The trade deadline was boring. Is it the CBA?

That’s what many are saying. But Bill Simmons cautioned yesterday that this might just be a one-time thing. I agree. And I’ll go further: it’s not the CBA’s fault.

Look, there was no Dwight Howard out there.  Josh Smith? Please. JJ Reddick? Uh…

Those guys are good, but not max-contract good.When you trade for an expiring deal, you either want the money to fall off the books at the end of the year, or else you plan to pay whatever it takes to re-sign the guy. Now in the case of Josh Smith, it may take a max deal to re-sign him. And most teams, wisely, decided not to give up too much for a guy they didn’t want to overpay. With Reddick, I guess the Bucks are in “make the playoffs” mode. Because there is a really good chance that he’ll sign elsewhere in July. They didn’t give up much for him, but they did give up young guys on cheap deals that might, possibly, get better.

You know what I think? The league is just getting smarter. After watching smartly run programs like San Antonio, Portland, and Utah find quality guys in the draft every year, that’s the direction everyone else it turning. Blame it on Kevin Pritchard. When he ran the Blazers, he bought or traded for any available draft pick. Other teams thought they were making money selling second-round picks, or dumping dead money in guaranteed late first-round picks. Pritchard used those picks to build a young, deep team. If Oden and Roy had stayed healthy, they would be a perennial championship contender.

Another thing Simmons noted yesterday is there there is an army of bloggers, internet journalists, radio shows, and cable tv talking heads to examine any deal these days. The overwhelming amount of free analysis out there is making everyone smarter. Including owners.

And sure, the supertax is looming. Owners are looking to get their payroll in order. This will happen over the next year or two. After that, trading will resume as usual. There will be buyers and sellers, just like before. Look at what the Kings did this week: sent their #5 pick to the Rockets for a bag of magic beans. Oh, and $4MM in payroll reduction. Yeah. The Rockets, let us note, already had their payroll in order.

The key to fun trade deadlines is a mix of teams that need to shed money, and teams that have money to spend. This year, the Rockets had money. Next year, more teams will. As we go forward, teams will oscillate against the repeater tax, and look to dump money. Teams below the tax line will take on extra money for a year or two, before looking to dump themselves. We’ll have a good mix, interesting player movement, fun for all (except the guys, who have to uproot their families).

Let me just add that, technically, the tax is not in the CBA. It is a separate revenue-sharing agreement among the owners. The CBA establishes the soft salary cap. The higher tax line is set by the revenue-sharing agreement. But obviously, they go together like peanut butter and jelly.

 

 

David Stern’s small market compulsion

Why does David Stern love small markets?

I don’t recall who first pointed this out, but the issue was raised in the last 12 months, and I’ve been paying attention since then. No doubt, Stern is oddly committed to small markets.

I can rationalize this. But first, the evidence…

  • Vancouver failed, so Stern supported a move to…Memphis?
  • Charlotte got a replacement franchise after the first franchise left. Still hasn’t demonstrated any ability to support a team.
  • Stern gave his blessing to the Sonics move to Oklahoma City.
  • Stern, in effect, forced the Maloofs to wait for Sacramento to get its stuff together.
  • And… Stern refused to sell the Hornets to anyone who wanted to move the team from its host city of 350,000.

His fascination with small markets goes way longer than that brief timeline. I mean, he allowed a team in Charlotte in the first place. He let Sacramento have a team. Probably his only mis-step has been letting the Clippers flee San Diego.

What’s up?

It is obvious to me, and probably many others, that the league would be healthier if a few teams moved to share large markets (NY, Chicago, and the Bay Area can all support an extra team), and a couple of teams just go away (contraction).

But, David Stern is a clever, clever man. Surely he sees something we don’t?

Actually, yes.  He probably does.

The key to prosperity is growth: growing revenue, and growing profits. To some extent, this happens organically, due to inflation, and as the population of the USA grows. But Stern, like all savvy businessmen, wants more than organic growth. For that, you need  to expand your market.

In the NFL, the dominate revenue stream is national television rights fees, which are shared equally across all franchises. This allows teams in backwaters like Green Bay, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and New Orleans to participate as equals. Not so in the NBA, where the dominant revenue stream is local tv rights fees, which are hoarded by individual franchises.

Baseball has the same revenue dilemma. But in baseball, a low-payroll team can occasionally contend for the title. This actually happens often enough to keep the league relevant, and afloat. In the NBA, evidence points the other way: low-spenders never contend for titles. In fact, they never even make the playoffs.

Stern has talked for years about expanding internationally. To Europe. Or China. Or somewhere. But it keeps not happening. I think that Stern is painfully aware of this. So, instead, he is trying to push the NBA out into the hinterlands. It is his only real option.

I bet Stern has a map in his office that shows all the TV markets served by the NBA. He sees the blobs of color covering the North East, flaring across the South, and climbing up the West Coast. He wants to fill in all the empty parts. He wants all of North America to identify with an NBA team. It’s not a terrible vision, really.

Problems come when a long term vision collides with urgent issues of the moment. For example: when negotiating a new CBA. It becomes awkward to assert that revenues are low, when relocation to larger urban centers is an obvious solution. But Stern ducked that bullet, and the next CBA will be Adam Silver’s problem.

(It is lucky that Sacramento’s fight for the Kings is occurring while Stern still holds the scepter.  Clay Bennet heads the relocation committee, and he is Stern’s man. So if Kevin Johnson can raise $525 MM, and a stadium plan, I have no doubt the Kings will stay put.)

 

Mavs big move?

Conventional wisdom says that the Mavs will vigorously pursue Deron Williams in July. I disagree.

Have you looked at the Mavs cap situation? They are $7MM under. They can get $13MM under by buying out Lamar Odom. But that is still ~$5MM short of the max contract that Williams will be looking for.

Which means that someone must be amnestied. Talk of the town says it will be Brendan Haywood. But hold on…

Haywood is a serviceable center. And in a world where Kwame Brown makes $7MM, Sam Dalembert makes $8MM, and Andris Biedrins makes $9MM, Haywood looks reasonable.

For a tall guy who plays hard and doesn’t embarrass himself, I’d say Haywood is a fair bargain.

Which leaves… Shawn Marion? Similar salary, and more replaceable.

But wait, there’s more…

The Mavs can only get that far under by renouncing Terry and Kidd. And I suspect that they want to resign Terry, at least. So Terry would have to come back quickly, at a discount. If he dithers, and the Mavs really have a chance at Williams, they will renounce him. But if he comes back at $3MM (to start), they can keep Marion and still sign Williams.

Or… Terry could sign for the full MLE, after the Mavs sign Williams.

Does this make your brain hurt? Me too. That’s why I think Mark Cuban has another plan altogether.

It all goes back to the day Nash signed with the Suns. Cuban wrote an epic, revealing blog post on that, which is his gift to the world of NBA fans. Let me summarize:

  • Cuban wanted to re-sign Nash, but not for too much.
  • He calculated that the only team with enough cap space to out-bid him was Phoenix, and he thought they were chasing Kobe.
  • So he made Nash an offer that was higher than anyone else could make.
  • Except the Suns weren’t after Kobe. They went right at Nash, and gave him a tight deadline to choose. Cuban refused to match.

I think that day is still burned deep into Cuban’s psyche. And I think he plans to get his revenge this summer…

He is not after Williams. He is after Nash.

The Suns, reportedly, will go to $10MM with Nash. Cuban can sail past that, all the way to $13MM. But he may not need to. He can put Nash on a contending team. Re-united with his BFF, Dirk. And pairing him, once again, with The Matrix.

Nash. It’s definitely Nash.

A farewell to Baron

Baron Davis is one of my favorite players, as longtime readers have learned. So his latest injury is cause for sadness.

I wrote a long post about Baron once before, and I won’t repeat that material. I want to talk about how it ended.

(But I will say this: Baron should have not have opted out in 2008. He should have let the Warriors pay him $18MM  for 2008-9, then sought at new contract. It would have mattered. To both Warriors fans, and to Baron.)

Since that last post, Baron was dumped on Cleveland, who amnestied him at the beginning of this year.  It really looked like things were playing out just as I predicted.

But, as luck would have it, the Knicks had an urgent need for a point guard. And, more interestingly still, they were coached by Mike “7-seconds-or-less” D’Antoni! This looked like a perfect opportunity to revive old Baron, the one who could carve up defenses with open court passing and penetration.

But even that got weird. Before Baron could recover from a back injury, Jeremy Lin did his Linsanity thing. By the time Baron was healthy, Lin was entrenched as the starter. Still, it was obvious that Baron thrived in the D’Antoni system, and the guys loved playing with him.

But it got weirder still, as you know. D’Antoni quit, and Lin got hurt. New coach Mike Woodson slowed the tempo. Baron became the starter, where he still looked awfully good. And then… his knee liquefied. Horrible.

I don’t see Baron coming back from this injury. Sadly, I do think that he will try. Half-heartedly, as is his way.

At the end of next season, Baron’s name will appear frequently in the Hoopshype.com rumors page, as a possible late-addition to a playoff team. But he will end up sitting out the whole year. And then he will latch on to some team in the fall of 2013, at the veteran minimum. I didn’t think he would ever be a minimum kind of guy, but he proved in Cleveland that he loves the life, and will fit in as needed.

 


  • Kurt Helin wrote a nice homage to Baron here.

 

Billy Hunter, and the sense of the moment

I guess we all hope that we can work somewhere for a long time, do good work, make a difference. And then, finally, we will leave at a time of our own choosing, with many accolades and honors and well wishes.

But, as I noted elsewhere, that seldom happens.

Working stiffs like me and Ralph get the rug pulled out from under us from time to time. After a while, you learn not to take it personally. Other, more powerful people just tend to overstay their welcome, like that party guest who won’t leave.

Billy Hunter is starting to look like that guy.

Derek Fisher turned over the rock, and lots of stuff started crawling. Hunter tried to contain the damage, but he went too far. And maybe picked the wrong battle.

You know what this reminds me of? The Watergate scandal.

What the Watergate burglars did, and hoped to achieve, was pretty small potatoes in the big scheme of things. The significant part, the part that got everyone all lathered up, is that this petty burglary operation was being run by the President himself. Similarly, Hunter has not done anything really over the top. He has been unseemly with his salary, and with the employment of his relatives. But as the union head, he is held to a higher ethical standard by the public.

If the Watergate burglars were dispatched by some lower-level party functionary, we (the public) would have rolled our eyes, condemned the fellow, and moved on. Not that interesting. Likewise, if one of the NBAPL’s long serving journeymen on the executive committee had favored relatives and wrangled additional compensation, but Billy Hunter’s hands were clean, we would not care. (The NBAPL Executive Committee is: Derek Fisher, Keyon Dooling, James Jones, Matt Bonner, Maurice Evans, Roger Mason, Theo Ratliff, Etan Thomas, and Chris Paul. The only star among them is Paul.)

Billy Hunter is a star. If he is involved in dirty deeds, then it is newsworthy (ie, people will click on the article link). Which is why the press is now writing salacious articles, and the US District Attorney’s Office is investigating him.

Now I would love to put on my Kremlinologist hat and tell you what the real motivations are. But, honestly, I don’t know.  I think I know what is going on in Hunter’s head. But I can’t get inside of Fisher.

I would like to think that Derek Fisher’s motives are pure. But then ESPN reported that Fisher is friends with DeMaurice Smith, head the of the NFLPA. Before taking the job as head of the NFLPA, Smith worked for the very same law firm that Fisher proposed as the neutral third-party auditor. And Smith currently draws a salary that is half what Hunter makes. So if Fisher were eventually to propose that Smith take over as NBAPL head, Smith would get a nice raise. Sigh.

Hunter, meanwhile, has just reached too far, and stayed too long. He has been the union chief since 1996. He is now 69 years old. I imagine that, in private conversations, Derek Fisher offered him the chance at a graceful exit. And Hunter declined. But part of me can’t help but root for the old bull. Clearly, Hunter still has political muscle. The 8-0 vote of the Executive  Committee to call for Fisher’s resignation is proof.

Still, Hunter has made many millions of dollars. He has enriched his children, too. Current press accounts suggest that he began swinging union business to his financial planner son and lawyer daughter in 1999 (and continues to today). Two years ago, he hired his own daughter, at a salary of $83,000 per year. His daughter-in-law is also on the payroll. She is the union’s highest-paid employee, at $173,000 per year. Hunter himself draws a salary of nearly $3MM. Meanwhile, the NFLPL chief makes $1.3MM. The MLBPL cheif makes an even $1MM.

No one, except for Hunter and the AARP, can imagine that Hunter is going to keep running the union into his 70’s.  He just negotiated a new CBA. He is a wealthy man. All signs point to retirement, soon. But… Hunter… lacks… a sense of the moment.

Yeah.

Sad, but understandable. I mean, Hunter didn’t get where he is by gracefully deferring to others. He is a fighter, and a winner. Pushed into a corner, he does what he knows how to do.

You know what? This is possibly the longest post I’ve written, but I don’t know how to end it. Right now, I’m rooting against Hunter, because he is clearly dirty. And I am reserving judgement on Fisher, because it’s not clear what his motives are, yet. And I am definitely rooting against the so-called Executive Committee, who are so easily manipulated. I guess the lack of any clear good-guys has me down.

I’ll leave you with this, from a previous post:

Last year, when Jerry Sloan resigned, I wrote this:

This week, he felt his own energy waning and his execution slipping. So he raised his hand and took himself out of the game.

The timing is not as shocking as it seems. In fact, he left at the first obvious sign of the endtimes.

Endings are never smooth. Resign or get fired. Either way, it is going to end awkwardly.

Still, sense of timing is everything.

Kelenna Azubuike completes the circle

Once upon a time, Mav’s GM Donnie Nelson identified Kelenna Azubuike as a prospect, and stashed him in the Mav’s D-League team. However, Donnie’s father, Nellie, had already installed his own guy, Sidney Moncrief, as the head coach of that D-League team. So when Nellie jumped to the Warriors, he had good inside info on Azubuike. And, as luck would have it, a roster spot soon opened up.

All of this is chronicled in my earlier post: Nellie vs Cubes: the arbitration transcript.

So, actually, it is nice to see the circle closing back on Dallas.  Kelenna was a classy guy.  I wish him all the best.

 

My cousin Vinny

Kevin Arnovitz writes:

In some sense, Del Negro was never supposed to be in this spot. Nobody listed “win a conference title” or “contend for a championship” as a deliverable for Del Negro when he got the gig in the summer of 2010. He was brought in to be the happy warrior the Clippers desperately needed to restore morale in the organization. Making young guys feel good about being associated with a franchise, getting them to like where they work, as Del Negro did last season, is an admirable skill.

But not every team has the same objective, and there’s a profound disparity in the goals of the Los Angeles Clippers pre- and post-Chris Paul. Getting a young team to the playoffs is no longer the job description for “Clippers Head Coach” and expectations for the Clippers have accelerated at a pace too fast for Del Negro.

Del Negro might work his tail off and have sound ambassadorial skills. There are teams in the league who might be able to use those gifts to shepherd a young club to respectability.

Preach on, Kevin!

I have long thought that Vinny draws reflexive disdain due to:

  1. his name, and
  2. his hair

Not fair, by a longshot. But there it is.

He did fine work in Chicago, keeping a young group engaged, sneaking into the playoffs, and playing hard in those playoffs. In some ways, it was unfair of the Bulls to discard him when they did. On the other hand, the Bulls were ready to take the next step, and Vinny is probably not a next-step coach. Granted. That’s why I quoted Kevin Arnovitz at length. He expresses it beautifully.

It is not easy for a coach to keep a team engaged when it is out of contention. Otherwise great coaches struggle in those spots (see: Sloan, D’Antoni, and McMillan).  Guys like Vinny (and Mark Jackson) have a special skill. Some coaches develop well-deserved reputations as turn-around coaches. And some of them even win championships.

I can’t recall a team firing their coach after the all-star break, and then going to the conference finals. So I hope the Clippers let Vinny finish his contract. And I hope Vinny lands on his feet next season, with another young group that needs to learn how to succeed in the NBA. Vinny has a special skill. Let’s look past the name and the hair, and acknowledge it.

 

 

Sloan, D’Antoni, and McMillan

Last year, when Jerry Sloan resigned, I wrote this:

This week, he felt his own energy waning and his execution slipping. So he raised his hand and took himself out of the game.

The timing is not as shocking as it seems. In fact, he left at the first obvious sign of the endtimes.

Endings are never smooth. Resign or get fired. Either way, it is going to end awkwardly.

Still, sense of timing is everything. Sloan showed it. Did D’Antoni show it? Hard to say. Looks to me like he waited just a little too long. I guess the Linsanity surge may have stayed his hand and kept him a few weeks longer than planned. Can’t really blame the guy for playing out the hand. Still, quitting before Linsanity would have been smoother.

And then there is Nate McMillan. What happened there? Usually, when a coach is abruptly fired, it is because the star is tuning him out, or the whole team is. McMillan seems to have lost part of the locker room, but not the star. This was a solvable problem. The front office could have shipped out the bad guys, and let Nate keep on. There is a life lesson there, too. Once things turn bad, you can assume that you are part of the problem, and you will be removed in due course. Again, I understand the psychology of battling through it. This stuff is never obvious in the moment. Only in hindsight.

There is, of course, a Warriors angle to this. When Lacob unloaded Keith Smart last year, I think he expected to woo either D’Antoni or McMillan (or both).  When they ended up returning to their teams, Lacob was left sifting through the coaching junk drawer. If he had picked up Smart’s option for this year, he could be chasing both guys this spring. Another in the long line of Warrior-What-Ifs.

(Mark Jackson has actually been just fine for this team. He is a natural leader, and holds the group together. The Warriors are a couple of years from needing an elite coach, so no real problem. And Keith Smart landed on his feet. Good times for everyone.)

 

 

Stern, Silver, and Cuban: the NBA in 2017

Some data points for you:

  • In 2017, either the players or owners can opt-out of the current CBA.
  • David Stern is 69 years old. He has said, repeatedly, that he will no be around for the next CBA.
  • Adam Silver is Stern’s trusted assistant and hand-picked successor.
  • Silver led the owners’ CBA negotiations last year.
  • Mark Cuban has said, also repeatedly, that owners will judge the success of the CBA on this criteria: are all the teams making money?

I’ll cut to the chase: I think the owners will opt out in 2017, and Silver will not be the commish. And that means the league we love is going to go through huge change. So let’s enjoy this final chapter while it lasts.

Now, permit me to build my case…

There is a cabal of owners who want a hard cap. At times, they call this “fundamental reform”. But let’s use plain language here: they want to level the payroll costs across the league. There are a range of reasons for this, but they are beside the point for this argument. As Tolstoy said, “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” All I want to note about this group is that it is not strictly a small-market/leveraged ownership group as I originally thought. There are large market owners in this cabal, and there are rich owners in this cabal. The point is, the cabal was prepared to lose a season, in order to reform the basic business rules. And I think Stern himself was surprised at how large this group turned out to be.

As negotiations dragged on last fall, it became clear that the owners were split. A surprisingly large number of owners were in favor of the “fundamental reform” option. AKA: hard cap. Based on the events of September (chronicled here), I think Stern and Peter Holt (Spurs owner and leader of the owner’s Labor Committee) saw the hard cap as a negotiating stance, not a end in itself. I think Stern was surprised by the relative intransigence of the cabal after September. And I think he was also surprised at its size.

I use the word cabal with full knowledge of its rich and textured meaning. Cabals tend not to form in open societies, because issues can be disputed in front of all concerned parties. But that is not how the NBA operates. Since the early 1980s, the David Stern has forced the owners into a closed, monitored, and controlled association.

Of course, the cabal would have to plot in secret. David Stern has been a notoriously autocratic commissioner. He fines teams, large sums, for merely speaking their mind. Take, for example, Mark Cuban: Cuban is on record as having voted against the current CBA, which indicates that he is among the owners seeking fundamental reform. In other words, he is in the cabal. Stern has fined Cuban at least $1,665,000 for 13 incidents to date. His most recent fine, $75,000, came on February 3. So to the extent that Cuban is talking to other owners about the CBA or next commissioner, rest assured that he is doing it quietly. Plotting, as it were. As a member of a cabal might.

Actually, plotting implies too much. I’m not asserting that the owners in the so-called cabal see themselves as members of a cabal. It is a very 21st-century, networked, internet-style of cabal that I imagine. Mark Cuban might be sharing like-minded sentiments with just two other owners, who are each sharing with two more owners, and so on.

But here is the really important thing: during this CBA negotiation, a critical mass of opposition to Stern’s rule was formed. And because the owner’s vote on the CBA was sort-of-open (everyone knows it was close, and disputed), that invigorates the cabal in future planning. Which leads us to Adam Silver, and 2017…

Stern inadvertently opened his kimono at the first of his All-Star pressers: he said he hoped that he would have input on his successor, but conceded it is “an owners league.” In later pressers, he moved back on message: Adam Silver is the man.

Time to connect the dots…

It is very important to Stern that Silver succeeds him. The only alternative, at this point, is an outside candidate, elected by the cabal. That would be, tacitly, an anti-Stern vote. And that would tarnish Stern’s legacy and remaining life.

I assume that the NBA’s secret bylaws make it very hard to remove a sitting commissioner. Which means the cabal’s opportunity to make a meaningful change comes when the job re-opens. But the cabal is also eye-ing the CBA. And the cabal is, after all, a cabal. Not a group of lock-step, like-minded-thinkers. If the new, draconian, luxury tax creates the equivalent of a hard cap, perhaps the owners will not seek an opt-out, and Stern can twist enough arms to install Silver as his successor. I’m sure this is what Stern is thinking.

But I think the cabal will decouple the issues. There is, first, the issue of a commissioner. This will happen before 2017, according to Stern. Unless, I guess, he senses that the CBA (with luxury tax) is working, in which case he may preside longer in hopes of gaining more votes for Silver. Whatever. The longer Stern lingers, the more he exposes his weakness. If he is relying on the last quarter or so of owners to keep him employed, his successor is doomed. So I think we will see a new, more owner-friendly commissioner. (see MLB – Bud Selig) And with a new commish, comes a new CBA. Oh yes. Count on that. Also, probably the end of Stern’s small-market vision.

By 2017, we will have a very different NBA. So if you have followed and loved our current association, now is time to appreciate it, and make peace with the future.

 

Bullet Points

* Poor Chris Kamen. He is basically an older, taller version of David Lee. Lots of teams would love to have him as a reserve, at low money. But, like Lee, he is on a big money contract (which expires this year). Still – what did the Hornets think they could get for him? Youth and draft picks? Bwahahaha! The only offers they will draw is for overpaid longer-contract guys.

* I recently discovered that Peter Guber is 69 years old. So while Joe Lacob can boast about owning the Warriors for “decades” to come, I don’t think we can expect Guber to be here quite as long. Obviously, I wish him a long, healthy life. Just sayin…

* Dan Gadzuric was a plus/minus monster last year. I can’t understand why he is still looking for work. Actually, he would be a huge upgrade over Earl Barron. Dan fouls too much to get heavy minutes (not a Kwame replacement), but Earl is getting zero minutes these days.

* Speaking of Gadzuric, Lacob ended up trading him and Brandon Wright at the deadline for the Nets’ 2012 2nd round pick. Meanwhile, Keith Smart would go on to coax 36 wins out of the Warriors. If they kept Gadzuric and Wright, would they have won 4 more games, making Smart a 40-game winner? And if so, does Smart still get fired?

* Last year, after the trade deadline, Joe Lacob bragged that he could have had Gerald Wallace, but passed. Wallace ended up going to the Blazers, where he has been quite good. The Blazers are a contender for the West this year. Adam Lauridsen brought up Wallace’s name in his epic interview with Lacob. Lacob’s response: “Not going to get into that.  You may or may not think that’s a good trade.  I don’t know.  Unimportant.” Denial? Hubris? Sigh.

* Danny Ainge waited one year too long to blow up the Celtics. As with Kamen, no one is going to send youth or picks for any of the Old Three. And Rondo has been exposed as a guy who has reached his ceiling.

* Call me crazy, but I think the Celtics best trade partner is the Lakers. The core of the deal to be made is Gasol and Blake for Pierce and Rondo. The Celtics need a quality center, badly. Pierce is showing his age. Rondo is overpaid. Meanwhile, the Lakers need a guard who can penetrate, and stay in front of other guards. Pierce is insurance in case Kobe can’t keep defying medical science. Gasol is left out in a system that now features Bryant and Bynum. Blake needs a fresh start. Danny Ainge and Mitch Kupchack: do this.