Tagged: NBA Lockout

USA Basketball 2008

Did The NBA Rush Back Because of the Olympics

As David has pointed out in his recent series on NBA injuries, the first quarter of this season has been mired by player injuries and poor play.  Granted, there’s an adjustment period every season, but we usually call that training camp and the exhibition season.  In addition to the injuries, one has to also concede that this season has been particularly haphazard as evident by the botched Chris Paul trade to the Lakers, and the passive-aggressive melodramas taking place in New Jersey and Orlando over whether to trade or keep Deron Williams and Dwight Howard respectively.  Unlike with Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James previously, one is not entirely sure what either Williams or Howard really wants, and how their implied trade demands help efforts to get them a “better supporting cast.”

And although no one will remember this event a year from now, much less a month from now, Sacramento’s recent firing of coach Paul Westphal is also emblematic of the dysfunction pervading the league.  Sacramento is one of three NBA teams, Charlotte and New Orleans being the other, that essentially locked in purgatory  Each of these three franchises has deep systemic issues that make it impossible for them to plan beyond the upcoming year.  Everyone knows this, yet we are to proceed as if this is not the case, or that these teams are at a disadvantage because they are in “small markets.”  And every other month one of these teams leaps to the fore in the race for most dysfunctional organization.  Sacramento is having its triannual  star turn in this category.

Fresh off the heels of last year’s despicable attempt at strong-arming Sacramento residents into building them a new stadium, the Kings drafted two point guards in last year’s draft to give them an incredibly packed backcourt to go alongside their talented but flawed frontcourt.  Watching the Kings play you could never tell whether Westphal was being asked to showcase players for a possible trade, or was he legitimately putting out unit he thought gave his team the best chance of winning.  Still, other than appeasing Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins in the short term, it’s really unclear what affect firing Westphal will really have on the future of this franchise.  Therefore, couldn’t the Kings brain trust have decided on a strategy prior to the start of the season on whether they’d keep Westphal all year, and whether they would make a legitimate run at a playoff spot in the West this year?

A lot of this chaos has left me wondering why all the rush?  The Christmas kickoff was attractive to the networks and sponsors, but couldn’t the league have chilled out after Christmas and given the teams more time to practice, heal, plan, etc.

In looking for answers to why this season looks so haphazard, I stumbled upon answer by way of recent comments made by USA Basketball President Jerry Colangelo.  Colangelo recently compared the upcoming 2012 Olympic team to 1992′s Dream Team.  He’s right, save for the 1996 team, this team might be the most deserving of the comparison.  While many have focused on Colangelo’s words, it’s his existence that I found dubious(for a lack of a better word).  Since taking the role of USA Basketball president Colangelo has solidified the relationship between the NBA and USA Basketball, to the point that it’s now fair to say that USA Basketball is really an extension of the NBA, or David Stern’s office.

A canceled season might have been a disaster, but that disaster would have surely been amplified if the league lost its chance to showcase the best american talent to a billion people worldwide this summer.  The Olympics function as the NBA’s Super Bowl, it’s the only marquee event that the league has where it knows the whole world will be watching.  With all the potential losses in sponsorship revenue, merchandise sales, and an opportunity to grab new fans, the prospect of NBA players balking en masse at competing in this summer’s Olympics would have been akin to losing two seasons in the span of a year.

Therefore the league, not the players, not the owners, but David Stern’s office had to get this season in and done before the festivities kick off in July. 

Ironically, given the shortened season and long summer layoff, most players will be in prime form, you guessed, right when the Olympics kick off.


Will Injuries Derail 2011 NBA Season?

In a much-hyped preseason game between the Los Angeles Lakers and their cross-the-hall “rivals,” the worst possible scenario confronted the 16-time NBA champion: Kobe Bryant was hurt. Falling awkwardly, Bryant tore the lunotriquetral ligament in his right wrist. Less than a week later, the New Jersey Nets announced that Brook Lopez broke his foot during the first half of their game with the New York Knicks. With the Lakers potentially losing a Bryant at full-strength, and the Nets likely without the services of Lopez for 4-6 weeks, the injuries are potentially devastating to both teams, particularly the Nets whose ability to trade for Dwight Howard will be severely limited with the loss of this cornerstone trade asset.

Yet, more than the impact on the respective teams, these injuries highlight both the potential consequences of the NBA’s lockout. While injuries are commonplace, a rushed preseason and a compressed training camp represent a threat to the physical wellbeing of the players themselves. Stephen Smith, in “Expert warns of NBA lockout-related injuries,” compares the injuries that came about as a result of the NFL with the potential with the 2011-2012 season. There, he quotes Timothy Hewett, who is Director of Research at The Ohio State University Medical Center’s Sports Medicine Department: “Extrapolate what we’ve seen in the NFL, and I could see in the NBA in the range of 2, 3, 4 times higher rates of injury. This could be a historic event, where we start to think, ‘Is there a potential for really putting players at risk by these legal wranglings?’”

As evident, the injury bug has not been limited to the league’s stars, with Darrell Author (out for the year), Stephen Curry, and Marcus Camby all facing significant injuries. Celtics forward Jeff Green will also have to sit out this season because of a heart ailment discovered during his preseason physical.  There’s also the improbable case of Sacramento Kings forward Chuck Hayes who in the span of two weeks went from the brink of having to end his NBA career after he was released by the Kings because of a heart condition diagnosed during his initial physical, only to be resigned by the Kings when Hayes’ doctors concluded that his diagnosis was not as severe as earlier believed.

While unable to blame these injuries on the lockout, it is hard not to think about the connection.  And as the Hayes situation reveals, an incident in years past that might have taken a month or so to resolve, appeared to have been hastily resolved in two weeks all in an effort to get the show on the road.  Contrary to all the speculation about “Will Kobe Play on Sunday,” these injuries, the rush to push the lockout behind, and the determination to start the season on Christmas/NBC/National TV days all point to the central focus anywhere and everywhere except on the physical health of the NBA’s players.

These injuries also point to the absurdity of the league’s best effort to cultivate rivalries and to manipulate and change the rules to guarantee parity. David Stern is unable to veto the injuries of Bryant, Lopez, or Curry for basketball reasons; just as he wasn’t able to veto the injury of David Robinson in 1997, which ultimately led the Spurs to draft Tim Duncan. Success, rivalries, and dynasties all organically happen; they won’t be the result of the manipulation and rule shifting policies of the league.

No matter  how the rules are changed to “spread the stars” around the league, no matter how restrictive the system is on player movement, and no matter how much the NBA and ESPN tries to sell the game as one of rivalries rather than superstars, the league cannot control everything. They cannot control injuries, they cannot control players’ willingness to take less money, they cannot control for up-and-coming players (Marc Gasol; Kevin Love; Danny Granger) nor can the league guarantee that the next superstar will indeed deliver. The league cannot prevent injuries for its stars, but if they could they would certainly do it to protect its financial interests.

Will 2011-12 NBA Season Be Best Ever?

Arguably one of the positive outgrowths of this recent NBA lockout is the shortened–66game–season.  As much as I love the NBA, as a fan it can sometimes be tedious watching elite teams (i.e. The Lakers) coasting through early season games then still having to endure the presence of teams for whom by mid-season it’s clear they having nothing to play for (i.e. The Clippers).  A shorter season means teams have to start jockeying for position and making their playoff pushes much earlier, which in turn means that there are likely to be more competitive games.  While I agree with Yahoo’s Marc Spears when he declares that a shortened season and back-to-back-to-back games are likely to adversely affect older rosters such as the Celtics, Lakers and Mavericks, upstart teams like the Thunder and Bulls, not to mention gritty squads like the Pacers and Bucks will benefit from a wide-open shorter season.

Put differently, at 66 games the NBA season is double now double the NCAA regular season, and one reason that college basketball enthusiasts love their sport is because there’s a sense that every game matters.  Teams are jockeying for a number one seed in the NCAA tournament from the tip-off of the first game and this struggle does not stop until one team is left standing at the end of March.  We saw a glimpse of how this might play out in the NBA during the 1998-99 lockout, but there were far too many out of shape players and the quality of play never recovered.  It still remains to be seen whether enough players kept themselves in good enough shape to hit the ground running in December, but Eddy Curry aside, there’s ample evidence to suggest that this crop of players are in better shape than their predecessors.  Moreover, there are a considerable number of players who would love nothing more to hoist that crown at the end of this season, and who might see this year as their last chance.  A shorter season might further motivate Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, etc to put it all on the line one last time for another championship.  Bryant of course has the most to gain because another title would tie him with Michael Jordan with six championships.

And we haven’t even mentioned the Miami Heat and what they could possibly accomplish if Dwyane Wade has fresh legs going into the finals.

However you slice it, this upcoming NBA season is not bereft of story lines at all, nor is the league lacking in players capable of living up to the moment.

The NBA Lockout Was Over Before it Began

Grantland’s Jay Caspian Kang has a very good piece on we will forget this lockout ever happened.   Here’s a snippet:

As all reactions have turned more and more ephemeral, so too has dissent. The current protest movement that has occupied campuses and financial centers seems to have grown not only out of collective discontent, but also out of the possibilities afforded by our new infrastructure. Twitter and Facebook have provided a new way to protest — the Occupy movement, more than anything, feels like a trial run for something bigger that’s yet to come. I don’t mean to compare the two in terms of cultural importance, but for a large portion of the news-consuming public, word of the shameful UC Davis pepper spraying came in the same size font, on the same platform, and was broadcast with the same urgency as something like, “David Stern just walked by the lobby of this hotel. Details coming.”

As a news junkie who splits his time between NYT and ESPN, I can relate to Kang’s assessment of how this bifurcation likely affects us all.  Bloggers in particular face a particular pressure to chase after the next and newest story, which more often than not means we are depriving our audiences, much less ourselves the opportunity to take stock about what really happened.

Jay Caspian Kang on why we’ll eventually forget the 2011 NBA lockout – Grantland.

What did NBA owners learn from the lockout? Absolutely nothing!

The lockout has been over for less than a week.  Heck, the players haven’t even finished reconstituting their union in order to ratify the deal yet team owners are already poised to make the same mistakes that incited this labor standoff.  If you look at this year’s top free-agents you’ll get a window into the contractual albatrosses that will pave the way for a future labor impasse.  Nene, Tyson Chandler and Marc Gasol are all very good players, but there are only a handful of teams that could both make effective enough use of their talents to justify paying any of these players a kings ransom.

Competitive balance, which was allegedly what the owners sought to enforce by enduring the lockout is hard to legislate if there are not clear cut guidelines.  Salary caps are a start but are pointless without similarly effectual mechanisms to spur player movement, and well articulated benchmarks for what “competitive balance” looks like.  The idea that every team can have three superstars is absurd, not because it’s impossible, but because the league’s definition of a superstar is so fleeting.

After fans get recover from the “NBA is back” hangover, and some of these alleged free agent deals are finalized, many fans are likely to find their teams have been sold a bill of goods.

Grantland’s Charles P. Pierce Details Cause of NBA Lockout

Over at Grantland, Charles Pierce offers a very good assessment of the NBA Lockout.  As many have noted, this deal could have been reached in June and neither side has given any reason why it took so long.  I agree with Pierce that the owners deserve most of the blame because it was their actions that caused a lockout.  It is also for this precise reason why we are unlikely to get a real accounting of why both sides didn’t strike a deal earlier.

By far the best portion of Pierce’s piece was the following excerpt:

Another way you know that it wasn’t really about economics is that the league’s economic public case for its position became more and more preposterous as the weeks went by, and even the public began to notice that it was being taken for a fool. The hilarity hit high tide for me when David Stern started going around explaining that 22 of his 30 franchises were losing money. Tell me, do you suppose that when Stern sat down and chatted with the Nike corporation, or with the People’s Republic of China, to name only two of the wildly successful authoritarian operations with which the league does its business, the first thing he explained while pitching the NBA to them was that 73 percent of his league was in the red?

One storyline that hasn’t gotten enough coverage was why so many stars were prepared to sit out a season.  There’s a case to be made that for upper-echelon stars like Lebron, Kobe, Dwight Howard and to a degree Carmelo Anthony, they make enough in endorsement deals to compensate for income lost from a season long strike.  Unlike in 1998 when even some of the biggest stars had only recently had their big paydays and endorsement deals were not as lucrative, for many of the top NBA players, their basketball income is only a portion of their portfolios.

Charles P. Pierce on the motivations behind the NBA lockout – Grantland.

Stay on Message

3 Things NBA Players Can Learn From the NFL

The NBA Players Association and the league are set to resume talks today.  Now that the NFL lockout has ended, NBA players and owners can ill afford to give off the perception that both sides are too stubborn to negotiate.  Ironically,  the NFL’s new labor deal bears some facets of the NBA’s current deal that were enacted during the league’s last lockout in 1998.  For example, the NFL’s new rookie salary scale bears a striking resemblance to the rookie salary cap enacted by the NBA.  Given that the NFL borrowed a page from the NBA”s playbook in bringing their lockout to a close, I thought that the NBA can learn a thing or two from the NFL as it continues to weather their own work stoppage:

Stay on Message

Stay on Message

This will by far be the hardest one for NBA players to adhere to because their message is not entirely clear. NFL players were able to make a clear and convincing case that the owners were being greedy and cheating them out of profits. Actions such as filing to review the financial ledgers of franchises were compelling illustrations of how players felt they were somehow being led astray. Fans are unlikely to warm up to the notion that NBA players are angry because owners want them to pay for the owner's mistakes because that inevitably conjures up images of Eddy Curry, Jerome James and Rashard Lewis.

LBJ Drew

Stay Out of Trouble

One of the least talked about stories of the NFL Lockout was how few players got into trouble this off season. Normally it seems as if NFL players fill up police blotters like linemen fill holes, but for the most part the players were on their best behavior during this off season. NBA Players need to make sure that the bulk of the press coverage during this lockout is of them making impromptu visits at summer league games like LeBron's recent visit to the Drew League, their charitable/philanthropic endeavors, and of them using their time off to learn a new skill or pursue a passion a la Chad Ochocinco's MLS tryout.

Stay in Shape

Stay in Shape

During a normal off season NFL players loathe OTAs and mini-camps yet during the lockout there most veterans managed to look like a six-year old just denied ice-cream when the cameras showed them arriving at their team's facilities only to be met by chained doors. Players need to post videos of themselves doing P90x, tae-bo, it doesn't matter, just make sure none of the league's stars get photographed looking like Shawn Kemp.



Sports Illustrated basketball writer Sam Amick makes a great point in his column on Sunday about why there is a legitimate allure to playing abroad for NBA superstars:

There is a fact that seems to always be forgotten, too: playing overseas means not paying taxes. While there are taxes to be paid, several agents with experience doing international deals said they typically negotiate for the team to cover those payments as part of the contract.

Low state income taxes in Florida and Texas have long made the Heat, Magic, Mavericks and Rockets attractive destinations for NBA players.  Therefore, Amick’s point about reduced tax obligations as an incentive that will make NBA superstars amenable to playing in exhibition games overseas should really be taken seriously.  As I mentioned last week the branding opportunities abroad for players is still very fertile and a prolonged lockout will give some stars an opportunity to deepen their brand in international markets.  Others will likely be enticed by the opportunity to essentially make their post-tax salaries playing half as many games.
Of course, only a select group of players are really in a position to capitalize on this phenomenon, but fortunately for NBPA, this is the same select group that owners rely on to fill their stadiums on a nightly basis.Moreover, as clips of NBA bonafides like Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose playing in front of packed arenas overseas continue making the rounds online NBA fans stateside areon’t the only ones who’ll be jonesing for what they’re missing

NBA stars looking abroad in earnest – Sam Amick – SI.com.



Should NBA Players be Allowed to be Part Owners of Their Teams?

One of the causes for this current NBA labor dispute is the inability of small market teams to remain profitable.  A soft cap that was tied to a luxury tax incorporated into the previous collective bargaining agreement has not generated the kind of revenue sharing between small and big market teams that the league imagined.  Instead of a level playing field, teams such as the Knicks, Lakers and Mavericks have been able to spend as they see fit for the best talent available, or in the case of the Isaiah Thomas era Knicks, the most dysfunctional talent available.  Owners and players alike agree that changes are needed, but the two sides are miles apart on exactly who should bear the brunt of responsibility for these changes.

I’ve long been an advocate of contraction, something unlikely to occur.  Now I would like to offer another prescription for the NBA’s economic woes.  It’s time that the league consider abolishing the rule that prohibits active players from becoming part-owners of a team.

Comprised of about 400 players the NBA is a small league compared to its counterparts Major League Baseball and the National Football League.  NBA players are more recognizable than their peers in other sports and a dynamic player is infinitely more capable of transforming a team’s fortunes in terms of ticket sales and victories.  Think about how many promising young quarterbacks whose careers were derailed because they played behind poor offensive lines.  Compare that with the sellouts enjoyed by the Raptors at the Air Canada Center during Vince Carter’s tenure even though most of those Raptors’ squads were middling at best.  Fans flocked to see Carter play in ways that NFL fans in say, Carolina, would never flock to see David Carr–or Indianapolis fans to see Peyton Manning were he not leading them to the playoffs year after year.

The NBA is as much a white shoe law firm as it is a sports league.  NBA players are key revenue drivers, or to continue the law firm analogy, NBA players are the ones who bring in the clients (fans) to the arena.  One way that law firms retain their top lawyers is by making them partners.  Law firms do this not only as a way of acknowledging the work done by a particular attorney, but to also ensure that they don’t strike out on their own as their client lists build up.  And in turn, lawyers accept these offers to become partners because it saves them the costs that they’d incur if they started their own firms.  Under the current system NBA teams provide their attorneys (the players) with a great platform to build up their client rosters (i.e. endorsement deals) but can’t offer them anything beyond a higher salary when a player decides he wants to take his services elsewhere.

Take last year’s LeBron saga.  One of the supposed drawbacks to staying in Cleveland was that LeBron could make more money in endorsements by signing with the Knicks or Bulls.  More endorsement money for LeBron didn’t necessarily translate to more revenue for the Cavaliers, and vice versa, continued high octane ticket sales also wouldn’t translate to more money for LeBron.  Did it really make sense to limit the Cavs to being able to pay LeBron as much as Atlanta paid Joe Johnson?  LeBron is infinitely more valuable to the Cavs than Joe Johnson is to the Hawks so why should he be held to the same standard?

What if Cleveland had been able to offer LeBron a 3% ownership stake in the franchise, a 5-10million dollar cash investment in his branding firm LMR, and HR/back-end support for all of LMR’s ventures as long as LeBron remained a Cavalier.

Granted, there’s no guarantee that LeBron would have taken this offer, but if such a deal had been on the table, it would have made things more interesting.  After all would Miami have been able to afford LeBron, Wade and Bosh if Cleveland and Toronto had been able to extend such lucrative options to their marquee players.

Who knows, maybe LeBron works out a deferred compensation package with Cleveland, and lures Joe  Johnson or Ray Allen to help him in his quest for the title.

As it stands now the current NBA salary structure is incapable of really addressing a player’s value to a particular team or franchise.  The problem isn’t that Gilbert Arenas or Rashard Lewis make 17million dollars a year.  No, the problem is that teams are hamstrung in their ability to appropriately compensate the players who are its economic engines. Moreover, teams continue to see every player simply as an employee when clearly there are a handful of players who are not simply employees, and for whom an argument can be made that they deserve to be partners in their respective franchises.   Its unconscionable that Kobe Bryant wasn’t consulted by the Lakers before they decided to hire Mike Brown.  Bryant didn’t deserve to have the final say, but he did deserve to have a say, as did Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom for that matter.

But maybe Bryant prefers to be a Laker employee and would rather not integrate his other ventures with the Lakers brand.  There are other players, namely Dwyane Wade, who has shown an interest in being a manager and recruiting talent for their teams.

Ironically, the biggest drawback to this proposal is not that it would create another salary-tier among players but rather that given the financial straights of many NBA franchises a player is better off simply accepting the max-contract than venturing into an ownership stake.  Really, would you flock to become part owner of the Kings right now?



5 Teams That Will Be Hurt the Most After the Lockout

1) New York Knicks

The arrival of first Amar’e Stoudemire and the Carmelo Anthony at mid-season made the garden come alive in ways that it hasn’t since the late 90s.  Knick fans were even talking about a title for the first time since the Patrick Ewing era.  Title or not, with as much clout that James Dolan/Cablevision this current Knicks squad was a surefire goldmine entering the 2011-2012 season.  Now, the longer this lockout drags on, the longer that it will take for Dolan to be able to really capitalize on all of the marketing/revenue generating potential of his two superstars across Cablevision’s various platforms.

2) Memphis Grizzlies

Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley must’ve been salivating at the prospect of a year filled with arena sellouts and increased luxury box revenue.  For the first time in the franchise’s history the Grizzlies made it to the second round of the playoffs and this group of “blue collar” players led by Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol resonated with fans in Memphis in ways that no previous Grizzlies team had ever done.  The goodwill curried between fans and the organization this year will gradually come apart over the course of the lockout. And instead of reuniting fans with their beloved playoff contending Grizzlies in 2011-12, the Grizzlies front office now has to pray that fans aren’t too bitter to return once play resumes.

3) Indiana Pacers

Unlike the Grizzlies, Pacer fans have experienced playoff success in recent memory so a strong showing in the first round of this year’s eastern conference playoffs wouldn’t have necessarily bowled them over.  That said, you couldn’t undersell the allure of a bunch of unassuming basketball players in Indiana.  There are no superstars on this Pacers squad.  Nor are there the mischievous sorts whose antics sullied the franchise in the early part of this decade.  Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansborough are players whose games and personas are lifted straight out of Hoosiers, and Darren Collison is one of the most underrated perimeter players in the league.  There’s nothing not to like about this group of guys.  Unfortunately, most fans tend to see the lockout as a millionaires versus billionaires squabble.  This perception is bad PR for the players in the short-run, but in the long run, when franchises like the Pacers have to work overtime to win back fans, the owners will realize that the players aren’t the only ones to lose out from this situation.

4) Golden State Warriors

The Warriors have worked very hard this past year on building their brand.  And you know what, it’s hard to brand yourself as an NBA team when there’s no NBA season.  With no record of recent success to harken back to and virtually an entire roster on the trading block, once play resumes the Warriors will have to work even harder to prove to fans and sponsors that they’re not just scrimmage partners for teams like the Heat, Lakers, and Mavericks.

5) Chicago Bulls

Carlos Boozer is my personal pick to be this lockout’s Shawn Kemp, the player who returns out of shape and dooms his team’s chances at contending.  Looking at all the contenders you’ll be hard pressed to find more of an outlier in a team’s nucleus than Boozer.  The other Bulls stars Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson were all Bulls’ draftees and metaphorically speaking came up through the Bulls system together.  Boozer is the big star that was meant to get them over the hump.  Thing is though, this team is not really built around Boozer.  The Bulls need his 20points, but you also get the impression that other than that, they pretty much need him to stay out of Derrick Rose’s way.  A regular off season would give head coach Tom Thibodeau time to work with this group to make sure they learned the appropriate lessons from the Indiana and Miami series, and more importantly to get on the same page.  If they have to rush through the pre-season, I am hard pressed to believe that this Bulls squad can take another step forward.