While several stars have promised another show of strength at next week's collective bargaining session during the All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, the most accomplished star -- one whose career has straddled basketball eras -- said he'll probably stay away.
"I'll leave it to the lawyers and those people that know what they're doing to handle those situations," Kobe Bryant told CBSSports.com this week. "I'm not a lawyer. I'm not going to sit there and read documents. I don't know what the hell I'm talking about."
|Kobe Bryant says he is willing to lose a season at the end of his prime to ensure a better deal for younger players. (US Presswire)|
"Not at all," Bryant said, when asked if he was afraid a season-long lockout might put a permanent end to his pursuit of tying, and perhaps surpassing Michael Jordan's mark of six championships. I asked him if a lost season in 2011-12 would A) put an end to his career, or B) give him a year off to rest -- a La Jordan, circa 1993 -- and then come back and win a few more rings.
"What's your money on?" he said.
Me: "Choice B."
Kobe: "Well, there you go."
Earlier this season, Bryant spoke stridently about the crucial labor showdown, telling CBSSports.com that NBA owners "need to look in the mirror" before asking players for massive salary concessions. While in Boston this week during the Lakers' longest road trip of the season, he expanded on that premise as only he has the authority to do.
"The deal that they have on the table is crap, simple as that," Bryant said. "It's just principle. We make a lot of money regardless. It's always frustrating when they try to pit us as selfish or greedy or whatever. We make a lot of money as it is. A lot of it is principle to me."
Then Bryant said something that should be taken as an ominous sign for anyone assuming that the players will simply cave as soon as they miss their first paycheck in November. Commissioner David Stern and the owners want to turn the NBA into the NHL -- with a hard cap, no exceptions, salary rollbacks across the board, and no more Dream Teams, among other things. This slash-and-burn agreement was forced on the hockey players after they were locked out for an entire season.
In the only official proposal from NBA owners in nearly two years of negotiations, they've asked the players to sign up for a $45 million hard cap with no exceptions, 3 percent raises with four-year max deals, and rollbacks of existing contracts to fit this new version of NHL 2.0 nirvana.
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But Bryant made reference to the players association in another sport that was damaged by a work stoppage, but has since regained its footing -- a league where player salaries are not curtailed by a salary cap and where bats are the weapon of choice instead of sticks.
"We'll stick to our guns, and hopefully we'll learn a lot from what baseball has done and the great union they have and how they take care of their players," Bryant said. "Hopefully, we'll have the same situation."
We can debate the merits of Major League Baseball's economic system some other time. The point is, NBA owners say players already have the highest average salaries in American pro sports. The players say no one is forcing the owners to pay what they pay -- and that it's not the players' fault when owners spend unwisely.
"You have to take responsibility for the contracts that you pay, and for the players that you pay," Bryant said.
Bryant doesn't know how all the issues will be resolved -- just that eventually, they will be. Even if it's painful.
"No matter what goes on or whatever situation takes place within our league, we always seem to bounce back," Bryant said. "We have talent here. We have guys willing to put in the work to perform. As long as you have that, you'll be fine. And no matter what we go through, I'm sure we'll be OK."
And with that, on to the rest of this week's Post-Ups:
• Why haven't the Knicks and Nuggets pulled the trigger on the three-team scenario that would send Carmelo Anthony to New York with Minnesota as the third-team facilitator? Front office sources say neither New York nor Denver is satisfied with the arrangement in its initial form, which would send Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer to Denver along with a Minnesota first-round pick, with the Wolves getting Anthony Randolph and Eddy Curry's expiring contract. Privately, Minnesota officials believe they will acquire Randolph before the All-Star break, but believe it will more likely be as part of a straight-up deal with New York in which Minnesota gives up a late first-round pick, takes on Roger Mason Jr., and then waives him.
• More to the point, with every passing day, hope swells among Nuggets officials that they will be comfortable keeping Anthony for the rest of the season and dealing with trade possibilities then. Anthony's recent 50-point game, and Denver's thrilling, last-second victory over Dallas on Thursday night --with Arron Afflalo doing his best Melo impression with a buzzer-beater -- have done nothing to diminish those hopes. "They don't want to trade him," said a person familiar with the Nuggets' strategy, explaining why Denver has engaged so many teams and gotten close before stopping short of closing the deal each time. "I don't think they're walking boldly into this transition. It's more like walking the plank."
• A league source cognizant of the Grizzlies' strategy said Memphis intends to "do what it takes" to retain Marc Gasol, a restricted free agent after the season. "He's the No. 1 priority," the source said. But what about O.J. Mayo? Rival executives continue to believe Mayo is eminently available, despite the cold feet many experienced when Mayo was suspended for taking a banned over-the-counter supplement.
• Minnesota GM David Kahn continues to proceed confidently under the assumption that Ricky Rubio will be with the team next season, telling colleagues he has been assured as much by Rubio's camp. Still, rival execs find it difficult to believe Rubio would be willing to pass on his nearly $2 million salary in Spain next season, plus eat half the cost of his $1 million buyout (the Wolves would pay the other half) with the possibility of a protracted lockout. Plus, under current rules, Rubio would be exempt from the rookie wage scale in 2012, meaning he would have the opportunity to lock in a more lucrative NBA contract by waiting another year -- with the caveat, of course, that NBA wages will be changing in the new CBA. Meanwhile, Rubio is struggling overseas, averaging 6.2 points and 4.1 assists while shooting only 18 percent from 3-point range in 22 minutes per game heading into the weekend.
• Bryant has risen to eighth on the NBA's career scoring list and soon will pass Elvin Hayes and Moses Malone. At his current pace, he'll finish the season sixth on the career list, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Shaquille O'Neal. "It's just kind of cool how it all shakes out," Bryant said. "I've been playing for a while and scored a lot of points, so I just think it's really cool. In terms of a motivational thing, the ring count is the thing that really gets me going."
• More Bryant, who said he doesn't feel neglected by having been awarded only one MVP trophy in his career: "Things have worked out for me pretty well in general. So I'm pretty comfortable with that." As for what it would take for his sidekick, Pau Gasol, to win an MVP, Bryant said, "Not play on a team with me on it."
MVP Watch: As we reach the All-Star break, we'll check in with weekly rankings in the MVP race.
1. LeBron James, Heat: It will take something spectacular to knock the King out of my leadoff spot. Hands-down MVP so far.
2. Derrick Rose, Bulls: Biggest threat to LeBron, and pushing his candidacy seems to be gaining popularity. Had a pretty good week, too, outplaying Deron Williams in a victory that led to turmoil with the Jazz.
3. Kobe Bryant, Lakers: Bryant led the Lakers out of a skid with a 3-0 mark since last week's Post-Ups, and his closing push against the Celtics on Thursday night was downright dastardly.
4. Kevin Durant, Thunder: Mr. Consistency continues to lead the league in scoring (29.0), had two more double-doubles this week, and is leading what could be the franchise's first division-winning team since the 2004-05 Sonics.
5. Dwight Howard, Magic: Orlando is "not even in the same ballpark" with the Celtics, according to Stan Van Gundy. It's certainly through no fault of Howard, who averaged 25.5 points and 16.3 rebounds as the Magic won three of four.
Quote of the Week: "My grandma always told me, 'Scars build character.'" -- Lakers F Lamar Odom after suffering a gash on his head from a violent collision with the bearded cabeza De Pau Gasol. Here's hoping Gasol and Wilson Chandler don't have the same dentist.
Tweet of the Week: "I've heard it louder on the 18th tee of the Masters than TD [Garden] is right now." -- @ejmaroun on the scary scene after Celtics G Marquis Daniels collapsed to the floor with a bruised spine on Feb. 6. Daniels, thankfully, was OK but will miss at least a month. Tweet your thoughts to @KBerg_CBS to be considered for next week's Tweet of the Week. Grand prize ... uh, you're looking at it.
E-mail of the Week: "It's not hard to see this star movement figuring into the coming lockout. A superstar going to a team already selling out can't sell more tickets, while the team he leaves loses tens of thousands of ticket sales. If all the stars end up on 6-8 teams, that's 22-24 half-empty arenas, and TV revenues would have to grow exponentially to make that up. The local gate is still a team's biggest money maker. As a Toronto season ticketholder, I'm hoping for a lockout. A long one. I won't be alone, in Toronto and in many other NBA cities." -- David
Go here to e-mail me your opinion. The best e-mail will appear here every week. Note: E-mails that begin, "Berger, you dumb piece of ..." will be referred to the Pulitzer committee, but won't be printed here.