Weekly Countdown (cont.)
On to the rest of the Countdown ...
4 Questions rescued from the spam
When the offseason starts, do you think Atlanta could offer a max contract to LeBron before offering a max to Joe Johnson, just to see if LeBron would want to join a team of young talent?
The rules prohibit those kinds of shenanigans, Karl. Before it could try to sign James, Atlanta would have to first renounce its rights to Johnson in order to clear space and be under the cap. In this particular case, Atlanta would be left with less than $10 million in space, which wouldn't be enough to deliver James anyway.
Bird rights enable a team to re-sign its own player regardless of cap space. The Hawks can use those rights to re-sign Johnson, but they don't have enough cap space to go after LeBron.
Notable NBA agent Arn Tellem wrote in a column, "NBA players would be in a stronger position without a union." A day later, when interviewed by The New York Times, agent David Falk blamed the union for the NBA's broken economic system. Do you agree with Tellem and Falk? Is the players' union to blame for the labor strife?
On the one side, Tellem argues, "The union has caved on pretty much every demand the league has made: a rookie wage scale, a maximum salary cap, a luxury tax, even an escrow fund. During that time, the league hasn't made a single sacrifice.'' On the other side, the owners complain that the very same bargaining agreement is delivering too much money to the players. Both sides are right. Both views are symptoms of a system that needs a revolutionary overhaul.
I find myself agreeing with Falk's call for owners and players to compromise in creating an entirely new system for sharing revenues. I don't yet know how to create that system. I do know the owners won't like Falk's definition of revenues, as laid out in his interview with The Times: "China, franchise appreciation, broadcast rights, luxury seating. If you're going to be partners, there should be no definition of revenues. Revenues should be everything that owners receive."
The NBA -- its owners and players -- needs to stop trying to repair an engine that no longer works. The sides need to work together with the understanding that everyone will make more money if they truly are partners. If the new system creates an authentic team, then the players will realize they can't afford to bring guns into the locker room and commit the other kinds of selfish, shortsighted mistakes that ultimately hurt their business.
Look at how the best NBA teams win championships. Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant are partners. Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan are partners. Doc Rivers and his three stars in Boston were partners in 2007-08. In each case, the rest of the team has followed that example of leadership and worked in the best interests of the team.
Most franchises can't see through this kind of high-minded partnership because the coach and/or player isn't capable of pulling it off. Too often the players selfishly exploit the relationship, and/or the coach pretends to be the boss and wastes a lot of time trying in vain to maintain authority that doesn't really exist.
The same dynamic is at play between NBA owners and players. The owners appear to be striving harshly for control over the players, but it's a farce. They seek something they never can acquire. For their business to succeed, the owners and the players must respect each other. The only way to show that respect is with a dollar sign.
If the players continue to view themselves as employees, then they'll continue to shrug off the NBA's financial difficulties as a problem for the owners to solve. The truth is those problems won't be solved unless the owners and players behave like partners -- grown-ups -- in solving them together.
There is a way for the owners to embrace a partnership without surrendering control. Look at Popovich: He and Duncan both profit from their relationship, even as both understand that Duncan could be traded at any moment on Popovich's authority.
I am naive in laying it all out in these simple terms, but the troubles each side has helped create now present an opportunity to come up with an entirely new and ultimately more profitable way of doing business together. The system of salary cap, luxury tax and max contracts isn't cutting it anymore. A better system won't come about until they stand in each other's shoes and realize that each side can't afford to continue trying to exploit the other at the expense of their business, that there is no future in behaving like the two sides of the Congressional aisle in Washington.
Can they figure out how to behave in their own best interests? I wonder.
To answer your question, Jerry, the union isn't going to budge until the players believe the owners are treating them as partners. And that won't happen until owners are convinced the players are worthy of that partnership. Good luck.
Regarding the suggested single-elimination tournament to determine the eighth seed in each conference, another revenue- and interest-generating idea might be to have something along the lines of what European soccer does. Why not have, concurrent with the regular season, a single-elimination tournament including not only NBA teams but also D-League teams? Each year there would be a regular-season winner and a tournament winner. The single-elimination format ensures that some teams will advance deep regardless of their realistic chances of winning the regular-season title, and including the D-Leaguers creates the potential for Cinderella stories.
The D-League teams would be murdered, Chris. Cinderella would never get out of the attic.
I think the most realistic scenario is LeBron signing a shorter-term contract with Cleveland (allowing him to keep some options open) and not committing himself anywhere for a long period. Do you agree with this assessment or are my Cleveland roots clouding my vision?
In normal times you may be right, Patrick. But my feeling is that James and other free agents this summer will be more interested in signing five- or six-year deals that will extend as long as possible into the next collective bargaining agreement. This will be the final summer before the new agreement reduces salaries and shortens contracts, and the current free agents will want to postpone those realities for as long as possible.
3 Reasons to believe in the Orlando Magic
Orlando was quiet at the trade deadline, but that's no reason to forget about the team with the best chance of disrupting the anticipated NBA Finals of Cavaliers vs. Lakers.
Jameer Nelson is improving. Nelson's left knee was scoped in December to repair a torn meniscus, and the Magic point guard has been working his way back into form. "It's nothing I can't handle. I think I'm getting through it well,'' says Nelson, who had 14 points and nine assists Wednesday in a win over the Pistons. "As long as we keep getting better, we're going to be where we want to be at the end of the year.''
The Magic won the East last year despite Nelson's midseason shoulder injury that sidelined him until the Finals. His scoring has dipped to 11.7 points this season as he fights through the latest injury. If he has a healthy two months and regains his ability to attack and thereby create for others, then he'll give the Magic a more aggressive look going into the playoffs. Don't forget that the Eastern coaches voted Nelson to the All-Star team one year ago based on a first-half performance of 16.9 points and 50.4 percent shooting.
Last year Orlando recovered from Nelson's absence by making a midseason deal for Rafer Alston. This year GM Otis Smith made a preemptive move to bring in backup point guard Jason Williams, who has played in every game while providing a 3.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. But the Magic need Nelson.
Vince Carter can only improve. Carter was shooting under 40 percent before February, and his arrival was blamed for Orlando's first-half inconsistency. But in his last seven games Carter has averaged 22.1 points while shooting 51.8 percent, including 56.7 percent from three-point range.
"I let a few things bother me,'' Carter said of his concerns with trying to fit into Orlando's deep rotation. "When you have a lot of guys like this team does, that can become a problem.''
Carter was a team leader with the Nets last season, and he says he has tried to establish a similar role in Orlando -- not an easy thing when joining a reigning NBA finalist.
"I'm confident in being a leader,'' Carter said. "From Day One since I've been playing with Dwight [Howard], my goal with him was to help him become a better free-throw shooter and feel more confident. Not to say I'm leading the league or I'm going to be [remembered] in history with the best free-throw percentage. I just felt that I could help him.''
The less Carter thinks about his role and the more confidently he plays, the better Orlando's chances become of improving through him. If he's fully integrated, then Carter will provide another go-to scorer on the perimeter, which can be crucial in the playoffs.
"He's getting better every game, he's getting more comfortable with the offense and the chemistry of playing with us,'' Rashard Lewis said. "You can tell he's trying to get his rhythm back. We still have a long season and he'll most definitely be a lot better the second half of the season.''
They have plenty of inspiration. It's too early to dismiss the Magic. They've been inconsistent, but that's to be expected after the moves they made this summer. Their starting five has been together for only 21 games. Yet they alone have the combination of youth, depth and star power to contend in the East against Cleveland. They also have the not-so-old memories of knocking off the Cavs last season.
"People say we're overrated,'' Lewis said. "There's always negative talk about the Orlando Magic. Even though we made the Finals, we still got a little bit of negative feedback, negative talk. It doesn't bother us at all -- if anything, the negative talk keeps us burning, and so all we have to do is go out there and show them.''
This is not such a bad thing to be: a deep, talented underdog with Finals experience.
"We're still learning to play with the new guys we have,'' Lewis said. "There's still some adjusting to do. But I think our depth is going to help us, especially when playoff time comes, because we have so many guys who can help us win games.''
2 Things you might hear over a cup of coffee
From Antawn Jamison, when he was captain of the Wizards. "I'm not one of those guys who every minute on the minute I'm always hawking things or saying things about this or that. When it's time to say what's on your mind, you say it, and when I think we're not doing the things I think we need to do in order to prepare ourselves to be successful, then it has to be said. And that's something that these guys respect about me, that when he talks he's not going to be talking just to be talking -- that he's not trying to impress anybody, that it's from the heart."
From Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings. Since his conversation last summer with rapper Joe Budden was surreptitiously recorded and shown on YouTube, Jennings says he has changed the way he communicates. "We were talking basketball and talking about who we don't like, or that guy's no good, and unfortunately he was recording me and he put it out there," Jennings said. "It was something that was out of my hands because I thought I was talking to a friend. Now I don't talk on the phone a lot anymore. It's just texting now, all because of that. I don't do a lot of talking on the phone unless it's my mother or Duff [agent Bill Duffy] or some people I'm really close to.''
1 Preview of a potential Lakers-Cavs Finals matchup
From an NBA scout. "I liked Cleveland's chances of reaching the Finals before, and now this trade for Antawn Jamison solidifies it. This has separated them in the East from Orlando and the Celtics and Atlanta.
"Now they've got a true scorer at power forward who can really put points on the board, who can go for 22 and 8 on a consistent basis. How do you take him away? He can shoot, give you range, spread your offense; he can still drive and finish in the paint, or you can post him up and play through him. He's not overly athletic and he's not a great out-of-position rebounder, but he'll rebound his position. He's a good teammate who will do whatever you want him to do, and he's a good passer who will understand he's the No. 3 or 4 option and that's what he needs to be to get a ring.
"Jamison is a tough matchup for [Pau] Gasol. He won't like playing Jamison. Chasing Jamison around the floor and having to guard a guy who is well-rounded offensively is going to be a challenge for Gasol, even though Jamison is not as mobile and agile as he used to be in terms of moving without the ball.
"Even with all of that, I'm still going to like the Lakers. For me, it all comes down to Derek Fisher. I look at Cleveland's backcourt and I think Fisher can still be effective against that team. If Cleveland had someone who could pressure Fisher and shut him down, then the Lakers would become a much more vulnerable team. Because then Kobe is having to bring the ball up, and that means you can load to the ball and do some things defensively against Kobe that you can't do otherwise. All of that passing and cutting that is involved with the triangle offense, you can negate some of that by locating Kobe on the ball. Plus, it just wears Kobe out because now he has to do everything.
"Fisher, because of his age, is the Lakers' weakness. But the Cavs don't have someone to hurt the Lakers there.
"So I think the Lakers are not feeling bad about this Jamison deal. Cleveland is a more formidable opponent than it was before the trade, but the Lakers aren't saying to themselves, `We can't beat them.' "
Would his prediction change if Cleveland earns the home-court advantage?
"I would ... still pick the Lakers,'' the scout said. "But you heard how long I had to pause before deciding. It's going to be a hell of a series, that's for sure.''
NBA Truth & Rumors