|More comfortable in Miami, LeBron James is having a solid season. (US Presswire)|
At the halfway point of an NBA season we thought we would never have, on the verge of an All-Star weekend that will once again showcase what's good and healthy about the NBA, it's my sad duty to pause for a moment and reflect on something that gives me the creeps.
It's something that came out of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban's mouth this week, something that grossed me out even more than 14-hour-old pizza sitting in a box on the marble floor of the Waldorf Astoria -- even more than typing lockout stories while sitting on the sidewalk on 63rd Street outside The Lowell hotel at 2:30 in the morning.
During the Mavs' annual trip to Madison Square Garden this week, Cuban did his customary pregame session with the media from a seat on the visitor's bench. As usual, it was informative and entertaining. But something he said last Sunday morning before the Mavs played the Knicks made me cringe.
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I asked Cuban how long it would be before NBA owners knew whether they had negotiated a good deal during the 149-day lockout that came dangerously close to canceling the entire season. "Three or four years," he said, and that seemed reasonable. It isn't until Year 3 when more punitive luxury-tax measures and other provisions aimed at creating more competitive balance kick in.
Then I asked Cuban what criteria should be evaluated to determine if the owners got a good deal, and he only provided one.
"Are all the teams making money?" he said.
And I almost fell down.
So let me get this straight: The five-month lockout, with all the 16-hour bargaining sessions and idiocy that transpired, was supposed to result in a collective bargaining agreement that allowed every team in the NBA to turn a profit? When did this happen? Who came up with this rule? Do they know there are NBA teams in New Orleans, Memphis, Charlotte, Milwaukee and Sacramento?
Because as I recall -- and believe me, I recall all too well -- this was not how the owners' goals were described on dozens of occasions throughout the negotiations. Not once, not ever, did deputy commissioner Adam Silver -- the owners' lead negotiator -- mention anything about the goal of the lockout being to ensure that all 30 teams were profitable. Instead, Silver said the following, over and over:
"Our goal is to have a system in which all 30 teams are competing for championships, and if well-managed, they have an opportunity to break even or make a profit."
The key words being "if well-managed," "opportunity," "break even or make a profit," and, well, all the other words.
This is not what Cuban said last Sunday.
"We'll see what happens if we have a chance to opt out of it in six years," Cuban said.
Holy Waldorf, Batman.
So one of two things has happened here: Either Cuban has mischaracterized the criteria by which owners will evaluate the new CBA when they have the chance to opt out of it in 2017, or the owners already have changed the rules before playing even half of one season under the new agreement.
I asked Cuban if profitability took precedence over competitive balance, two issues that Silver made all too clear during the lockout should be viewed as "independent."
"If all the teams have a chance to compete, then you have a better chance of making money," Cuban said. "If you have a better chance of retaining your star players, you have a better chance of making money. So they all go hand in hand."
Last time I checked -- from whatever hotel lobby I was standing in at the time -- "hand in hand" and "independent" are not the same thing.
Why is this troubling? Well, maybe it shouldn't be. Maybe Cuban simply misspoke, and maybe he's not on the same page as the league office -- as is often the case. But just a fair warning: If he meant what he said, then you should be concerned about how the owners plan to evaluate the effectiveness of this CBA when their opportunity to opt out of it comes in 2017. If the goal really was to make all 30 teams profitable, I'm afraid you'll be reading my lockout tweets from some sidewalk in Manhattan 5½ short years from now.
Now, my midseason awards:
MVP: LeBron James, Heat. Not going out on a limb, here. Despite continuing to be a lightning rod for controversy when he stirred the pot about his free-agent future, there's no denying James is having an historically great all-around season.
Rookie of the year: Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers. Ricky Rubio is exciting, maybe the most enjoyable player to watch in the league until Jeremy Lin came along. But Irving, far and away, has been the most consistent, productive rookie. And he has the Cavs in striking distance for the eighth seed.
Coach of the year: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. Get mad at Pop all you want for resting Tim Duncan and Tony Parker on Tuesday night against the Trail Blazers. The best coach in the NBA has been without Manu Ginobili for most of the season and has coaxed quality contributions out of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard.
Sixth man: James Harden, Thunder. Plenty of great candidates for this award, and with the compressed schedule, one can argue that quality bench play has never been more important. Look for Mo Williams, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, Al Harrington, Jamal Crawford, Jason Terry and others to all be in the mix in the second half. Harden affects the game with his scoring, driving, passing and 3-point shooting, so he's in the lead.
Defensive player: Josh Smith, Hawks. Maybe the best player on the Hawks will be added to the All-Star Game as the injury replacement for teammate Joe Johnson. For now, the guy's got to win something -- and he deserves to be recognized for his defensive production. He's among the league leaders in blocks (2.13 per game), and he's first among healthy players (i.e. other than Andrew Bogut) in Hoopdata's combined stat of blocks, steals and charges taken per game (3.88). Get this man to Orlando.
Biggest surprise: Jeremy Lin, Knicks. To all those who predicted Linsanity, I say, "Lin your dreams."
Biggest disappointment: Detroit Pistons. Not that much more could have been expected. It's just sad to see a proud franchise stuck like this, with little means to get out of it. Also, with Lawrence Frank at the helm, I didn't expect them to defend this poorly.
Most disgruntled: Stephen Jackson, Bucks. Not even the Pau Gasol saga in L.A. or the Raymond Felton benching in Portland have deteriorated as much as the feud between Jackson and Scott Skiles.
Most likely to be traded: Steve Nash, Suns. It's all up to Nash -- if he wants to be dealt to a contender, the Suns will oblige. Finally, it may be time.