Posted: Friday December 17, 2010 2:00PM ; Updated: Friday December 17, 2010 8:47PM
Ian Thomsen
Ian Thomsen>THE SIXTH MAN

The Sixth Man (cont.)

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The Adviser

baron-davis-sterling.jpg
Clippers owner Donald Sterling heckled his highest-paid player, Baron Davis, in the middle of game.
Kelvin Kuo/US PRESSWIRE

The questions are fabricated, my answers are for real.

Fans who buy a $10 ticket have the right to boo or complain or say whatever they want. I'm paying these players more than $50 million this year. That's how much my ticket costs. My accountant tells me I'm paying Baron Davis $158,536.58 per game whether he plays or not. Even if he's fat or junking up threes or pounding the ball through the floor, I still have to pay him. So explain to me why I'm not allowed to yell at him?
-- D.T.S., Los Angeles

Donald T. Sterling, owner of the Clippers, you are steadily turning into a hero to some of your fellow NBA owners. For years you have been ridiculed as the worst owner in sports for failing to win more than one playoff series in 29 seasons of ownership. Now, other owners who lose money year after year look to you -- in true spite of the fans' feelings -- as an example of someone who rejuvenates his team through the draft while keeping the payroll relatively low and ultimately profitable.

With the league locked in a fight with the players over a new collective bargaining agreement, many owners appear to feel resentful that players are afforded 57 percent of revenues. That means you are likely to hear encouragement from your fellow owners for heckling Davis and other Clippers players from your courtside seat. They won't follow your example because they're too worried about public opinion or the ability to recruit talent in the future, or the negative impact on their team's fragile ecosystem. But you've never worried much about those things, have you? Lucky you.

I want to live and work in New York City. Is it such a bad thing that I wish to choose where I live and work? Why should I accept what others want me to do?
-- C.A., Denver

Carmelo Anthony, there is nothing wrong with exercising your right to sign with the team of your choosing should you become a free agent after this season. Along the same lines, there will be nothing wrong with your decision to sign the three-year, $65 million extension offered by the Nuggets, if you so decide.

The problem is that you want both the extension and the choice of your next team while you remain under contract to Denver. You are entitled to try to gain both simultaneously, but the current rules of the NBA don't owe you both.

The Nuggets have to believe you ultimately won't turn down the extension. They also don't want to be limited to talking trade with the Knicks. If by February you haven't signed on for three more years, and the Nuggets still aren't interested in what the Knicks are offering, then why shouldn't they move you for expiring money and draft picks to a contender that will rent you out for the remainder of the season? That's the risk you're running.

As I see it, that's not such a huge risk. So you may wind up playing for another team with playoff hopes: Maybe that team will help create new options to sign-and-trade you to the franchise of your choosing.

I love basketball. Why doesn't the game love me in return? Why must she torment me so?
--Y.M., Houston

Yao Ming, you have done more than anyone could ask. You have put yourself at risk to injury by playing practically year-round in order to satisfy your commitments to China and the NBA. You have been a tireless and patient statesman of the highest order.

Now it is time for you to decide what is best for you. Never mind your other commitments as a public figure -- you have fulfilled all of those. You are 30 years old and it is time to decide what you want. How important is it for you to attempt yet another comeback from the latest stress fracture that has been pounded into your left ankle?

If you are all played out, then you should retire with no apologies to anyone.

But if you believe you can recover, and if you love the game enough to try again, then you should try. You're still young and you owe it to yourself to find out how good you can be. You've been through a lot of pain and frustration already, and no one will blame you if enough is enough. But if you're intending to call it quits, wouldn't you have done so before this latest injury?

The Lesson

How to become an NBA team president. This comes from Lon Babby, who became the Suns' president last summer after serving 16 years as an agent/attorney to the likes of Tim Duncan, Ray Allen and Shane Battier, as well as current Suns Hedo Turkoglu and Grant Hill -- Babby's first client in 1994. From 1979 to '94, Babby worked in the Baltimore Orioles' front office.

"I would be lying if I said I didn't think about [running an NBA team someday] and how I would do things. I think every agent thinks that they could do a better job than the people that are doing it. But I never really pursued it, because I didn't think you could do your job as a player representative if in the back of your mind you were angling for relationships that could lead you to the position that I'm in now.

"It happened in a bizarre way. I had known [Suns owner] Robert Sarver through my dealings with Grant, and when Steve Kerr decided to leave [as Suns GM last spring] I told Grant that it would be important for us to try to participate, if welcomed, in some kind of search for the general manager -- to the extent that Robert was willing to hear a player's point of view, I was happy to vet candidates with him.

"So I called Robert and somehow from those conversations evolved a job interview. And one day I said to him, 'This is starting to sound like a job interview, I haven't had a job interview in 35 years.' And that's when I immediately shifted gears and said I need to make sure I'm ethically on solid ground with the players.

"First I called Grant, and if Grant had said 'I don't want you to pursue it,' then that would have been the end of it right there. He thought it was amusing and interesting, so I pursued it and then disclosed it to all of my clients as the thing became more real. I got tremendous reaction from every one of my clients, they thought it was great. They were surprised, but we were all surprised.

"I represented 18 players, and the ones I was most worried about were the ones that were in free agency. So I told Robert I wouldn't even talk to him until Ray Allen and Luke Ridnour were taken care of.

"The most immediate issue that I had to disentangle myself from was conversations that I had been having about the possibility of Hedo coming here. I immediately got out of the middle of that and didn't participate in it either way, and I let my [law] partner, Jim Tanner, take over. I'd come up with the concept of an amend-and-trade, which was to adjust Hedo's compensation in his last year to facilitate [his trade out of Toronto] and those were conversations I had had with other teams as well as with [Raptors president] Bryan Colangelo, because the situation in Toronto was just a bad marriage on both sides and I was trying to find a way to get out from under it. Other than the initial concept, the details were worked out between Jim and Robert, and I didn't express an opinion about whether it was a good idea or a bad idea either way.

"I'm here because Robert had a vision that you needed to have a bifurcated front office, where you had someone with my experience as a negotiator, a business person and a manager of people, someone who could understand the legal implications of the cap and the rules and all of the processes. And then you also needed to have someone who I describe as a pure basketball genius." [Note: The Suns would hire Lance Blanks to serve as traditional GM.]

"And the only way this would have worked was if you had an owner who could see that you have two roles that historically have been played by the same person. Time will tell whether it's a good model or not, but I give him credit for having the foresight to see that, especially with the new collective bargaining agreement.

"The biggest change in perspective for me is that you can be a fan again. You can root. There's no doubt now who I want to win every single game. In the past, if Tim Duncan was playing Grant Hill, I was neutral in my heart. It was like picking one son over another. And so that part of it today is fun and very, very different."

Three Things Heard Over Coffee

With Celtics coach Doc Rivers. On the injuries to Rajon Rondo and Delonte West that have forced 5-foot-9 Nate Robinson to start as Boston's point guard. "When you're standing next to Ray, Paul [Pierce] and Kevin [Garnett], you tend to not do too much. It's when you're with the other guys that Nate gets himself in trouble because he feels like he has to do too much.

"He knows our stuff better, he understands our defensive concepts. Offensively, we're going to be fine. Hell, I think in the four games [started by Robinson] we've actually scored more when Nate's in the lineup. Defensively is where you're more concerned because of Nate's size. His effort's been great; it's just his size has an impact on you. And then all of the injuries are the problem -- Nate's going to have to play a ton of minutes, and if he gets in foul trouble or anything, that's where we're really going to struggle."

With a well-known player agent. On the negotiations to replace the current collective bargaining agreement that will expire June 30. "It's too early to negotiate. Neither side has an incentive to negotiate, and they're not going to have an incentive until April, May and June. Then you'll see a marathon series of negotiations in June that will come up to the wire, and then we'll know where things really stand. At the end of the day [David] Stern knows what they're prepared to do, and they know [union chief] Billy Hunter won't want to give up the season.

"Revenues last year were the highest in the NBA historically, even in the midst of a recession. This year looks like it's going to be another record for revenues. TV ratings are up, ad revenues for TV are up. GMs are making $3 million to $5 million a year and coaches are making up to $10 million a year -- and how is that the players' fault?"

With Bucks center Andrew Bogut. On his summer-long recovery from a dislocated right elbow, sprained right wrist and broken right hand suffered last April. "This rehab was so frustrating for me. I couldn't do daily activities: I couldn't text on a phone, I couldn't go on a computer, I couldn't write. I took all of that for granted, but then an injury like this becomes frustrating as hell. Going to the bathroom, eating -- I couldn't do none of that. My arm was [bent 90 degrees at the elbow] like this.

"I was in pain but I had those happy pills -- oxycontin -- which you don't want to get addicted to, but they definitely work, I'll tell you that. I took one of those pills every day for about a week. Then it started to get better. Once the cast came off, my wrist was killing me because it was immobilized for so long. I couldn't bend my fingers, and my elbow was stuck in this same position even without the cast."

 
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