NBA hopes to have HGH testing in place by start of next season
Baseball has been aggressive in enforcing its drug policy. Can the NBA do the same as it negotiates with the players' union?
Now that summer league is over, Dwight Howard is a Rocket, about half the teams in the league have new coaches and nearly a third have new GMs or presidents, it's time for the NBA offseason to wind down.
Which means, of course, that it's time for the real work to begin.
Outgoing commissioner David Stern proclaimed after the Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas last week that it's going to be "another banner year for the NBA." And by any metric, it certainly will be. The massive storylines in Brooklyn and Houston ... where the Lakers go from here ... the return of Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo from injuries ... the rebuilding of the Celtics ... Doc Rivers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin aiming for a championship in LA ... the Heat aiming for a three-peat, and on and on.
Heading out of the 2013 summer and into the 2013-14 season, the NBA has outdone itself when it comes to compelling on-court drama. But as usual, only two years removed from the league's inglorious lockout, the NBA has more than its share of off-court drama.
With Major League Baseball suspending Brewers slugger Ryan Braun for violating the sport's drug policy -- and with more suspensions expected to emerge from the Biogenesis case in South Florida -- the NBA's efforts to implement testing for human-growth hormone (HGH) in time for next season is paramount among the off-court business that will be conducted between now and the '13-'14 tipoff.
"We hope so," Stern said last Thursday in Las Vegas, when asked if HGH testing protocols could be negotiated with the National Basketball Players Association in time to be implemented for next season. Stern also said the process was "hamstrung" by the NBPA's lack of a permanent executive director in the wake of Billy Hunter's ouster over findings that he failed to properly manage conflicts of interest during his tenure.
"It's more difficult to make decisions," Stern said of the NBPA's lack of permanent leadership.
A nine-player executive committee -- most elected during All-Star weekend in Houston this past February -- is continuing to gather information as it searches for Hunter's permanent replacement. The topic will be addressed at the union's summer meeting in Las Vegas, scheduled for Aug. 21. An executive search firm has not yet been retained.
But the union's interim executive director, Ron Klempner, told CBSSports.com on Tuesday that the search for Hunter's successor was not impeding discussions on HGH testing at all.
"We're certainly capable of making decisions and doing whatever business needs to be done," Klempner said. "We've been doing that without any interruption and we're going to continue to do that."
Ongoing discussions between the NBA and the players association on HGH testing are fraught with some of the same complications that Major League Baseball, the NFL and NHL are facing. Coming out of the 2011 lockout, the NBA and union agreed to appoint a three-person committee of experts to study the issue – including the scientific validity of blood tests currently available to screen for HGH. That committee is continuing to do its work, Klempner said.
The NHL is in the same place with its own committee of experts analyzing HGH testing protocols. MLB has implemented an HGH testing policy, but the players negotiated to retain their right to challenge the findings to a neutral arbitrator. The basis of such challenges may include objections to the validity of the tests themselves.
The NFL and NFLPA are continuing to negotiate details of an HGH testing policy for next season. In a first step toward an agreement, the NFLPA informed its membership recently that players should be prepared to submit blood samples that will be used to establish a proper threshold for a positive HGH test in that sport.
While it's a fair criticism of the NBA that MLB and the NFL are further along in dealing with HGH, the intrusiveness of blood tests and a recent successful challenge of a positive HGH test in cross-country skiing only served to highlight athletes' concerns.
In May, Estonian skier and two-time Olympic champion Andrus Veerpalu won his appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over his three-year ban imposed by the International Ski Federation following a positive test for HGH. Though the arbitration body upheld its belief in the value of HGH testing conducted by the World Anti-Doping Agency, it lifted Veerpalu's ban because the sport's governing body "failed to meet the applicable standard of proof."
At the time, the NFLPA issued a statement saying the decision "validates the players' demand for scientific validity, full due process rights and a transparent system." The NBPA has similar concerns.
"HGH is a very complicated issue, and we're going through a detailed process that involves the appointment of a committee of experts," Klempner said. "Likewise, there was a recent decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport that has questioned some of the fundamental criteria for the testing. There's additional work being done there. The process will play itself out and, we can't say at this time when we'll have something in place.
"I do agree with the commissioner that we have a very open and productive dialogue on this subject," Klempner said.
The topic of biological passports -- the monitoring of biological markers over time that WADA says can be used to detect doping even in the absence of positive tests for banned substances -- has not yet been the subject of bargaining between the NBA and its union.
Other matters small and not-so-small are on the NBA's agenda for the next two months before training camps open. For one, team executives are monitoring the continued transition of power from Stern to incoming commissioner Adam Silver, who will formally take over in February. Though executives league-wide have had frequent dealings with Silver over the years, they are nonetheless curious about what his management style will be once he takes over the No. 1 chair after 30 years of Stern's leadership.
One of Silver's biggest tasks will be negotiating the league's next broadcast and digital rights agreement. Current agreements with ABC/ESPN and Turner expire after the 2015-16 season, and industry sources say discussions already are under way and multiple networks have expressed interest in the NBA's rights package, which is expected to grow exponentially in value over the current eight-year, $7.4 billion agreement.
On a topic dear to our hearts, the league's disciplinary measures to combat flopping could be headed to arbitration. As CBSSports.com reported on Tuesday, the National Labor Relations Board recently ruled that the NBPA's grievance over the fine system imposed by the league to deter flopping should be referred to an arbitrator. Union officials are seeking to schedule the case for arbitration in the event a compromise cannot be negotiated.
"We are now in the process of scheduling a case with our arbitrator to determine whether the NBA is allowed to unilaterally impose discipline in an area that exceeds the commissioner's authority without the consent of the union," Klempner said. "It's a subject they need to bargain with us, and we hope that the arbitrator will find that any type of discipline must be collectively bargained."
In Las Vegas last week, Stern said the league's competition committee reported to the board that the flopping rules "were working well, and did not recommend any changes to them."
You know what they say about what happens in Vegas. To the contrary, what happens in the NBA offseason always spills into the season to come.
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