Archives For October 2011

A deal to end the lockout is close. Really, it is. Both sides have negotiated on, and agreed to most of the key elements of the deal that will serve as the structure of a new collective bargaining agreement.

However, as Howard Beck detailed in the above link, the last hurdle is a big one. And as David Aldridge wrote this morning, don’t expect the owners to move any more than they already have to clear that hurdle. The movement will need to come from the player side. And it will either come or the season will be lost. A sample of the sobering script:

In the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, the league is going to get, at minimum, a 50-50 split of Basketball-Related Income with the players, and a system with severe restrictions on teams that exceed the luxury tax threshold, from not being able to use many (if any) cap exceptions to being limited in their ability to make trades. Or the new CBA will allow teams over the threshold those exceptions, but take 53 percent of BRI to the players’ 47. Those are the choices now, and they will only get worse, because now that a month of the season is officially gone, and $800 million is down the tubes, there’s no reason for the league to stay at 50-50, and it won’t.

The players aren’t going to get 52, or 51, or 50.5, or 50.000001, and if they hold out for those numbers, they’re not going to have a season. You’d have to be crazy not to see that now, so it’s this for the players: take the deal this week or next, or lose the season. If they are willing to die on principle, they wouldn’t be the first. But they will die, in the metaphorical sense.

More from Aldridge:

One very senior team official had said Thursday night that even though the outside world was hopeful, he expected owners to hold at 50-50 and go no further, even though the conventional wisdom would seem to indicate the deal would be a compromise somewhere around 51.25 percent for the players — between the owners’ 50-50 offer and the players’ current 52.5 percent stance.

“That’s not the one that has the votes,” the official said. “I think they’re going to get 50-50. That’s as far as they’ll stretch.”

And that was, indeed, as far as they stretched — and even that came with conditions that the players could not swallow. But they will have to if they want to play this season. The players say it’s unfair that they’ve moved so far, from 57 percent of BRI in the old deal to 54.5 percent, and then 53, and 52.5, that they’ve already agreed to $180 million per year in salary givebacks, $1.8 billion over 10 years if they accept the league’s terms.

But this isn’t about fair. This is about the NBA putting its house back in order — naked, real-world realpolitik. If you understand nothing else about these negotitations, understand this: this isn’t just about money, at least not totally; this is about re-establishing who’s in charge.

Truth be told, I don’t know how to feel about this.

I’ve long been on the side of the players in this ordeal. The owners’ position in these negotiations started with them locking the players out and then seeking out the types of givebacks from players that would be unprecendented in any labor dispute between owners and players. They’ve slowly crept up from those positions in the name of “concessions” but as many have stated more eloquelently than I, the types of moves the owners have made are the equivalent of moving up from initial offers of $5,000 to $10,000 when trying to buy a brand new Bentley and then claiming they’ve doubled their offer as proof of how much they’ve moved off their original stance. I simply can’t ignore that the starting point in the owners’ position was too ludicrous to even take seriously; their tactics in these negotiations reak of bad faith bargaining. All this has led me to wanting the players to get a fair deal in the face of the strong arm nature of the owners demands.

On the other hand, I want basketball back desperately. I’m die-hard fan that watches multiple games a night when I can. I feverishly scan my twitter feed looking for the next #leaguepassalert to find that night’s close game while simultaneously refreshing the comments section of this site to join the coversation. Plus, as I type away right now it’s clear to you, the reader, I run a basketball site! I love to cover the games, write about strategy, discuss what did/can/will happen on any given night, breakdown the results, and do it all again the next night. And the night after. I am a junkie.

Not to mention, I have an allegiance to the Lakers. Last year’s gut wrenching end to the season is fresh on my mind even as we near 6 months since the final whistle blew versus the Mavericks. I want a season to see if they can recover and regain their stature as the team to beat. I want to see Kobe Bryant, entering his 16th professional campaign, play at a high level while he still can. I want to see if Gasol can bounce back, if Bynum can claim a larger role, if Mike Brown can re-energize an aging group….I could go on and on, but you get the point. The storylines are infinite for this team and they matter to me. Not having an NBA season would create a hole in my life that I’m not ready to have.

Said another way, I’m selfish. And this is where I’m having trouble coming to grips with what I really want, where my rooting interests meet reality. Do I want a fair deal for the players more than I want a season? Based off Aldridge’s report, that’s a question fans and players must now be asking themselves because that’s what it’s seemingly come to. I wish it were different. I wish the owners would be happy simply winning by 12 points after the players get some garbage time points to close the gap rather than running out the full court press right until the final buzzer. That’s not the case, though.

Close, But No Cigar….Yet

Darius Soriano —  October 29, 2011

Yesterday, Phillip wrote about how an 82 game season, compressed into a shorter time period, could potentially affect the Lakers. This was a topic of interest because going into Friday morning, both the owners and the players were optimistic about a deal being made to end the lockout. And with that optimism, came the prospect of still getting in a full 82 game slate for each team. Progress had been made on many of the “system issues” that derailed talks in other recent meetings and the only major issue left to tackle was the revenue split.

Then, as talks continued into Friday, lines were drawn in the sand. The owners still want 50%. The players still want 52%. Talks over. That optimism that was so fresh in the minds of the negotiators and the fans is now on life support as talks broke down again. And, on top of that, David Stern announced the cancellation of the remainder of the November schedule and that an 82 game season will not happen under any circumstances. Well, then.

That said, despite being fooled too many times to count by sides that seem to extend olive branches to the fans only to kick us in the stomach when we reach out to grab it, I remain optimistic. The sides are as close as they’ve ever been to finding the middle ground that will be the foundation of a deal. Nearly every issue is solved – or at least close enough that they won’t be the impediment to a deal.

With the sides this close, the rhetoric becomes less important to me as it takes a backseat to how close the sides actually are. So, while it’s disappointing to have talks break down again, I completely understand it. In many ways, it should have been expected. It makes sense that both would make one last stand to try and get the other side to move the last few feet in the deal. Those last few feet still represent close to a billion dollars in revenue over the life of a 10 year agreement and thus still represents the difference between a win, loss, or a draw in these negotiations. Remember, these are still prideful men and winning is what they’re used to.

That said, as much evidence we’d like to point to that says contrary, these men are not stupid. They know they’re within spitting distance of a deal and they also know both sides have moved a fair amount to get to this point (regardless of what you think about the owners’ starting position in these negotiations – a starting point I believe to be ridiculous, by the way – movement has occurred). At this point, I’d rather both sides take a short break to regroup and take stock in their respective positions to truly evaluate how much more they can move to make a deal. As I said yesterday on twitter, both sides have made concessions to get this close and now must take a look in the mirror to figure out what they can live with so an agreement can be made.

Meanwhile, we wait. Again. But as frustrating as that can be, it could all be over soon. Maybe it’s naive to think so, but when on a journey of this length and rigor, I have to believe the people in the room are smart enough to not turn around and go home after this latest stalemate.

While watching some of the lockout coverage, the idea of still having an 82-game schedule should the lockout end by this weekend or early next week crept into my mind. I thought about the Lakers roster, and more importantly, the collective age of the members on their roster as it currently stands. I wondered how a compacted 82-game schedule would impact an aging Lakers team and decided to look back at the 98-99 season for comparison.

What immediately stood out was the fact that the Lakers played 17 back-to-backs over the course of 50 games during the span of 145 days including three back-to-back-to-backs(!). To put it in perspective, the Lakers played a mere 15 back-to-backs during the course of their 82-game regular season schedule. One would assume that aging teams wouldn’t fare well with such a brutal schedule with little rest between games, but when I looked at the playoff teams for each conference and compared the average age of the team with where they finished at the end of the regular season, I was a bit surprised by what I found.

(Note: I only looked at the Top 10 rotation guys in terms of minutes played when calculating average age of teams. I didn’t think it was necessary to include 11th and 12th men considering they rarely had impact on games and didn’t see the floor long enough to where their age/physical ability correlation meant much to their respective team. Also, this was able to exclude a lot of guys who spent a huge part of the season on the bench due to injuries.)

The 98-99 Playoff Teams and Average Age

WEST
Spurs – 30
Jazz – 29.9
Blazers – 27.7
Lakers – 28.3
Rockets – 28.8
Suns – 30.2
Kings – 26.1
Timberwolves – 27.4


EAST
Heat – 29.8
Pacers – 30.4
Magic – 28.9
Hawks – 29.9
Pistons – 27.9
76ers – 26
Bucks – 28.5
Knicks – 29.2

What you’ll find above is that the more experienced teams finished with the top two spots in each conference while no team with an average under 28 finished with home court advantage in the first round except for the Portland Trailblazers (who ended up getting swept by the Spurs). While the younger teams might have been better equipped to physically handle the grueling schedule, it was the teams that were better prepared mentally with lots of veteran presence that ended up finishing with the best records at the end of the regular season. Furthermore, the two teams that made the finals had an average age of 30 (Spurs), and 29.2 (Knicks) years old. Now take a look at the average ages of all of the playoff teams from last season.

The 10-11 Playoff Teams and Average Age


WEST
Spurs – 28.8
Lakers – 29.8
Dallas – 34.3
Thunder – 23.9
Nuggets – 28.1
Blazers – 26.5
Hornets – 25.7
Grizzlies – 25.7


EAST
Bulls – 27.4
Heat 29.1
Celtics – 29.6
Magic – 27.7
Hawks – 27.4
Knicks – 24.6
76ers – 24.5
Pacers – 26.5

The Lakers had the second highest average age in the league last season, which, if I could actually make any correlation between the unpromised upcoming season and the 98-99 season, would bode well for the Lakers. In reality, there probably isn’t any connection between what happened over a decade and what might happen next season, but it was interesting to see that the older guys in the league didn’t have a problem hanging with the younger guys after playing back-to-back-to-backs. Also, the style of play was much slower and much more physical than what we see in today’s NBA. It’ll be interesting to see if the rule changes over the last decade will flip the results of the 99 season and have the younger guys running the older guys off the floor in today’s faster paced NBA. Either way, I’ll pay attention to how guys like Kobe, Pau, Metta World Peace, and Matt Barnes handle a much more compressed schedule and how Mike Brown toys with the minutes of these guys as the season progresses.

From Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Assuming the owners are as entrenched as ever at 50, what is there to talk about today? The system — which is really a bundle of issues that determine exactly how hard the NBA’s salary cap will be, and, related, how certain NBA players’ incomes will be. Hunter’s core concerns: “We’re not prepared to let them impose a system on us that eliminates guarantees, reduces contract lengths, diminishes annual contract increases, eliminates the other [salary cap] exceptions, really restricts Bird [rights for teams to exceed the cap to re-sign their own free agents]. That’s the kind of system they want. And we say no way. We have fought too long, and made too many sacrifices, to get where we are. We’re talking about a system that’s going to generate billions of dollars in the next few years and we were prepared to take a step back, to take a cut, to help them. We have presented them with a proposal that would address all of their losses, so that minimally they would have broken even. So that’s where we are.”

From Tom Haberstroth, TrueHoop
: You notice that Stern did not sell the unfairness of payroll disparity by pitting the Orlando Magic against the Chicago Bulls. The Magic spent $110 million last season (the same as the Lakers) and the Bulls shelled out a lowly $55 million, or half as much as its Eastern conference foe. And the result? The poor Bulls won more games than any other team and reached the Eastern Conference Finals. The Magic? The nine-figure payroll bought them an embarrassing first-round exit. If you scan through team payrolls, you begin to see that money doesn’t decide games. If cash was king, then the Bulls wouldn’t have a chance against the Magic. If spending power ruled all, how do we explain the Utah Jazz and their $80 million payroll winning 16 fewer games than the Oklahoma City Thunder, who spent just $58 million? The Toronto Raptors boasted a higher payroll than the Miami Heat, so why did the Raps lose 60 games while the Heat came within two games of a title?

From Brian Windhorst, TrueHoop: Multiple league sources have emphatically told ESPN.com in the past several days that the sticking points with the players’ union do not solely break down market-size lines and that there’s unity among the owners on the need to win significant economic concessions from the players. But there seems to be a difference between unity and harmony. TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott reported Tuesday that the owners were holding a hastily-scheduled meeting in New York to further address revenue sharing issues. It comes on the heels of an owners’ meeting last week where enhanced revenue sharing was discussed — a conversation that has been going on for nearly as long as talks with the players — but no plan was agreed to. Stern has promised a new system that will at least triple the money being shared by teams. But so far that has just been a promise, as no plan is in place.

From Ian O’Connor, ESPNNewYork: Of course, there’s a difference between a 50-50 split of BRI and a 50-50 split of income. NBA owners grab $600 million in expenses off the top, and some sources of revenue don’t fall under the BRI umbrella. So the players’ half is actually less than half. Even at the risk of a lost season at the worst possible time, a time of exciting stars and healthy ratings and developing storylines, the players can’t accept this demand. “It’s more than a compromise; it’s a folding,” Miller said of the prospect of the players’ union, or any union, making such dramatic concessions to management. “That’s the nature of the beast, too. You start to retreat, and the next thing you know you’re on your back.”

From Shaun Powell, NBA.com: In the past, the owners could always count on players to crumble after missing a few paychecks. But that’s so 1990-ish. Today’s player isn’t nearly as reckless or dumb about financial matters. That’s not to say a fair amount of players don’t buy three houses and five cars and 50 pounds of bling. But the NBA actually helped today’s player wise up by implementing programs and workshops, mostly during the league’s mandatory rookie orientation, designed to teach players how to manage their money better. Plus: Thanks to that 57 percent slice of the basketball related income-pie, players over the last decade saw their salaries rise to roughly $5 million on average, almost to the point where the players make too much money to blow all of it. So anyone who thinks players will start shivering just because of a few missed paychecks is being a bit foolish.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: The NBA canceled the first two weeks of the regular season, and could cancel more. The players lose $160 million in salary for every two weeks of missed games, while the league loses $800 million. The concession and team employees continually feel worried for their jobs. The average fan feels no sympathy for either side fighting over $4.3 billion in this sagging economy. And the NBA continues to put its popularity in jeopardy. That’s why both sides need to change their negotiating tactics when they meet Wednesday in New York.  For one, it’s a small but encouraging sign the owners dropped their precondition of demanding acceptance of a 50-50 revenue split, as SheridanHoops.com’s Chris Sheridan reported. But they need to do more. It’s inevitable they’ve won this labor battle because they have the leverage, but there’s no need to kick the players union when it’s already down.

From Howard Beck, NY Times: The owners remain unified for now in seeking big givebacks from the players — even at the cost of canceling games. But their views cannot be easily categorized by market size, revenue, personal wealth or championship aspirations. In a Venn diagram, the owners would show overlap in their core objectives, but different preferences for achieving them and different thresholds for how many games they are willing to lose. “Externally, they have uniformity, but internally, there is a debate and different interests by different teams,” said Marc Ganis, the president of SportsCorp, a sports consulting firm. “There is uniformity on meaningfully changing the system. But what that means can mean different things to different people.”

At some point, the NBA season will resume and talks will shift towards Dwight Howard’s potential free agency and it will be hard for the basketball world to focus on anything else. After a summer in which LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade entered the offseason as free agents and then all signed with the Miami Heat, the biggest news to follow that development was the potential free agency of Carmelo Anthony, which seemed to derail the Denver Nuggets to some extent as they sought to trade their high scoring forward during the 2010-11 regular season.

The biggest available prize at the moment has to be Dwight Howard: he is the best big man in the league, an athletic freak that affects games on both ends of the floor and a complete game changer.

Mind you, some of his qualities as a basketball player make it impossible for him to shake the Shaquille O’Neal comparisons: the brute force, the unprecedented athleticism for his size, his physical stature and the gigantic expectations all remind us of the Diesel. In addition, the fact that Howard plays for the Orlando Magic (O’Neal’s first team when he joined the NBA) and that he blatantly stole Shaq’s moniker and dubbed himself as Superman all the while selling himself as an entertainer (singing and dancing) and well D12 did little to escape the large shadow cast by the big Aristotle.

Thus, everything the Orlando Magic center does will invariably be compared to the future Hall of Fame center for better or worse. As a result, one would think that Howard should accept these comparisons head on and take it to another level by seeking to do outshine O’Neal.

Shaq was not fond of Dwight referring to himself as the Man of Steel and went as far as making his opinions on the matter public. Consequently, it’s almost as if Howard has to respond to the legend, but not in a public forum. Instead, the best answer D12 can provide has to come on the basketball court. Here are the three best possible responses (keep in mind, once the season resumes, Howard will be in the last year of his contract with the Orlando Magic which means he could only join a team via free agency or via trade if Otis Smith is certain he will lose his star center):

I. New York, New York

The last time the New York Knicks advanced in the playoffs came in the 2000 playoffs, when they advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, but were eliminated by the Indiana Pacers. In addition, the Knicks last made the NBA Finals in 1999 and also in 1993, losing both times to a team with a lethal big man (Olajuwon in ’93 and Duncan in ’99).

The New York Knicks are one of the most storied franchises in NBA history and yet have nothing in recent memory to show for it. The one lasting memory for the Knicks in that past 20 years has to be Larry Johnson’s famous four-point play from the 1999 playoff run; but other than that we would be hard pressed to find any other lasting memory for the Knickerbockers in recent years.

Consequently, New Yorkers have one memory to latch on: the Willis Reed game.

In Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, with the world wondering whether Reed would be able to suit up to play against the Lakers, the star center did just that and played despite a terribly injured leg and gave his teammates the inspiration needed to defeat the a Lakers team that featured Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain.

This happened over 40 years ago and yet we see video footage or hear stories about this at least once a year. For all of the media scrutiny that comes along with playing in New York, there is nothing quite like success in the Big Apple. Winners are glorified and immortalized. Names like Clyde Frazier, Bill Bradley and Dave DeBusschere are worthy of mention today specifically because the 1969-70 New York Knicks were victorious in the Finals.

Hence, Patrick Ewing will probably never get his just due for failing to win a title in NYC.

Mind you, what would happen if Dwight Howard took his talents to New York City and helped the Knicks win an NBA title?

New York would not only become relevant again in the NBA’s landscape but Howard would be revered for multiple generations as parents would share stories with their kids about the big man that saved New York.

In order for Howard to land in New York, given the fact that the Knicks do not project to have the necessary cap room to sign him, they would have to acquire him by trade; and also D12 would have to agree to an extension before New York would throw all of their chips to get the big man. With that said, here are the potential deals the Knicks could make with the Magic:

  • Amare Stoudemire for Dwight Howard straight up.
  • Amare Stoudemire and Landry Fields for Dwight Howard.
  • Chauncey Billups (expiring contract) and Landry Fields for Dwight Howard.
  • Amare Stoudemire, Chauncey Billups and Landry Fields for Dwight Howard and Gilbert Arenas.

The most realistic trade would essentially get Howard and Arenas to New York in a swap for Stoudemire and Billups. Could be an option, but perhaps Howard could better off with…

II. Bringing a title to Orlando

O’Neal left the Orlando Magic in the summer of 1996 for the Los Angeles Lakers. His departure essentially signaled the end for the Magic as an Eastern Conference contender. With Shaq on the roster, Orlando made it to the 1995 NBA Finals (where they were swept) and then made an appearance in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals and were dismantled by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.

These are the lasting memories of the former LSU Tiger’s time in Orlando.

Should Dwight Howard bring a championship to Orlando, he would have succeeded where a legend failed and thus would finally earn the respect that he has always deserved as a basketball player from fans and the media.

The one problem with this scenario: notwithstanding the changes that a new collective bargaining agreement could bring, does anyone see the Orlando Magic acquiring top flight talent to compliment Howard?

Their so-called big moves in recent years have been trading for Vince Carter, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas. If you were Dwight Howard, would you trust your general manager to get you there?

Which leads to…

III. Winning in Los Angeles

Nothing would scream “following in Shaq’s footsteps” louder than Howard joining the Los Angeles Lakers. Indeed, O’Neal left the Magic to join the purple and gold and helped them win three titles in entertaining and dominating fashion. However, what would it do for Howard’s legacy if he joined an aging Kobe Bryant and won four rings with him?

Not only would the world look at Howard different (look at what winning two rings did for Gasol’s reputation) but such a development could lead to D12 not only conquering his demons, but could also prove to be the silent remix of Kobe’s June 2010 statement “[this ring] means I got one more than Shaq” (in this case Howard would be saying he has one more ring with Kobe than Shaq does).

Furthermore, Dwight Howard would unquestionably be mentioned alongside the names of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal on the list of great centers to have played for the Lakers.

With Kobe pushing and daring him to be great (when’s the last time you heard a teammate challenged Dwight?), Howard would not only remain the most destructive center in the league but he would finally be deferring to players with a pedigree to either match or surpass his own.

This scenario could prove to be the most tempting and the one that fans latch onto given how realistic and logical it sounds.

Los Angeles would provide Howard the forum he requires to entertain fans with his off the court activities, but more importantly he would be surrounded with players who have been to the mountaintop and that can accept the pressure that comes along with it.

Also, there are few experiences in the NBA that compare to playing with the Lakers. The pressure is always at its highest, the opposing stadiums are always filled and there is a certain prestige associated with wearing the purple and gold today that is the envy of most sports franchises.

Indeed, when superstars wear the Lakers jersey and consistently play great, it gets them mentioned in the same conversation such as Magic Johnson and the Logo.

In addition, by the time Kobe retires, Howard will still be young enough to help the Lakers remain title contenders and should also have a supporting cast to help him on that front given the franchise’s willingness to spend on quality talent to compete for rings.

Here are the packages that the Lakers could offer the Magic to get Howard (one has to assume that Orlando would try their best to unload one of their most unfavorable contracts):

  • Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom for Dwight Howard and Brandon Bass.
  • Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom for Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu.
  • Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Metta World Peace for Dwight Howard and Gilbert Arenas.
  • Kobe…wait never mind that one.

The most sensible trade involves Bynum, World Peace and Odom going to Orlando (although many could argue that the Magic would demand Gasol, but given that the Magic would be negotiating without much leverage, it stands to reason that the Lakers could swing the deal with Bynum) in a trade for Dwight Howard and Gilbert Arenas. In a perfect world, Los Angeles would also get Tiger Woods in a swap for Khloe.

The deal would obviously once again hinge on Howard’s willingness to sign a contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers.

With that said, while teams such as the Mavericks, Heat and Magic have made the Finals in the past few seasons, few have really noticed because the Lakers and Celtics were busy making history.

It’s obviously entirely subjective, but which scenario sounds like the best to you?