Tag:Hornets
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: October 1, 2011 7:17 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 9:17 pm
 

Stern: 'We're closer than we were before'

NEW YORK -- After nearly eight hours of bargaining Saturday, negotiators for the NBA and its players association broke for the weekend -- still with no agreement and no regular season games lost, but "closer" to a compromise on system issues, commissioner David Stern said.

At the suggestion of National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter, the two sides "decoupled" the issues of the split of revenues and the system that would go with it, attempting to "break down the mountain into separate pieces," NBPA Derek Fisher said. The two sides exchanged proposals "back and forth," players' committee member Maurice Evans said, and agreed to meet again Monday in a small group with only the top negotiators and attorneys and Tuesday with the full bargaining committees.

"We're not near anything," Stern said. "But wherever that is, we're closer than we were before."

Hunter characterized the two sides as being "miles apart" even on the system issues that separate them as the owners and league negotiators try to incorporate system changes they feel "entitled to," Hunter said, by virtue of dropping their insistence on a hard team salary cap. Stern said no announcement regarding further preseason games being canceled would be made Monday, but warned that it's "day by day" after that.

Stern did not answer a direct question about when regular season games would have to be canceled, saying, "Stay tuned."

"I don't know whether the 11th hour is Tuesday or not," Hunter said. "... Time is moving in that direction."

The "modest movement" on system issues that one person in the negotiating room described to CBSSports.com came only after the two sides, at Hunter's suggestion, agreed to separate the division of basketball-related income (BRI) from the system issues such as the cap, contract length, nature of exceptions and luxury tax. The decision to tackle the two major sticking points in the negotiations separately came after players threatened to walk out of the bargaining session Friday upon learning that the owners have not moved off of their standing economic proposal that would give the players a 46 percent share of BRI -- down from the 57 percent they received under the agreement that expired July 1.

"We're very far apart in BRI and made no progress in that," NBPA lawyer Jeffrey Kessler said. "So we tried to see if we could make any progress in something else."

Of course, the system changes each side would be willing to tolerate in a finished agreement would be inextricably linked to the split of revenues. According to a person briefed on the negotiations, the players would be willing to accept more system restrictions if they achieved a BRI share of 53 percent, but there is no chance they would accept what the owners are proposing at their current offer of 46 percent or modestly more than that.

For example, at 53 percent there would be a willingness on the players' part to discuss modifications to the mid-level exception, eliminating base-year compensation and other restrictions such as the owners' proposed luxury-tax system, which in its current form would charge a tax of $1-$4 depending on how far over the tax a team spent. The owners have proposed reducing the starting mid-level salary at $3 million, while the players have signaled a willingness to negotiate down to $5 million from last season's level of $5.8 million.

In addition to BRI and system issues, the other key piece of the puzzle is the owners' revised revenue sharing system, which Stern has said would triple and then quadruple the existing pool of $60 million. On Saturday, Hunter called the owners' revenue-sharing plan "insignificant." Sources say it isn't just the amount of revenue sharing, but the timing of its implementation, that is holding up that part of the deal.

Under the owners' revenue-sharing proposal, the Lakers would contribute about $50 million and the Knicks $30 million toward an initial pool of $150 million, sources said. There is reluctance, according to one of the people familiar with the talks, on the part of small-market teams to increase the players' share of BRI to beyond 50 percent without a stronger commitment from the big-market teams to share more -- and to share more quickly in the first year of the deal. Some big-market owners are pushing for a more gradual phase-in of their increased sharing responsibilities and are reluctant to take the hit this coming season, one of the people with knowledge of the talks said.

Given the sheer numbers of issues and the distance between the sides, Hunter said, "It's a pretty wide gulf that we're dealing with."

But make no mistake: While the two sides remain entrenched on economics and don't see eye-to-eye on system, either, the work of building an agreement from the ground up -- piece-by-piece through a system both can agree on -- and then backing into the economic split is the only way this is going to get done in time to preserve regular season basketball.

"We weren't going to be able to make major, sweeping progress on the entire economics and the system at the same time," Fisher said. "We felt that maybe if we split them up and try to go at them one at a time ... we can at least get some momentum and some progress going."

The passion and emotion that were exhibited Friday were replaced by a "mellow" astmosphere on Saturday, according to Hunter. This was partly due to the negotiating process being focused on specific system issues as opposed to being more "rambling," as deputy commissioner Adam Silver said, and hinged on avoiding -- for the time being -- the most difficult problem facing the negotiators: how much of the league's $4 billion each side gets.

In addressing the passion that erupted early in Friday's session attended by superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and others, Stern acknowledged a "heated exchange" with Wade. Without addressing the specifics of how Wade took exception to Stern's pointing and lecturing, Stern said, "I feel passionately about the system that we have and what it has delivered and what it should continue to deliver for the players and the owners. And he feels passionately, too. And I think that if anyone should step up on that, it’s my job, on behalf of the owners, to make the points that need to be made."

The stars were mostly absent Saturday, with LeBron, Wade and Melo heading to North Carolina to play in committee member Chris Paul's charity game. Among the players joining Fisher and committee members Evans, Roger Mason, Theo Ratliff and Matt Bonner on Saturday were Paul Pierce, Baron Davis, Arron Afflalo and Ben Gordon. The owners' committee was the same as it was Friday -- i.e. no Mark Cuban or Wyc Grousbeck -- with James Dolan leaving early to join the NHL's Rangers on an overseas trip.

Silver singled out Pierce in particular for being vocal in the bargaining sessions, and joked, "You have have heard Dwyane Wade had a few things to say in the meeting. ... The owners certainly heard the passion from the players and right back at them from the owners."

So what happens next? In a perfect world, the small groups of top negotiators are able to tailor the issues discussed the past two days into the framework of a system each side can agree to. Then, as Hunter said, it has to be "linked up again" with the split of revenues. To get all owners on the same page, the sharing of that revenue has to be addressed, too. In the absence of significant progress by Tuesday, the league will have to cancel another week or the remainder of the preseason schedule. Regular season games wouldn't be far behind.

But if a deal is going to get done to avoid all that, this is the only way to do it: divide the mountain of problems up and tackle each one separately. The stakes only get bigger, and the positions more entrenched after the next five days. The mountain gets bigger.

"The window is now to get a deal," one front office executive said. 

And if not now? Brace yourselves.


Posted on: September 30, 2011 8:56 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 12:31 pm
 

Star power stirs up NBA talks

NEW YORK -- Flanked by some of the biggest stars in the game, players' association president Derek Fisher stood in a ballroom at a Park Avenue hotel Friday and declared that the willingness to reach a new collective bargaining agreement is there on both sides.

Next will have to come the movement, the tipping point that pushes the negotiations to the point of compromise. And that point did not come Friday, when stars like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen got to see for themselves what the owners are asking of them as they seek a system that gives all 30 teams an opportunity to compete and be profitable.

After some initial ugliness -- a person familiar with what happened in the negotiating room told CBSSports.com that some players were initially infuriated by how little the owners' stance has changed -- the bargaining session took on a tone of cooperation that signaled to some players that a deal was within reach.

UPDATE: But not before it appeared that Friday's bargaining session would be short-lived, and that there wouldn't be any more talking this weekend.

According to a person familiar with the negotiations, the owners and players met initially at about 2 p.m. ET and broke up to discuss the situation privately among themselves. The players, furious at seeing first hand the owners' offer of 46 percent of basketball-related income (BRI) -- down from their previous level of 57 percent -- were unanimous about what to do.

"Let's go," one of the players said, according to a source. "There's no reason to go back in there."

The players decided to return to the bargaining room with a much smaller group. Among those joining Fisher for the second session were James, Wade, Anthony, Kevin Durant, Baron Davis and committee member Chris Paul. None of the players joining Fisher sat down during this portion of the talks, a person with knowledge of the meetings said.

It was at this point that Wade took exception to commissioner David Stern's tone and gesturing -- the commissioner evidently was pointing his finger while speaking to the players -- and "stood up for himself," a person with knowledge of the meeting said. According to two people familiar with the incident, Wade warned Stern not to point his finger and made reference to not being a child.

Several versions of the quote were reported. According to a witness, Wade's tone was not threatening. But the upshot was clear: This was a potentially galvanizing moment for the players, who finally got the kind of star participation -- and leadership -- that they've lacked at key moments in these talks. In Wade, the players have found their Michael Jordan circa 1999, when the Bulls star famously told the late Wizards owner Abe Pollin to sell his team if he couldn't afford to run it.

After the confrontation, union chief Billy Hunter and Stern met privately, seeking a way to calm nerves and preserve the rest of the negotiations. Hunter, according to the person with knowledge of the talks, convinced the players to go back in -- selling them on the idea that the negotiating process had to be respected and telling them that the two sides would switch from the split of basketball-related income (BRI) to system issues.

It was after session that began at 6 p.m. and ran for about an hour that the two sides agreed to return to the bargaining table Saturday. The takeaway for the players, sources said, was the definite impression that the owners want to have a season.

"I don’t think it was a sense of now or never, but I think there was definitely a sense of, 'It’s time to stop throwing ideas around and let’s actually work towards making these ideas happen,'" said the Heat's Udonis Haslem, attending his first bargaining session. "I heard enough to really believe in my heart that both sides will work tirelessly to find a middle ground. I don’t know if that will happen."

Indeed, both sides tamped down expectations that a deal had to be achieved by the end of the weekend to prevent cancellation of some -- and perhaps all -- regular season games. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver said, "There are a lot of issues on the table," and questioned whether a deal could be consummated by Sunday strictly from the standpoint of "the number of hours in the day."

The rhetoric about the entire season being in jeopardy if a deal wasn't reached this weekend was "ludicrous," Stern said Friday -- just two days after pointing out that there would be "enormous consequences" from a lack of progress and that they "won't be a question of just starting the season on time."

The two sides will meet again Saturday morning with nearly the full committee of owners and multiple players on hand in addition to the NBPA's executive committee.

Joining the big stars with Fisher, Hunter, and several committee members in the union's post-meeting news conference were Davis, Elton Brand, Ben Gordon, Andre Iguodala, and others as Fisher challenged those who've questioned the involvement of the game's biggest names in the bargaining process.

"Some of our guys have been questioned in terms of their commitment to this process, to the players' association and to the game," Fisher said. "Their presence here today, we all know for picture’s sake says a lot. These guys have always been with us."

James, Wade and Anthony abruptly left the news conference without speaking with reporters, climbing together into an idling SUV waiting for them outside the hotel.

But their presence, without question, was felt in the bargaining room. According to two people involved in the talks, several owners who typically are the most boistrous in the meetings -- including Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and Suns owner Robert Sarver -- were noticably subdued. "Much tamer," said one of the sources. "They know it's time."

The owners were represented by nine of their 11 committee members, with Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban absent. Heat owner Micky Arison, facing the potential destruction of his Big Three (two of them being in the room), was the only owner not on the committee who attended.

The only progress described by anyone Friday (other than the fact that they'll meet again Saturday) was the state of the owners' revenue sharing plans. Stern revealed for the first time that the league is prepared to triple the current revenue sharing pool in the first two years and quadruple it starting in the third year.

But even that issue is clouded in big-market, small-market politics and the issue of when the high-revenue teams will begin to substantially increase their sharing. According to two people familiar with the owners' revenue sharing plans, the Lakers and Knicks would be called upon to pay the lion's share -- with the Lakers paying roughly $50 million and the Knicks $30 million -- into the new pool. But some big-market teams are increasingly reluctant to share their growing local TV revenues; the Lakers, for example, recently signed a 20-year, $3 billion deal with Time Warner that dwarfs some teams' total revenue.

Stern said Friday the players "know precisely" what the owners' revenue sharing plan will look like.

"They know as much as we know," Stern said. "We’ve told them about generally how it’s going to work. We haven't given them a piece of paper, but that will not be the issue that separates us."

So what happens now? After the cleansing process of stars voicing their opinions, threatening to walk out and calling out Stern in front of his owners, the time comes now for smaller groups, cooler heads and compromise. It is the only thing we know at this point about these talks: Both sides want a deal. Both sides want to play.

Both sides have room to move on the economics, too. The owners will quickly lose their appetite for certain non-negotiable system changes once they realize that addressing their losses is within reach. And the players will prove to be willing to negotiate on certain key system points -- such as a modest reduction in the mid-level exception and a more punitive tax system -- once they get the anticipated economic move from the owners.

The owners having witnessed the star players' resolve, and the players having witnessed the owners' willingness to make a deal, won't hurt. Because there will have to be a deal eventually, so why not soon? Why not now? Because, as one source offered, it would be "crazy not to."

And he might as well have been speaking for both sides.



Posted on: August 5, 2011 4:22 pm
 

Sadly, it's players behaving badly

This was all working out so well for the players. Deron Williams said hasta la vista to the lockout and took his talents to Turkey. Kevin Durant lit up Rucker Park with 66 points. Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony went to China and supposedly came back with lucrative offers for themselves and all their pals.

Or not.

To this point, no superstar has followed D-Will to Turkey or anywhere else. There are complications with these supposedly lucrative offers in China. And oh, we now bring you the widely anticipated and sadly inevitable news of Michael Beasley shoving a fan in the face and Matt Barnes punching an opponent during pro-am games on either coast.

We don't even want to get into the escapades of three former NBA players in the news this week -- Darius Miles, who was arrested for trying to bring a loaded gun through airport security, Rafer Alston, who was sued over his alleged role in a strip club fight, and Samaki Walker, who allegedly tried to dine on eight grams of marijuana during a traffic stop in Arizona, during which police also confiscated prescription drugs and liquid steroids.

Guns, strip clubs and weed -- the trifecta of ammunition for those quick to stereotype NBA players as outlaws, lawbreakers and menaces to society. Great job, guys.

It’s a lockout, so NBA players must be behaving badly. And they are.

I’ve written previously on my disappointment that the stars with all the clout aren’t speaking up for the union in the ongoing labor dispute, preferring instead to stay quiet and tend to their own affairs. The latest flare-up from the NBPA’s knucklehead contingent is proof why union officials disagreed with my premise all along. Simply put, they were happy that the players, by and large, had been conducting themselves professionally during the lockout and not stepping out of line – a la Kenny Anderson, who turned the public on the players when he lamented having to sell some of his luxury cars during the 1998-99 lockout.

The union, it appears, will give up a few sound-byte points to David Stern so long as it can avoid the Kenny Anderson moment. Except now, they have the Michael Beasley moment and the Matt Barnes moment.

The NBA has gone to great lengths in recent years to curtail on-court behavior, clamping down on gesturing, complaining to officials, and the like. But no such rules were in effect at New York City’s Dyckman Park, where Beasley “mushed” the face of a heckler Thursday night. Nor were they in effect at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco, where Barnes punched an opponent in a pro-am game on the very same night.

Such offenses in an NBA game would’ve earned an ejection, a hefty fine and a pointed rebuke from Stern. But the commissioner has no authority over the players now except in how he nonchalantly eviscerated all their bargaining positions with a smile on ESPN Tuesday night.

“They’re not serious about making a deal with the NBA,” Stern said, with no on-air response from any union representative. “They’re so busy talking about their decertification strategy, following the lead of their attorney, Jeffrey Kessler who did it for the NFL players, and engaging in conversations with agents about it and talking about it constantly, that we think that is distracting them from getting serious and making a deal.”

And now, some players are busy slugging playground wannabes and “mushing” the faces of hecklers from coast to coast, failing to realize that everyone in attendance has a phone capable of recording video and uploading it YouTube for all the world to see. Big difference from the last lockout, when we only got to read about a fraction of the follies the next day in the newspaper.

Making matters worse, just when it seemed that the players had a Kenny Anderson moment to pin on Stern – his bloated salary, which was reported to be between $15 million and $23 million – well, never mind. The Associated Press weighed in, citing multiple league sources who said Stern makes less than baseball commissioner Bud Selig ($18 million) and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ($11 million). A person with knowledge of the activities of the NBA’s advisory/finance committee – a group of 11 owners who set Stern’s salary – confirmed to CBSSports.com that $10 million or less was “in the ballpark.”

So to sum up, the best strategy the players have against the owners is to walk a straight line (except, now some of them are not) and the threat of stars going overseas (except only one star has done so). And even if more follow – even if 20 more follow – where does that leave the other 400 players? To stay home and receive weekly updates from NBPA president Derek Fisher about how the owners still haven’t moved off their “my-way-or-the-highway” proposal – or to go out and play for free in some exhibition game, where one union member or another might just have to slug somebody?

It’s a tough act to follow, but several star players will try. Even if a dozen or more of them get lucrative deals in China or somewhere else for $1 million a month, that’s still a small fraction of their NBA salaries. Don’t you think Jerry Buss would jump at the chance to pay Kobe Bryant $1 million a month? That’s a hefty discount off his NBA haul of $25 million a year.

How is all of this intertwined? Everything is intertwined during a lockout, and must be viewed through the prism of whether it helps or hurts the players’ bargaining position. Going off on a heckler or opponent at some exhibition game does not qualify as helpful. Except to the traffic on YouTube.
Posted on: June 17, 2011 8:02 pm
Edited on: June 18, 2011 12:28 am
 

Stern: Tuesday is turning point in labor talks

NEW YORK – NBA commissioner David Stern declared Friday that an unofficial drop-dead date is looming next week in the accelerating negotiations to prevent a lockout.

“Tuesday is a very important day in these negotiations,” Stern said after emerging from a 4 1-2 hour bargaining session in which progress was in the eyes of the proposer.

Stern touted what he described as a “very significant” concession that was proposed Friday in which owners backed off their insistence on eliminating fully guaranteed contracts. The players, however, did not view this as a major step forward in the negotiations, saying the owners remain entrenched in their position to slash player salaries by as much as $700 million annually – and that owners have the ability under the current system to offer contracts that are less than fully guaranteed.

“They moved to giving us back guaranteed contracts, which we already had,” said Wizards guard Maurice Evans, a member of the players’ executive committee. “That’s not a move. How can you call that a move?”

However the latest twists and turns are viewed by either side, Stern left no doubt that an expanded bargaining session scheduled for Tuesday in New York – featuring a larger contingent of owners and players, and also player agents, who will be key to signing off on any deal – would be crucial to determining whether there is enough momentum to complete a new labor deal before the current one expires on June 30.

“I really think that the time to have an optimistic or pessimistic view is at the close of the day on Tuesday,” Stern said.

At the end of a nearly 20-minute briefing with reporters Tuesday night in a conference room of the Omni Berkshire Hotel, Stern answered “yes” when asked if a breakthrough was needed Tuesday to assure there would be enough time to get a deal done. The key sticking points remain the negotiated split of revenues that would be paid to the players and the system by which the money would be delivered – a hard cap, which the owners remain insistent upon, or a soft-cap system that more closely resembles the rules already in place.

“If we made a big breakthrough on one or the other, we would have such positive momentum that we could, I think, look forward to a faster track than we’ve been dealing with,” Stern said.

In addition to Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter and legal staff from both sides, Friday’s bargaining session included nine members of the owners’ labor relations committee, the players’ executive committee (including Hornets star Chris Paul), as well as Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, Bucks guard John Salmons, and Timberwolves guard Sebastian Telfair.

“I would say we’re not on the same page right now, but there’s some good conversation going on,” Anthony said. “Both sides are trying to come to an agreement.”

The logistics surrounding Tuesday’s bargaining session in New York leaves little doubt that it will be a turning point in a process that formally began with the owners’ initial proposal in January 2010, just prior to All-Star weekend in Dallas. League executives will be in New York for Thursday night’s draft, and dozens of players will be in the city for the NBPA’s annual meeting. Stern hinted that if enough progress were made Tuesday, the session could be extended by several days – perhaps even into the weekend – as the clock continues to wind down toward the June 30 deadline to avoid a lockout.

“Even though the clock is ticking and the runway is shortening, we think that it’s worth our time and effort to go back to our individual offices and do a lot of crunching of numbers and ideas and to return on Tuesday,” Stern said. “… We're hoping that we will receive from them a proposal directed to the economics.”

As a matter of timing and logistics, Silver announced that the league would be canceling Las Vegas Summer League this weekend – though the move is not meant to send any signals to the players.

“It was purely a function of the calendar and drop-dead dates with hotels and the arena,” Silver said.

Stern said the owners’ decision to back off their insistence on eliminating fully guaranteed contracts as part of the 10-year deal they’ve proposed was in response to a presentation from the players and their attorney, Jeffrey Kessler, about their insistence on protecting such guarantees.

“Of all the issues, the guarantee is one that is very, very important to individual players,” Stern said, describing what was conveyed to the owners and their lead negotiators during the presentation.

This must have been music to the owners’ ears, because their priority from the beginning has been to reduce player salaries by at least one-third. The method of delivery – via a hard cap with shorter and less guaranteed contracts – would seem to be a secondary issue to the overall dollars. Based on the players’ current 57 percent share of revenues, they would go from $2.1 billion to $1.35 billion under the owners’ original proposal – the basic structure of which remains in place, according to multiple sources familiar with the negotiations. That’s a reduction of about $750 million annually, regardless of whether the money is guaranteed or not.

“It’s not as big a move as it would have been if the hard cap was not linked to it,” Kessler said of the owners’ revised stance on guarantees. “That really undermines, from the players’ standpoint, what it means. … They didn’t move on hard cap, that’s for sure.”

Said Evans: "We’re far apart. They’re still negotiating from their proposal from two years ago, and we’re negotiating from the current system we have."

But Stern disputed the notion that the owners have not moved from their original demands on salary reductions, though he declined to get into specifics. And sources said the owners expressed for the first time Friday a willingness to discuss with the players how they would be paid in the “out years” of their proposal – meaning the seven years after a three-year transition period owners have proposed to soften the blow of these drastic cuts.

“There’s been considerably more movement from our first proposal than you understand,” Stern told reporters.

In addition, Silver said the players made a move in their position Friday in terms of how much of basketball-related income (BRI) they would be paid under a new agreement. But he added, “Even they would characterize (the move) as having been very small.”

Part of the problem for the players, aside from how much of a pay cut they are willing to accept, is computing how the new structure would work out for them if revenues rise, as the NBA is predicting they will. When the two sides reconvene next week, the apparent willingness on the owners’ part to negotiate how rising revenues would affect player salaries in the final years of the deal could represent a far more significant development than their decision to back off on the idea of eliminating guarantees.

For example, owners could incentivize the players to accept a revised computation of BRI that increases the players’ share as revenues increase. But the owners’ projections of rising revenues are based on rules that have never been in place, making it difficult for the players to trust the projections.

“We can’t talk about one part in a vacuum because it impacts the entire system,” NBPA president Derek Fisher said of the owners’ reversal on banning fully guaranteed contracts. “We haven’t been, or at this point are inclined to say whether that’s a huge thing. Because without other things, it doesn’t mean much.”

How much is at stake next week? If you liken the negotiation to a million-piece jigsaw puzzle, all parties involved admitted that two or three key pieces need to be in place by the end of the day Tuesday.

“One piece controls several hundred thousand pieces,” Fisher said. “So essentially, we could put together a million-piece puzzle in a very short time if we can get two or three pieces in the right place. And that’s what we're focused on doing.”
Posted on: June 6, 2011 10:22 pm
Edited on: June 7, 2011 2:10 am
 

Jackson finally gets his chance

DALLAS – Joe Lacob proved himself to be an out-of-the-box thinker when he hired high-profile agent Bob Myers to join his front office. Really, he showed himself to be an outside-the-box thinker by buying the Warriors in the first place.

But Lacob truly put his stamp on the franchise Monday with the hiring of Mark Jackson, putting a young, evolving roster in the hands of a first-time head coach.

Jackson, a 17-year veteran as a player but never so much as an assistant coach, agreed Monday to a three-year deal for approximately $6 million, sources familiar with the deal told CBSSports.com. The contract has a team option for a fourth season.

Going from the broadcast table to the first seat on the sideline will be a challenge for Jackson, who finally gets the chance to prove that he is more than a dynamic voice. Jackson, 46, has been in the mix for numerous head coaching jobs over the years, but it took a creative management team of Lacob, Myers and GM Larry Riley to take a chance that there are coaching chops behind Jackson’s commanding presence.

“It was the right time and the right place to give him a shot,” a person close to Jackson said.

Lacob also met personally with former Nets coach Lawrence Frank, Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer, and Hornets assistant Michael Malone, but may have been leaning toward Jackson throughout the interview process, sources said. Golden State’s new brain trust kept the decision under wraps until it was announced by the team Monday evening. Even those with close ties to Jackson believed that Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey would be meeting with Lacob after the NBA Finals. Casey, himself, believed that as late as Monday morning, sources said.

UPDATE: The Warriors immediately targeted Malone to be Jackson’s lead assistant, and the former Cavaliers assistant agreed to a three-year deal Monday night, sources confirmed to CBSSports.com. Malone, who worked for Mike Brown in Cleveland, had interviewed earlier Monday in Los Angeles for the lead assistant position on Brown's staff with the Lakers. But Golden State's offer will put Malone among the upper echelon for assistants in the NBA as far a pay sources said. Former Pistons coach John Kuester, another Brown assistant from the Cleveland days, also is in the mix to join his staff with the Lakers.

Perhaps moving things forward with Jackson was the fact that the Pistons had expressed interest in interviewing him for their head coaching vacancy.

Several names have emerged as candidates for Jackson as he begins to put together his first coaching staff. Included in the list of possible assistants are former Rockets assistants Jack Sikma and Elston Turner; Kings assistant Mario Elie; and Jerry Sichting, who was on Keith Smart’s staff in Golden State.
Posted on: June 5, 2011 7:07 pm
 

Woodson, Sampson on list of Pistons candidates

DALLAS – Pistons management huddled Sunday to begin formulating a list of candidates to replace John Kuester as head coach, with defensive-minded coaches possessing experience and/or a commanding presence dominating the early discussions.

Pistons president Joe Dumars and his basketball staff have a preliminary list of candidates including former Hawks coach Mike Woodson, Mavs assistant Dwane Casey, former Nets coach Lawrence Frank, Bucks assistant Kelvin Sampson, and ABC/ESPN broadcaster Mark Jackson, league sources told CBSSports.com. Former Pistons star Bill Laimbeer also is expected to receive consideration, as is Hornets assistant Michael Malone.

Malone, who worked with Kuester on Mike Brown’s staff in Cleveland, is a finalist for the Golden State head coaching position and also is in the mix to join Brown’s staff with the Lakers. Kuester, who ran the offense for Brown in Cleveland, also is expected to speak with his former boss about joining him in L.A.

Sampson’s push for a head coaching position is gaining momentum due to his expertise on the defensive side of the ball. The former Indiana University coach also has the presence and fiery personality the Pistons are seeking. Sampson’s name also has been linked to the Timberwolves, who have yet to decide Kurt Rambis’ future. Sampson also would be a logical fit for the Knicks, who are seeking a defensive assistant to add to Mike D’Antoni’s staff -- though it is uncertain whether the Bucks would permit him to leave for a lateral move.

Dumars said Sunday there is no timetable for the search, and teams are proving to be slow on the trigger with firings and hirings due to the possibility of a lockout.
Posted on: June 3, 2011 12:35 pm
Edited on: June 3, 2011 7:38 pm
 

Walsh's departure means dark days back for Knicks

Donnie Walsh came to New York determined to restore honor to the Knicks and steer them off a decade-long path of destruction toward one with the promise of success.

He will not get to finish the job. The theater of the absurd that is Madison Square Garden swallowed up one of the gentlemen of the sport Friday, sent one of the most respected basketball men in history fleeing for the exits.

The news Friday that Walsh will step down from his post as team president when his contract expires June 30 is a devastating blow to the franchise that he nearly singlehandedly resurrected. Gone is the man who cleared nearly $30 million in cap space, built a foundation around two superstar players, invited legends from the past back under the spotlight of the Garden, and gave Knicks fans hope that the days of dysfunction were over.

The story behind Walsh’s quiet negotiations for a new contract in recent months made Friday’s news all the more disturbing. Walsh, 70, was not seeking multiple years or millions at this stage of his basketball life. He was seeking autonomy over basketball decisions – the same autonomy that Garden chairman James Dolan publicly promised he would have when he was introduced in the spring of 2008 as the man who would save the Knicks from themselves.

"The more we talked about it, the more I realized I didn't want a multi-year deal," Walsh said. "I can understand why he'd want that. I just realized I probably wasn't the guy to go forward with."

As recently as midweek, sources said Walsh's situation was either going to result in a two-year extension -- possibly with a team option for a third year -- or Walsh moving back to Indiana, though not necessarily retiring. Dolan’s statement Friday described Walsh’s decision to leave as mutual, while Walsh said he had lost the "energy" required to do the job.

Walsh will stay on as a consultant and head up the search for his replacement, which immediately could focus on the two best candidates not tied to teams: former Trail Blazers executive Kevin Pritchard and former Hornets GM Jeff Bower. Former Cavs GM and current Spurs executive Danny Ferry also is expected to be considered, and a name to watch is Timberwolves assistant GM Tony Ronzone, whose strong international presence and close relationships with the stars of Team USA could be appealing to Dolan. Ronzone also has a working relationship with Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni through USA Basketball. D'Antoni has one year left on his contract.

Former Nuggets GM Mark Warkentien, whose consulting contract with the Knicks expires June 30, has to be considered a viable candidate.

Besides who will replace Walsh, the key issue hovering over this stunning development is what assurances he was seeking that he didn’t receive. Money was "never a big issue" for Walsh in the months-long discussions about his future, said a person familiar with the negotiations. In fact, despite widespread reports that Dolan insisted on a 40 percent pay cut for Walsh, the person familiar with the matter said it was Walsh who volunteered to take a substantial pay cut next season in anticipation of a lockout. His concern, the person said, was making sure the rest of the front-office staff -- whose contracts also expire June 30 -- would be taken care of during the work stoppage. Glen Grunwald, the senior vice president of basketball operations, will stay with the team as interim GM during the search for Walsh's replacement.

Throughout Walsh’s discussions with Dolan about his future, it was clear from multiple sources with knowledge of the talks that Walsh would not stay with the Knicks if A) he would not have final say over basketball decisions, or B) there was a chance he could be overruled by the Garden’s many agenda-driven outside influences. The most sinister of those was former team president Isiah Thomas, who remains in close communication with Dolan and in the MSG chairman’s circle of trust – despite running the franchise into the ground and turning the Knicks into a league-wide embarrassment.

“They were a joke for six years,” a rival team executive said Friday. “What Donnie has done for that organization, you’ve got to be kidding me. Come on. The whole world has paid attention to basketball in New York because of the guy – in a positive way.”

Thomas, whose attempted hiring as a consultant by Dolan last summer was nixed by league rules forbidding an NCAA coach to serve in such a role, is not coming back to run the Knicks, sources maintain. But he continues to have Dolan's ear, not to mention the desire to return to the Garden. And while Walsh dismissed the notion that Thomas had anything to do with his decision to leave, the idea of Thomas back-channeling decisions with Dolan would not be palatable to any executive of Walsh's experience and track record.

"The whole thing was going to come down to whether he was going to have autonomy," said a person with knowledge of the discussions. "That’s what this was about."

Walsh's replacement faces the challenging task of adding pieces to complement Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, the two stars Walsh landed with the cap space he spent 2 1-2 years demolishing. But Stoudemire and Anthony will combine to make $36.7 million next season; add Chauncey Billups' $14.2 million, and that figure rises to $50.9 million for three players. That's more than Miami's Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are scheduled to make next season, leaving the Knicks the ability to add only minimum-salaried players or those who'd except the mid-level exception -- if there is such a thing in the new collective bargaining agreement. And with the haul of assets Walsh had to give up to land Anthony, the Knicks have few short-term assets to offer in trades aimed at filling their needs for a defensive-minded big man, elite shooting guard, and eventual replacement at point guard for Billups.

That predicament, viewed through the prism of Walsh's departure, only fuels speculation that Dolan hijacked the Anthony trade talks and ordered Walsh to make a trade he didn't want to make -- not at that price, anyway. Walsh again deflected that notion Friday, but a person with knowledge of the trade talks between New York and Denver said Dolan played a prominent role in the deal.

"Donnie had a good hold of it, but I think Dolan had the intentions," the person said. "Dolan wanted Melo at all costs. It was 100 percent Dolan who was the one with an all-costs Melo type thing. And Donnie was saying, 'This would be a good trade, but let’s do it the right way."

He did everything the right way in three years rebuilding the Knicks, a job that now goes to someone else to finish.
 
 
 
 
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