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Posted: Friday February 5, 2010 12:21PM; Updated: Friday February 5, 2010 6:25PM
Ian Thomsen
Ian Thomsen>INSIDE THE NBA

Weekly Countdown (cont.)

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Antawn Jamison
To retain LeBron James, the Cavs may make some major moves before the trade deadline -- one of which could include getting Antawn Jamison (above).
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

On to the rest of the Countdown ...

4 Questions rescued from the spam

I concede to you that Kobe Bryant is a great basketball player and one of the Lakers' greats, but I have tired of how many points a player scores in a game or a season. Many of Kobe's points came at the expense of his teammates standing and waiting for him to do something or because he doesn't want them to do something. While that has changed, the vibe I have gotten from watching the NBA in the past two decades is about scoring as many points as possible, no matter if the team wins or loses. So why should the public care?
-- Jeremy, Las Vegas

If Bryant were scoring for a losing team, then I would agree with you, Jeremy. But his scoring has positioned L.A. to win four titles with No. 5 possibly on the way. His seizure of the Lakers' scoring record is worth noting because he ranks ahead of a lot of great players who won a lot of games -- and championships -- for that franchise.

While Kobe Bryant's an exceptional scorer and a player with great heart, I wouldn't put him as the greatest Laker. Kareem and Magic should come first, and Shaq was there for such a brief time he doesn't really count. With all the accolades though, you have to remember that Kobe's team struggled before getting Pau Gasol gift-wrapped to him. Michael Jordan took a 47-35 team with the Bulls after his comeback and won 72 games, Magic would always elevate his teammates' games -- I don't see that happening with Kobe. You give him average role players, his team wins 40 games tops. He's proven that in his career, he is a winner if the conditions are right. If they are not, he's just another superstar. I always wonder why nobody points that out. Is it the fact that the NBA is losing interest around the world and in the ratings so there is a need to over-hype today's players?
-- Sam M., Helsinki, Finland

To make it clear, I didn't say he was the greatest Laker, Sam; I only raised the question.

Nobody in the NBA goes far with middling teammates. When LeBron James led Cleveland to the NBA Finals three years ago, that was as strong an example as you'll see of a star doing a lot with a little.

I'll also point out that the Bulls won 102 regular-season games during the two years of Jordan's initial "retirement," including 55 victories during his first full year away from the team; so it's not like he didn't have talent around him.

The Bulls are playing good ball, but realistically, they are not going to be a playoff contender or challenger this year. Would it not make sense to trade Kirk Hinrich for some expiring contracts, such as to the Lakers for Jordan Farmar, Adam Morrison and Josh Powell, who all can fill Chicago's holes while the Lakers get a big guard who can play the point?
-- Robert R., Santa Barbara, Calif.

That would make sense for the Lakers, definitely. While that potential trade wouldn't help Chicago much on the court, it would provide the Bulls with more cap space to apply to free agents this summer as they seek a lineup that exploits the strengths of Derrick Rose.

The two teams that appear to be in the market for Hinrich as an expensive third guard are the Lakers and Celtics, both of whom need a backup point guard. There doesn't appear to be a large market for Hinrich as he's a luxury item at $17 million over the two full seasons ahead. And I'm not buying rumors of Ray Allen going to Chicago for a Hinrich package. When they discussed a potential deal in December, the Celtics were planning to give up Glen Davis and expiring money.

Do you think there is any chance that the NBA will adopt Jerry West's idea of contracting? I believe the NBA is a star league, and if you don't have a star, then your team is really at a disadvantage. By contracting the league to about 20-24 teams, the league could have better overall teams. How great were the days of the Lakers vs. Celtics before expansion? Bird, Magic, Kareem, James Worthy, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and guys like Byron Scott and Michael Cooper coming off the bench -- now you have LeBron James and bunch of role players (and an old Shaq) as the best team in the league.
-- Chris, Cherry Hill, N.J.

If the league contracts as you suggest, Chris, that means six to 10 owners spent hundreds of millions to buy teams and ultimately realize nothing on their investment. That is not a precedent the league is likely to pursue. The alternative would be to have their fellow owners buy them out, but that isn't realistic either. The owners are having enough trouble preventing themselves from overpaying their own players and operating their own teams at a profit, so I don't see them spending billions to buy each other out as well.

3 Thoughts on the next collective bargaining agreement

A hard cap may not be the answer. While four executives predicted last week that the NBA will install a hard cap on salaries in 2011-12, the truth is that no one can be sure what the negotiations between owners and players will bring. As much as many owners may wish for a hard cap with no allowance for a luxury tax or other vehicles that provide extra money to players, a hard cap will include aspects they won't like.

For one thing, it will be harder than ever to make a trade if every team's payroll is bumping up against the impenetrable ceiling of a hard cap. In many cases, players would be dealt for each other only if their salaries matched up exactly. "You don't see many player-for-player trades in the NFL," one GM said.

The executive went on to advise his peers to be careful about wishing for a hard-cap system similar to the NFL's; Football's system is almost impossible to follow because the ceiling is circumvented by bonuses and all kinds of hidden money.

There is truth in that point of view. I think I have a decent understanding of sports economics after following the NBA for so many years, but even I can't figure out the metrics of the NFL's system.

I spoke Thursday with a GM who predicts the owners will compel the players to accept 50 percent or less of overall revenues. (The players are supposed to receive 57 percent under the current deal, but they're actually taking in more than 60 percent thanks to all the salaries paid by clubs above the luxury-tax threshold.) From there, he said, the league needs to slash the mid-level exception down to $3 million or less annually, limit annual raises to cost-of-living increases, trim back rookie contracts and make a few other small changes. "Once those things are done,'' he said, "everything will be fine.''

Outside-the-box ideas. But then other executives are convinced that the current system needs an overhaul, which is an example of why the negotiations among the owners will be just as interesting as the talks with the players.

One idea I've heard is utterly simple: Give the players all of the ticket revenues (not including suites), which I'm told accounts for almost 50 percent of league revenues. Those revenues will be split equally among the 30 team payrolls, and then (you may remember me mentioning this part last week) the players will sign contracts entitling them to a negotiated percentage of that revenue. When the ticket revenues go up, the players' salaries go up; when the revenues go down, so too will salaries.

I promise you that players will grow more conscious of helping to sell tickets, which would be a good thing for the league. But the players will be loathe to give up their current salary structure, which is guaranteed regardless of revenues. I can also see how they would question whether franchises were working hard enough to sell tickets, and whether the ticket prices were being kept low artificially now that owners weren't taking home those profits.

Follow the Lakers. As for those teams that are worried about having exorbitant payrolls when the new CBA takes hold after next season, here is the best advice I can offer: Study the Lakers. If the Lakers aren't scaling back for the next era, then why should anyone else be worried about adapting to the new system? It's not like David Stern is going to force the Lakers to deconstruct the league's most popular team. The next CBA is supposed to rescue the NBA, not destroy it.

2 Teams driving the trade deadline

These contenders are approaching the Feb. 18 deadline from a relative position of strength.

Cleveland Cavaliers. No team is more likely to take on a big salary at the deadline, thanks in no small part to LeBron holding a gun to their head. They must do everything they can to retain him this summer, which means they -- and maybe they alone -- will be sifting through potential offers from Philadelphia (for Andre Iguodala), Sacramento (for Kevin Martin), Indiana (for Troy Murphy), Phoenix (for Amar'e Stoudemire) and Washington (for Antawn Jamison).

The one trade that many rivals don't want to see the Cavs making is for Jamison, who would improve their frontcourt balance while further stabilizing their locker room.

Dallas Mavericks. Owner Mark Cuban may be waiting for this summer, when he can make a sign-and-trade run at one or more free agents -- Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, you name it. But he is expected to be more than willing to take on salary in order to mount a challenge against the Lakers. Center Erick Dampier (currently making $12.1 million) is unlikely to play enough minutes this year to pick up his option for next season, making him a highly valuable piece to provide Philadelphia or Sacramento with cap relief. Josh Howard ($10.9 million this season) is on a team option for next season, which means a new employer could trade for him, try him out for the final two months and then decide whether to cash out this summer or in 2011.

The Rockets are also offering Tracy McGrady's expiring deal, but it remains to be seen whether they'll be as willing to take on a large salary commitment.

1 Thought on Twitter

Social networking will influence the free-agent market this summer. So promises a league insider with an extended background in college basketball.

"In the old days, teams used to control players," he said. "Now the teams have lost that control, to the point that the NBA had to put in rules that players are not allowed to use Twitter at halftime. The thing with these players, their lifestyles revolve around technology. They want instant information.

"You're now dealing with kids who think that anything you do or say is public. To them it is public, because they all communicate with each other."

This week, the Celtics dealt with a half-day of speculation that Pierce was out for the year after teammate Shelden Williams posted a Twitter message that suggested bad news was on the way. As a result, the Celtics rushed out a news release late at night diagnosing Pierce as day-to-day with a sprained foot. "They don't think about the rules or privacy when they use Twitter," the league insider said. "The Celtics don't want the opposition to know if Pierce is injured, but Williams didn't think about what he was doing to the Celtics; he just did it.

"Twitter has become a broadcasting network for athletes. Around July 1, there is going to be so much tweeting among the free agents, and all of these guys will be communicating with each other, and if you don't think they're going to be telling each other about the offers they're getting, then you're crazy. It's going to be the summer of instant information, and it's going to change the whole market, because everybody will know what kind of money is out there and what each team is trying to do.

"If I were a GM, I'd hire two or three kids from college and have them scour the Internet every day to find out what's being said by who. If you want to know what's going on, that's how you can find out."

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