Posted on: November 24, 2011 3:22 pm
Edited on: November 24, 2011 3:26 pm

Owners position shifts on MLE?

By Matt Moore 

There were a number of issues that caused the last meltdown in NBA talks, leading to the players' disclaim of interest and subsequent lawsuits. Among them was the mid-level Exception. Essentially, the league's proposal called for teams in the luxury-tax to be unable to use the full mid-level, instead limiting them to a shortened (both financially and in length of term) version. There was also discrepancy over whether teams who were under the tax prior to using the luxury-tax but in the luxury-tax after would be considered "tax paying teams" and therefore unable to use the full mid-level. But with both sides angling towards another attempt at resolution (first reported by CBSSports.com last week), there's been movement on the MLE, according to ESPN: 
Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Stern has privately surveyed a handful of owners about their willingness to ease the restrictions on the proposed mid-level exception in a new labor agreement.

It is believed the league's next proposal to the players will contain tweaks to some of the "system" issues that the players have strongly objected to in recent negotiations. The players have long insisted -- in exchange for accepting a 50/50 split of annual basketball-related income, after earning a 57 percent share of BRI in the final year of the previous labor deal -- that the league's proposed restrictions against luxury-tax teams must be relaxed.
via NBA lockout -- New NBA talks aimed at resolving lawsuits, sources say - ESPN.

The players' position was that they would accept the lowered BRI split if the league would back off its systemic demands, like the MLE limit. A concession at this level might be enough to push the players off the ledge and get a deal for a Christmas-start season, as the league reportedly desires. However, given the breakdown in talks and increased number of lost games, it's hard to see the hard-line owners surrendering that with the same 50/50 BRI split. A scenario in which both sides agree to the MLE concession from the owners, only to discover the owners now want a more favorable BRI split is entirely possible. 

The question will be whether Stern can get a wrangle on the owners long enough to force a deal through and if this kind of concession is enough to get the players to swallow the huge turkey they're already being forced to down whole. 
Posted on: November 22, 2011 10:12 am
Edited on: November 22, 2011 11:01 am

NBPA withholding licensing fees to pay for Boies

By Matt Moore 

Everyone gets paid. Except the arena workers, the cops who need overtime, the parking lot guys, the local shops and restaurants, and the players. But the lawyers? They sure as heckfire get paid. 

ESPN's Dave McMenamin reports that the NBPA is withholding licensing fees from the players to pay for David Boies and his high-profile firm to represent them against the owners. McMenamin tabs Boies' fee at $1,220 per hour, which is now being paid for by profits the players would otherwise collectively see from jersey/trading card/ video game sales.  Other estimates on Boies have him at $960 per hour, which, you know, is so much better. Boies publicly commented in 2007 to the Wall Street Journal  that charging over the $1,000 mark was probably a bit much. 
"Frankly, it's a little hard to think about anyone who doesn't save lives being worth this much money," says David Boies, one of the nation's best-known trial lawyers, at the Armonk, N.Y., office of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP.
via Lawyers Gear Up Grand New Fees - WSJ.com.

Of course this doesn't reflect market changes, inflation or the fact that his current client is high profile enough to warrant a higher rate. Boies' firm is on record from earlier this year saying they still charge the $960, but that may be dependent upon how the case wraps up:
David Boies, chairman of Boies, Schiller & Flexner and a prominent trial lawyer, charges $960 an hour, a spokeswoman for the firm said. But just a third of his time is devoted to matters that are billed hourly. More often his deals with clients involve alternatives such as pegging fees to his success, she said.
via Top Lawyers Push Rates Above $1,000 an Hour - WSJ.com.

Either way, while the players are losing paychecks every day while Boies and the league argue over who should call one another first -- no, we're serious, that's what they're arguing about --  and that's after the union decided to disclaim interest and dissolve the union... without holding a full vote of membership. 

At some point the players have to be wondering about what direction all this is going, and if the efforts to try and save them some money are going to wind up costing them more than they're saving.

Everyone gets paid.

Well, except for the people laid off, the concession vendors and the television production crew support.
Posted on: November 22, 2011 9:36 am
Edited on: November 22, 2011 9:41 am

Smith resumes play in China after negative MRI

By Matt Moore 

J.R. Smith suffered a potentially significant knee injury Sunday for the Zhejiang Golden Bulls, and subsequently got into a spat with ownership about his pursuit of consultation. But there's good news. NIUBball.net reports that an MRI for Smith was negative and he rejoined the team Tuesday night, putting in 15-6-4 in a win. That's a huge relief for Smith and his agent, as he's an unrestricted free agent whenever the lockout ends and is in line for a sizeable contract offer considering his age and production. This is the money contract for Smith and he's in line to cash in. A knee injury would jeopardize that.  

But all's not all well that ends well, as NIUBBall.com reports that Smith's pursuit of the MRI in Beijing instead of with team doctors has them investigating what disciplinary measures are at their disposal. It's hard to see the team really wanting to take this to the end of its available measures, considering Smith was just pursuing what he felt was best for his health, not violating team rules out of some entertainment option. 

Players who have played in China had warned NBA players before that the culture is significantly different there, and this might be an example of this. We'll have to see how the situation plays out between Smith and his new team.
Posted on: November 21, 2011 10:51 am
Edited on: November 21, 2011 11:00 am

J.R. Smith and Zhejiang in spat after injury

By Matt Moore 

J.R. Smith suffered a knee injury this weekend for the Zhejiang Golden Bulls in China, his first game in the Chinese Basketball Association. But it's after that when things got weird. The Wall Street Journal reports that Smith declined to receive medical attention from the team, despite strict team rules, and instead sought out his own care in Beijing. The team did not like that too much: 
It’s unclear how severe Mr. Smith’s injury is. Zhao Bing, the Golden Bulls’ general manager, said the player repeatedly declined medical treatment from the team and arranged his own treatment in Beijing instead. “We warned him that he’s not allowed to go to Beijing without a proper medical check,” Mr. Zhao said, expressing his displeasure at Mr. Smith’s disobedience. “He just wouldn’t listen.”

Mr. Smith is “an experienced basketball player and a big name in NBA,” Mr. Zhao said. But “I think he should have been aware that CBA is not an easy game to play either.”
via J.R. Smith Limps into Spat as Locked-Out NBAers Get Going in China - China Real Time Report - WSJ.

But wait, it gets better: 
“We would like to improve ourselves through learning from the NBA players,” Zhejiang’s Mr. Zhao said of his star player’s refusal to heed the team’s medical protocols. “That was just the first game of the season. He really didn’t have to behave like this.”

Mr. Zhao posted a warning to Mr. Smith on Sina Weibo on Monday afternoon, saying the player should return to team as soon as possible “or face the consequences.” Mr. Smith responded in English less than an hour later, “My main goal is to get healthy! If you can’t understand that then maybe you should pick another profession!”
via J.R. Smith Limps into Spat as Locked-Out NBAers Get Going in China - China Real Time Report - WSJ.

One game. It took J.R. Smith one game to get into a dispute with his team in China. That is simultaneously the most predictable and incredible thing in the past week. Smith's got a lot to be concerned about, considering he's an unrestricted free agent looking for his biggest contract to date whenever the NBA picks its schedule back up, if it ever picks its schedule back up.

It's also not uncommon for players to pursue their own treatment. Andrew Bynum notoriously has shaken off the Lakers' medical staff through his various knee injuries to seek out advice and treatment on his own. But the Chinese culture has been said by players who have played there to be very different, and this could spark quite a bit of tension between Smith and the club.

Wilson Chandler, meanwhile, scored 43 points for the Zhejiang Lions (there are a lot of Zhejiang teams). Kenyon Martin has yet to play for the Zhejiang Tigers and Aaron Brooks should play his first game shortly. 

But Smith's injury definitely is serving as a warning to players who are not under contract considering playing overseas during the lockout. There are risks along with the rewards. We'll have to see about the severity of the injury and how his conflict with the team plays out.
Posted on: November 21, 2011 9:57 am
Edited on: November 21, 2011 9:59 am

Report: Without new system, Utah Jazz for sale?

By Matt Moore 

Whatever your feelings are on competitive balance, market economics, or parity in the NBA, it's hard to dispute the fact that pro basketball in certain markets is an institution. There's a million things to do in Los Angeles, a million different options of how to spend your time. New York is the cultural center of the modern world. Those cities love their teams and take pride in the teams representing their respective metropolitan goliaths. But in places like Portland and Salt Lake City, it's a different feeling. In short, the fans are completely insane. It's a way of life in those places, it's part of their heritage, it encapsulates a lot of people's lives and their families. 

And both of those teams could wind up getting sold if the current trends continue.

Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen was rumored to be pushing for a deal in pursuit of selling the team months ago, an allegation the Blazers strongly denied. Now comes a report from the Deseret News that the family of the late Larry H. Miller could be considering selling the Jazz
In fact, one source with intimate knowledge of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies inner workings speculated that small-market-related economic hardships could force Jazz ownership to place a "For Sale" sign on the franchise. The source told the Deseret News that the Jazz were expected to report losses in the $17 million range for the 2010-11 season.

"If I was a betting man," the source said, "my guess is that the Millers will sell the team within the next five years, unless this CBA changes the formula so that the team can make some money."

Others say the Millers will never sell the Jazz.
via Could bad deal mean end to Jazz in Utah? | Deseret News.

It's unfathomable to think of the Jazz being moved. They can clearly be successful, there. You have to wonder how much of this relates to overreactions to the current economic environment, and how much of it is purposefully leaked information to help in various legal and negotiating processes.

But if the group is serious about getting out of the business, it would be the cap on a depressing year for Jazz fans. They've lost the patriarch of the franchise,  their coach for the past 25 years resigned, and their star player was traded before he could leave in free agency. And now there could be new ownership. The most likely scenario if they are sold is to another group out of Salt Lake that would keep them in the city. Burning down the bridge of one of the most successful small markets, the home of Stockton and Malone, doesn't seem like something the league would be willing to tolerate. 

Then again, ask the fans in Seattle how that worked out.
Posted on: November 21, 2011 9:02 am

Coaches Association Director pleads for season

The following was provided to media outlets including CBSSports.com on Sunday, November 20th by the Executive Director of the NBA Coaches Association.

An Urgent Call to the NBA, the NBPA and its Players for a Truce and Return to Talks, from a Veteran of the Business of Professional Basketball

By Michael H. Goldberg, Executive Director NBA Coaches Association

“Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got ‘til it's gone…” Joni Mitchell (Big Yellow Taxi)

I have been involved in the sport of professional basketball for over 35 years.  In 1973, I was appointed General Counsel to the American Basketball Association, a great league but a financial disaster.  In 1978, shortly after four of the ABA’s teams staggered into the safe harbor of the NBA (then itself a league with financial issues), I began my assignment as Executive Director of the NBA Coaches Association (all Head and Assistant Coaches plus alumni) and have served in this capacity ever since.

I’m urging this call for an immediate return to discussions by the parties solely as a veteran of the business of the sport and not as a representative or spokesman of the NBA Coaches or any other constituency.  As someone who has “seen it all” in the NBA (and other professional sports), I urge the principals involved in the current labor dispute to immediately back away from the precipice, get back to the bargaining table, and redouble their efforts to resolve the current conflict and get a deal done without delay.

The upcoming NBA season must be saved.  To do otherwise will cause a self-inflicted economic blow to an enterprise that over the years through the hard work of players, team owners and the League Office has become a great global brand, but, like every business operating in today’s fragile economic landscape, one that is more susceptible to “decline and fall.”

We are currently in a global economic crisis such as has not been seen in any of our lifetimes.  Only individuals wearing three-inch thick rose-colored glasses can believe that sports, and NBA basketball in particular, are and will in the future be immune from these forces.  Great companies with names that our parents looked upon as having the safety and sustainability of Fort Knox have only survived thanks to bankruptcy or government bailout, while many others have disappeared altogether.  Tens of thousands of employees working for these “untouchable” companies for years thought they were set for life, only to find themselves out of work and scrambling to figure out Plan B.

In this new and dangerous economic environment there are no guarantees that what worked in the past can work now.  We all need to concede that the NBA does not operate in a financial bulletproof bubble.  After months of discussion, it has become apparent that a solution to the current situation means sacrifice and change.  The parties have moved in that direction.  Now is not the time to step back and harden positions.  Litigation and the “courts” are not the answer – “been there and done that.”  Let the parties have the courage to make a deal, even if it requires taking some risks and accepting the unpalatable for the short term, so as to ensure that going forward there will be a viable and robust NBA business, one that is able to withstand the current financial environment and further prosper.

Partial or lost seasons are a huge mistake and a blow to any sport that requires years of painful business rebuilding to get back on track.  We all know this and know that damage has already taken place.  The recent lost NHL season is an example whereby the end result was a damaged sport and fallout that fractured its union and cost hundreds of millions of dollars lost by the league, its players and its teams, to say nothing of the financial pain suffered by non-player (league and team) employees, suppliers and allied businesses.   Similar results have affected every sport that has shut down due to labor/management issues.

There is no time to waste.  History has proven that all sports labor conflicts are ultimately solved.  No doubt all sides are concerned about their financial well-being and rightly so.  But everyone involved must now think beyond their own interests, check out the daily financial headlines, and work towards a negotiated solution now. Short of this all parties will risk killing the goose that lays so many golden eggs for so many connected with it.  Let’s not commit a “Flagrant 2” to a business that can ill afford it.
Posted on: November 20, 2011 7:14 pm
Edited on: November 20, 2011 7:22 pm

J.R. Smith suffers knee injury in China

By Matt Moore 

According to multipe reports, J.R. Smith suffered a knee injury Sunday in China playing for Zhejiang in his Chinese Basketball Association debut. A video posted to YouTube showed Smith limping to the sideline after coming down on the knee and hobbling afterwards. It was a non-contact injury. NIUBBall.com reports that Smith was carried to a hospital-bound ambulance by teammates afterwards. 

Smith is an unrestricted free agent whenever the NBA resumes its offseason/preseason, and a significant injury could severely hamper his chances at his most lucrative contract offer to date. Smith is considered one of the best available shooting guards in the free agent market, and an injury could hurt his offers. Smith signed with Zhejiang even after a CBA rule was implemented to prevent teams in the CBA from offering contracts with an NBA opt-out, however NIUBBall.com has reported in the past that the most likely scenario involves teams simply releasing players for whatever guise they want, "chemistry," "personal reasons," etc., in a handshake deal should the NBA resume play. 

We'll update you with Smith's official diagnosis if and when it becomes available. 

(HT: SBNation)
Posted on: November 20, 2011 1:44 pm
Edited on: November 20, 2011 1:45 pm

Paul Pierce says the next step is 'on the owners'

By Matt Moore 

In an interview with Yahoo Sports, Paul Pierce says that the next step in the process is on the owners, despite the players having removed the possibility of collective bargaining by dissolving their union: 
Q: Do the players or owners have to take the next step to renew labor talks?

Pierce: “I think the owners have to take the step. We have taken a lot of steps. I think we have taken as many steps as we can take, which is why we are at where we are at. We feel like we’ve taken the most steps. That’s why we are going to court now.”
via Paul Pierce: Players needed to make stand - NBA - Yahoo! Sports.

It's interesting because while the league said, through David Stern, that "collective bargaining is over," the players were the ones who declined to offer a counter-proposal to the owners and instead disclaimed interest, dissolving the union. The last proposal on the table was the league's, the 50/50 split the players rejected. So to say it's on the owners is a bit strange. 

But on the flip side, the players may consider their decision to file suit a response in and of itself. Basically "we don't want your deal, here's our counter-proposal, you guys deal with a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit, how about them apples?" So if the league wants a response, that's the response. Unfortunately, it's going to take the league making its first real step back from the full-court press they've applied for five months for them to offer another proposal, or even a bargaining session. 

So, yeah, things are going great, you guys!
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com