Asked where he stands in the labor dispute that could be more punitive to stars like Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose – who likely won’t get new contracts until a new CBA is in place – Bryant said, “I’m going to fight for our players.”

“It’s about making sure we have the best deal going forward,” Bryant said. “That’s my stance and that’s not going to change. I’m not going to waver. It’s about taking care of the generation that’s coming after us. That’s what the guys before us tried to do, and that’s what I’m going to try to do. I’m not going to waver from that.”

These were the strongest words yet spoken publicly by an NBA player about the owners’ pursuit of a hard cap, enormous salary reductions and a rollback of existing contracts. Coming from Bryant, they carried weight – both with the players and owners.

“The onus is not on us,” Bryant said. “People are trying to put that responsibility on us. It’s not our responsibility. It’s the owners’ job. This is what they do.”

Bryant’s vow to fight for players who didn’t get max deals under the current system and will likely have to accept less in a new CBA comes as a divide is forming between two camps – the paid, and the not-yet-paid. CBSSports.com has learned that players like Howard and Anthony, Chris Paul and Rose are growing wary of possibly getting shut out of the kind of max money that this past summer’s free agents scored. If owners aren’t successful in getting across-the-board rollbacks, but do negotiate a reduction in future max salaries and guarantees, the players subject to the haircut are “not going to have it,” according to an influential person involved in the players’ side of bargaining strategy.

“They’re not going to allow those guys to sneak in a year before collective bargaining and say, ‘We got paid,’” the person said. “They can’t have their cake and eat it, too. There are too many powerful players whose contracts are coming up to let that happen.”

Bryant isn’t choosing sides in that debate; he just wants a fair deal for everyone. His point was primarily directed at owners who went on a spending spree this past summer before quickly shifting gears to claim player costs must be brought down to stem hundreds of millions in annual losses. And his comments come at a time when, as on the court, Bryant perhaps senses that the bargaining game is about to get interesting. Commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, union chief Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher of the Lakers will hold a 2-on-2 bargaining session Thursday to ramp up the intensity of talks heading into All-Star weekend, a key time-stamp in both sides’ efforts to avoid a lockout when the current deal expires on June 30, 2011.

Bryant’s comments also represent the strongest signal of commitment from the players since multiple All-Stars made a surprise appearance at a bargaining session during All-Star weekend in Dallas last February.

“If they’re gonna pay players to perform and this that and the other, then do it,” Bryant said. “It’s not on us.”

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com