Posted on: September 8, 2011 12:24 pm

Report: J.R.Smith nearing biggest China deal ever

By Matt Moore

Let's get right to the heart of the matter regarding J.R. Smith's Chinese prospects. From Yahoo Sports:
Denver Nuggets free-agent guard J.R. Smith(notes) is nearing an agreement on the richest contract in China Basketball Association history, sources told Yahoo! Sports.

Under terms of the deal, Smith would make more than $3 million to play the 2011-12 season with Shanxi, but lose his chance at unrestricted free agency prior to the start of the NBA season. Smith, who turns 26 Friday, has averaged 12.5 points per game in his seven-year NBA career.
via Smith nears deal to play in China - NBA - Yahoo! Sports.

Smith would be the second Nugget free agent to sign in China following Wilson Chandler. It also makes a pretty good amount of sense considering Smith's outlook. This expands his popularity, makes him quite a bit of money, and keeps him in the lifestyle he's becom accustomed to. 

There is, of course, the talk of how the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association, not the Collective Bargaining Agreement; yes, that's right, Smith is signing with the CBA because there isn't a CBA) passed a rule which prohibits teams from granting an NBA opt-out clause in contracts. The rule was made to avoid the CBA looking like a player's backup option, only to be tossed aside when the season starts. The overwhelming popularity this could bring the CBA is of course overlooked, because it's an ideological position, one which should have no place in business. (Hey, kind of like the arguments on both sides of the lockout!)

But there are those who think that the Chinese teams will get around this simply by having an under the table agreement to release the player in the event of a lockout resolution. Consider this. The CBA season begins on November 20th and runs through March. If the NBA started in January as many have predicted or February as was the case in the 1999 lockout, Smith would have made up to $1.5 million for two to three months of work, then get "released" for whatever reason the team wants to invent, at which point Smith signs his new lucrative free agency contract, including a prorated amount for the lockout. 

Pretty savvy for Mr. Smith. We'll see if he signs, and if he does, if he stays.  If he does stay, there will be disappointed Nuggets and Bulls fans, both who want Smith on roster next season. 
Posted on: September 8, 2011 9:48 am
Edited on: September 8, 2011 9:51 am

Multiple signs of progress in NBA lockout talks

By Matt Moore

This thing has turned so quickly I'm getting motion sickness. In the past 24 hours we've gone from "Well, see you in 2013!" to a complete and total 180 degree turn as everyone rushes to be as optimistic as possible. It's one thing for there to be signs of progress from the meetings. It's another for everyone outside the core group to start lining up movement towards not only a resolution, but an end to the NBA Lockout on time

Let's begin with word from Ken Berger of CBSSports.com:
Among the small circle of figures speaking publicly on the talks, all have adopted the talking point first espoused by commissioner David Stern back in June -- that nothing has been agreed on until everything has been agreed on. To the optimistic mind, this would suggest that some things have been agreed on and nobody's saying so. When queried on whether the Aug. 31 meeting and this week's sudden flurry of talks indicate momentum, NBPA president Derek Fisher admitted, "I guess that would be a fair assumption. But like I said, until we get this deal done, it's tough to try to characterize it or put a read on what means what in terms of on a daily basis."

Until we get this deal done? That shift away from emphasizing the distance between the parties and the efforts to "get this deal done" would seem to indicate that there is a deal to get done. Fisher, whose speech patterns are at once precise and difficult to interpret, also spoke of getting the deal done as though it were a matter of when, not if..
via Hush-hush labor meeting means there might be progress - NBA - CBSSports.com Basketball.

There's loads of good news in there, including talk of not talking, which is the best kind of talk. I understand that makes no sense, so let me break it down. Both sides are much more likely to torch the other if things are going badly. There's no fragile progress to harm. On the flip side, this move to not talk about how the meetings are going indicates that there's something they either don't want to harm with criticism or don't want to jeopardize by weakening their respective positions just as things are starting to move forward. If the owners hadn't moved at all, or the players hadn't moved at all, you'd be seeing lots of negative comments from anyone you could find. As of yet, there's nothing but "We've agreed not to talk about it." In this instance, no news is good news. 

A good litmus test for how this is actually going will be the reaction of agents. In the past few days there have been multiple stories alleging a critical stance of Billy Hunter on the part of agents, which means that agents are freely talking to media about how angry they are Hunter didn't come out firing with decertification and a full-blown legal assault. The players' representatives have been volatile throughout this process, either out of a concern for their clients' well-being and looking to be aggressive or out of a sense of self-preservation, wanting to fight and scrap and claw for every penny, particularly every future penny as opposed to next year's rake. If you begin to read tales of agents talking about how none of this matters, Hunter's still going to have vipers in the den. If all's quiet or if agents start to leak talk ofa season starting, that means the players may have nailed down a concession or two. 

But even in the fresh morning dew of Wednesday's talk of progress, we're getting indications that things are headed in a positive direction. Consider the words of Amar'e Stoudemire in the New York Post:
Stoudemire said the lockout will end "sooner than later." He has arranged a mid-October informal training camp for his mates in Bradenton, Fla., but now isnt sure theyll need it. Training camps are scheduled for Oct. 2."I'm hearing good things about the lockout, that wed be starting sooner than later," Stoudemire said.

"So that [Florida camp] would be offset. Im not sure the change [in negotiating stance], but I do feel better about the fact we may start sooner than later. Thats a positive for us."
via Knicks Stoudemire says NBA lockout will end sooner than later - NYPOST.com. 

Well, then. Way to keep things close to the vest, there, STAT. Stoudemire being a star who's plugged into the talks (as he stays in close contact with Roger Mason, players' union executive and alleged accidental tweeter) talking positively could indicate substantial progress, since he's a player who stands to lose quite a bit in a rollback of the contract he earned last summer. Then again, it's unlikely he'd be notified of anything concrete about proposals being exchanged, if indeed they are. 

Then there's Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sentinel, who was asked in a mailbag if he thought an agreement would come this week. While he, along with everyone else, thinks that's going too far, his answer was certainly interesting.
That might be a bit premature. Everything in this process has come down to urgency and deadline. But I do sense that teams, behind the scenes, are putting more energy into organizing camps for a timely start.
via ASK IRA: Could the lockout be drawing to a close? – Miami Heat – Sun-Sentinel. 

Teams starting to show any sort of indication that camp could start on time is signficant for several reasons. It would mean that someone is telling them to start making plans in the event the dispute is resolved in time for the season to start. It would mean that they have cause to put effort into such an idea. And it would mean there's more than just talk involved in the progress, that there's actionable progress being made. 

All of these things are good things for the league, for the players, for the fans.

To quote "Death Becomes Her," "And now, a warning."

 These meetings take on the shape of the last meeting. There are meetings scheduled Thursday and potentially Friday for the tiny group that's made all this progress. If both sides are operating under an assumption regarding something from the other side that comes to light as inaccurate during talks this week, everything hits the breaks and you'll hear the same negativity we've been hearing. All it takes is one snag and we're going to be reading a line in an NBA-less November story about how "talks in early September broke down because..." There's a fragile peace that's allowing this to go forward. If the NLRB levies a pro-players decision, if the insurgent ownership pushing to lose the season to win everything they want regain control of the reins, if someone sneezes in an offensive way, everything goes back. More pressingly, if the agents make another surge towards toppling Hunter, players could follow along and then you've got chaos, which would prevent a deal. I just don't want anyone getting their hopes up. There's no indication of how far apart the two sides are, or if they've even touched the BRI divide. This could be nothing more than media shenanigans. We can only wait and see.

But a depressing trend that has lasted since January and began in earnest last July has suddenly shifted course. We're facing a horizon with the sun for the first time. Now we just have to see if both sides can shock the world and wind up with not even a preseason game lost.

Free agency. Training camp. Preseason. Games. It's within sight. Now we wait to see how much the principles want to get this done and save professional basketball.
Posted on: September 6, 2011 9:44 am

Is there hope for a lockout compromise?

By Matt Moore

Chris Sheridan has written for ESPN the past six years and has since left the WWL and started his own site. In his first post, he comes out guns blazing with a pretty unpopular opinion: the labor dispute is not as rancorous as it has been made out to be, the two sides are within a horizon's distance of a deal, and no games will be missed this season. 

That's right. No games. So Chris isn't exactly spouting off the same stuff you hear, which can be considered a good and a bad thing. Sheridan lays out his reasons for believing in a thing called the 2011-2012 season in considerable detail, including all the pertinent financial elements. But nothing is more key than this: the length of the deal. From SheridanHoops.com:
The gap in what each side is seeking financially in Years 4, 5 and 6 is more significant, and what the owners are asking for in Years 7, 8, 9 and 10 is not completely germane to the equation right now because the players have not indicated they would be willing to do a deal for longer than six years, and history shows the sides traditionally have negotiated six-year labor agreements.

Owners and players are scheduled to reconvene Wednesday or Thursday to set in motion a series of meetings that will determine whether the lockout is settled in time to save a full 82-game season. If the owners come to the table with an offer that promises more money than the flatlined $2 billion in Years 1-7 that they have been proposing, they’ll be getting somewhere. So that’s the first thing to watch for.
via SheridanHoops | The Website of former ESPN and AP basketball writer Chris Sheridan.

Now, this kind of glosses over a significant element, which is that much of what the owners are asking for goes against what has been SOP for labor disputes. They want a revision to a hard cap from a soft cap. They want a significant realignment of revenue splits in a drastic departure from a pre-existing agreement. They want the elimination of exceptions. All of these things have happened in other sports labor negotiations, but to say that they're common place is wrong. So while it's true that ten-year agreements seldom happen and six-year terms are much more common, that doesn't alter the fact that the owners are looking for wholesale changes to the existing structure, and a ten-year term is just as likely as anything else to be part of their unwielding position. 

But if the owners were to give up on years 7-10, there's wiggle room. There's room for the owners to get massive concessions financially, which has been their short-term and long-term goal, while also setting a new precedent for the next round of CBA talks in 2017. There's enough of a foothold for the players to stay on the mountain financially while surrendering a reasonable compromise in terms of compensation, and it gives them six years to re-establish a position of strength in order to try and regain ground. Live to fight another CBA, if you will. 

Still, even with the advance knowledge that most of what both sides have said is nothing but empty rhetoric, and even with both sides meeting this week for the second time in as many weeks, it's hard to see all the doomsday talk as nothing but bluster. There are hard-liners on both sides, and eventually, even if the intimate circles meeting now are able to find compromises, the BRI Hawks in the owners' contingent and the principled compensation defenders in the union will have to be brought in. And that's where we wind up the same place we've been for two months...


Posted on: August 6, 2011 5:45 pm
Edited on: August 6, 2011 6:00 pm

Reports: Euro floodgates to open this week

By Matt Moore

File this under "Talking the talk without walking the walk." That file's going to be getting pretty hefty at this point. May need to get a cabinet for it. 

Anyway, Happy Walters, agent to Amar'e Stoudemire and Wilson Chandler took to Twitter Friday to share the news that you should expect a number of players to finally make the plunge in signing contracts to play overseas. From Twitter:

OK, so an agent is making big words. Big deal. That's the whole thing, is the player's side making big talk and having nothing besides Deron Williams signing with a team whose assets are frozen to show for it? That's the problem, right? Well, except Draft Express is confirming Walters' claim, saying that the current state of the CBA talks have created  "wide spread panic" according to an NBA agent.

We've been hearing this talk for weeks, and this is just the most recent update to that talk, with no real substance, again, beyond Deron Williams' contract.  But having it come from an actual agent, versus unnamed sources, or a player saying he is "considering options" takes it up a step. Having that claim confirmed by a respected independent source is another step. Consider this a small escalation and a slight momentum shift towards an all-out exodus, no matter how unlikely. We'll keep you updated if those odds start to tilt. 
Posted on: August 4, 2011 9:11 am
Edited on: August 4, 2011 9:14 am

Vaccaro predicts Kobe Bryant to China

By Matt Moore

Sonny Vaccaro is a big name in the basketball business. So when he pipes up and says something like, "Kobe Bryant will go to play in China and Nike will pay him for it," people's ears are going to perk up. That's exactly what Vacarro, the man who signed Jordan to Nike and the former head of the ABCD camp, said Wednesday on Memphis radio host Chris Vernon's show (via Twitter)

Even as respected as Vaccaro is among industry executives, this should be taken with a grain of salt. SBNation Los Angeles lays out where Vaccaro has been off in the past, including saying Chicago was the best best for LeBron last summer, that Tracy McGrady had the most talent he'd ever seen, and that Bryant would leave the Lakers after 2009 to play in Europe. Now, the first two are not so crazy upon further inspection.

Chicago really was the best fit for James last summer. The core of Rose, Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah would have given him a stronger overall supporting cast than what he has in Miami, and Tom Thibodeau's defensive acumen would have done wonders with that kind of talent.  McGrady really was one of the most talented players people had ever seen, and that's what led to nearly MVP seasons in Orlando (had they won any games). As for the last charge, Vaccaro really only said it would be a "great possibility" that Bryant would head overseas in 2009, not that he was sure to go. There's a big difference there. A "great possibility" is entirely different from an outright prediction.

But what Vaccaro said on the radio Wednesday is a different matter. If Vaccaro, who has extensive ties to the shoe industry, is predicting a Nike investment in Bryant playing overseas, that could be a game changer. Having an entity like Nike willing to push Bryant financially in order to expand their Asian market would make things wholly different for whatever team was looking to sign him.

But would Nike be willing to risk damaging a relationship with the NBA by sending one of their biggest stars to make money in the lockout? What about the proposed rule change which would restrict players from having NBA opt-outs to return if the lockout ends? What about the fact that the idea of Bryant playing anywhere else during the lockout seems completely insane to most people? 

Vaccaro is a big voice, but not a surefire predictor, and there are too many factors in play here to think this will actually happen. So we'll stay skeptical of something unlikely occurring, much as we were about the idea of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh teaming up on the same team. How crazy was that? 

Posted on: July 27, 2011 6:54 pm

Report: Owners, players to meet next week

By Matt Moore

There have been "staff meetings" between representatives of the NBPA and the NBA owners in the past two weeks. Naturally, no substantive progress has been met, but hey, it's something. Now comes word that next week may mark an actualy, honest to God meeting between relevant personnel. From Sports Illustrated:
On Tuesday, Tom Ziller of SB Nation reported the NBA players’ union and league officials were planning the first official post-lockout collective bargaining talks for some time in the first two weeks of August. That meeting will take place next week, barring some unforeseen scheduling issue, according to two sources familiar with the matter. It could take place as early as Monday, depending on how the schedules of a few key figures shake out, according to one of the sources.
via The Point Forward » Posts NBA owners, players likely to meet next week «

This isn't a significant move. This isn't going to usher in some sort of sudden agreement. No breakthrough will be made. But it's a start. It's getting both parties in the same room, at the table, talking. And that's the only way we're going to get any sort of momentum, is with constant conversations that lead to a concession which leads to the other side offering their own concession and back and forth until a breakthrough is made. That's the only way we're going to get a deal before the start of the season, before Christmas, before we lose the entire year. 

Expect to hear the same doom and gloom out of this meeting as all the rest. The owners aren't going to move off the hard cap, or drastic salary reductions, the players aren't going to suddenly concede everything they've drawn a line against. But the fact remains, this is the only way to a solution and to an end to the lockout, by getting both sides in a room with some coffee and having conversations about what and why and how. 

It's nothing big. But it's a start.  
Posted on: July 25, 2011 1:05 pm
Edited on: July 25, 2011 1:29 pm

Kobe, Durant, Rose made $400,000 in Philippines

By Matt Moore

When Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and their merry band of locked out NBA players headed to the Philippines last weekend, the reception was enormous. The crowd went absolutely berserk for the players; the entire country did. And it turns out the top three stars made a pretty penny on the deal as well. From SI:
Star-studded exhibition games like the two taking place in the Philippines this weekend are proving to be quite profitable as well, with one source with knowledge of the deals saying the Lakers Kobe Bryant, Oklahoma Citys Kevin Durant and Chicagos Derrick Rose are being paid more than $400,000 apiece for their weekend of work reminder: tax-free.
via NBA stars looking abroad in earnest - Sam Amick - SI.com.

So for two games, in which they weren't exactly going full-bore, these guys got paid $400,000 over two days. Take, say, two hours prep time with meet and greets, two hours for the game, an hour afterward for meet and greet and shower, top it off at five hours per day, call it good?  So this weekend, they made $40,000 an hour. An hour

Look, I'm not saying that professional athletes aren't overpaid in the grand scheme of things. I'm not saying that doctors, lawyers, or here's an idea, school teachers shouldn't be paid more than guys who play a game for a living. But if the owners want to make the argument the players are overpaid, a quick glance around their global market value will give you a pretty good idea of how valued these players are.

That's still an absurd amount of money. It makes you wonder why no one tries to set up a whole number of these around the globe. You could just have traveling teams of All-Stars who just blister the local guys. They can travel the globe at a fast pace. Maybe at a trot. Hey, we could even name them that! The Globetrotters!


I'll stop now.

Anyway, breaking news, NBA players paid lots of money.
Posted on: July 25, 2011 8:00 am
Edited on: July 25, 2011 3:08 pm

Warriors' Law plays the 'feed our families' card

By Matt Moore

It was going to happen eventually. Despite the NBPA's understanding of how it plays with the public, despite the advice from the NBPA to its members not to say it, someone, multiple "someones" actually, was inevitably going to drop it. A player will always wind up saying "we have to feed our families" in a lockout, as if they are barely getting by paycheck to paycheck. It doesn't look good on anyone. And it doesn't look good on Acie Law, a fringe player who spoke to ESPN over the weekend:
"I understand why a lot of guys are considering overseas," Law said. "I'm considering some options overseas. These are our livelihoods. This is how we feed our families, and guys want to play. If they're not going to negotiate a deal, life goes on. Bills still coming in, we still have to provide for our families, so hopefully they get something worked out."
via NBA players Jarrett Jack and Acie Law play in Dallas Fed X Pro-Am Basketball Classic - ESPN Dallas. 

Law's probably not the first to drop the line during the lockout, but he's as good a case as any to showcase why players should never say it. Law is as likely a candidate to have a right to say it as any NBA player. Law is a young player who hasn't gotten the big second contract, and was cut by the Grizzlies in December before signing with the Warriors for the rest of the year. 

But Law has made nearly $7.1 million dollars playing basketball over the past four seasons. It's certainly true that Law has financial obligations he arranged when he had a regular paycheck and that once those paychecks stop completely in the lockout this fall, he'll feel a significant pinch that may be severe depending on how he managed it leading up to the lockout. But the reality is this: he's part of a group of people whose every public statement is being considered in the light of the lockout, and that approach is never going to play with the general public. The owners have been the ones who have locked out the players, they're the ones who want more money, they're the ones asking for huge concessions. But still people reference the "greedy" players as if the players were the ones asking for a raise, as if this were a strike. Every PR mistake costs the union.

You're just not going to win any friends with the general working class by saying you're going to struggle to feed your family after making over $800,000 in a bad year. Not going to happen.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com