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David Aldridge

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The Collective Bargaining Agreement has been a thorny issue for David Stern and the future of the NBA.
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'Melo situation tied into collective bargaining rift


Posted Feb 22 2011 9:41AM

LOS ANGELES -- It all congealed in the hours after All-Star Weekend, the weekend and Carmelo and the playoff race and labor and the impending lockout, all tied up with one another, seemingly inextractable. Carmelo is an All-Star, one of the league's best players ("you get a chance at a Carmelo Anthony, I don't give a [bleep] what you have to give up, you do it," a Finals-winning head coach told me Saturday), who wanted to play with other All-Stars, like LeBron and D-Wade and Chris Bosh are doing, even though Anthony was on a perfectly good team in Denver.

That show of independence last summer from the SuperFriends, and from Anthony in ultimately forcing Monday night's blockbuster trade to New York, is one of the key reasons why team owners want to rein in player salaries and fundamentally change the structure of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Which is why, the relatively optimistic talk after Friday's meeting between the players and owners nothwithstanding, we're still staring a protracted lockout next season in the face. Which would be a devastating blow, considering that the ratings for this year's Weekend were through the roof, what with Bad Blake jumping over cars and all, and the game as popular as its been in more than a decade, with star players in lots of cities, not just New York and L.A. and Miami. Though that appears to be changing, and that's not good for the game.

Last year, you may remember, it was Amar'e Stoudemire, with the Suns trying to decide whether to trade their star player or keep him. Phoenix opted to keep him, then watched him walk away to New York for $100 million. Determined not to let a similar result play out on their watch, Denver's management team held on until the last possible minute. (As late as Monday afternoon, Anthony was telling people he thought he was heading to New Jersey, since the Knicks were holding onto center Timofey Mozgov. Amazing that Timofey Mozgov was a sticking point in a trade of Carmelo Anthony. Those are words I never expected to type.)

And now that Anthony has left Denver for New York, as STAT did with Phoenix, that leaves two more franchises floundering, with no anchor.

The league has asked for $750 million in givebacks from the players. The union has choked on that number, pointing to the record-high ratings of last year's Finals, and the record number of tickets sold for games this season, and a half-dozen other metrics that show sustained growth. The league counters that it's not the ability to produce revenue that's the issue; it's the ability of teams to preserve that revenue when their fixed costs continue to go through the roof, with no end in sight.

It all comes together, in the NBA world after The Decision. Agencies like CAA, which foreshadowed the amassing of star players on a handful of teams by buying up prominent sports agents in the last three years to form a colossus that controls the likes of James, Wade, Bosh, Anthony, Chris Paul and a half-dozen other superstars, now control the game. Like Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, CAA orders teams to make it so, and they do. And so, the negotiations between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement just got that much tougher, as if they could. Many owners already angry about the CBA are now unhappy that superstars have the upper hand in dictating where they want to go, further poisoning the landscape.

"If I could quote Mr. Dickens, it's the best of times, it's the worst of times," the Commish told me Thursday morning, during a half-hour interview. "Our game--and it is the game that brings us here -- it's never been better ... (but) hanging over it all is the collective bargaining. We're going to work it out. We just don't know exactly how or we don't know when, but other than that. We do know, yes, there will be a deal. The how and the when are not quite firmed up yet."

With Carmelo finally traded, labor moves to center stage.

The league's Four Pillars for a new deal -- a hard cap, shorter contracts, fewer guaranteed years in those contracts, almost no exceptions -- are all non-starters to the Players' Association. The league says it must have these changes in order to create a system that assures greater competiveness between more teams and to make profits more certain. The union says there's not a business in the world that has a structure which guarantees profits. Profits come, the union says, when a business is well-managed and produces a product that people will buy, not because the game is rigged. But the league is looking not just for cost certainty, the union believes, but profit certainty.

"I was always supportive of that opinion," Executive Director Billy Hunter said Friday, after the meeting, "and I'm even more rooted in that belief after what I heard today."

The union's counterproposal, which is as equally DOA as the league's initial one, would negotiate downward the 57 percent of Basketball Related Income the players currently receive--and would not force owners to guarantee players that 57 percent of BRI regardless of whether teams make more or less money, as is currently the case. It would change the Draft and allow the league's worst teams to have additional picks, allowing bad teams an opportunity to rebuild quicker. And it would enhance revenue sharing opportunities between the teams, which is a major sticking point internally and externally to building a better financial model.

The union's position is that a lot of the money and competition problems teams have could be mollified if the league's most successful teams shared more of their profits with the lower-revenue teams. Stern says that most owners, including most of the big money makers, are on board with the idea of sharing more revenues, in a model that may not reach the levels of how NFL owners cut up their pie, but will be more than what is currently available.

"I don't know exactly what it's going to be," Stern said, "but it's going to be a lot more than it is now."

Those discussions between owners are going on on a parallel track to the league's talks with the union, the notion being there's no point to have a new revenue sharing agreement in place while teams are still losing millions. Once there's a new CBA in place, the league says, the new revenue sharing agreement will kick in.

I asked the Commish about the Lakers' new local TV deal with Time Warner Cable, which the L.A. Times estimates could be worth up to $3 billion over 20 years. If I'm Owner X from a low-revenue team, I asked Stern, am I entitled to a chunk of that $3 billion, or is Jerry Buss free to give me the Heisman stiff arm?

"I wouldn't say it quite that way, that you're entitled to a share of it," Stern said. "If you're in a cap system, your salary structure is being set by all of the league's revenues. In a simple way, if you have a two-team league, where one team grosses $100 million, and one team grosses $50 million, that's $150 million. If you agree to give 50 percent to the players, that means they get $75 million. But the guy who's taking in 50 can't pay it. It's hard...we want to have teams that can compete. So if we're going to have a 30-team league, you want to have a team come in, regardless of its market size, and give an account of itself in a good way, whether it's from Utah or Orlando, or from Portland or San Antonio. You don't want to have a league that (just) consists of L.A., New York, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, and three or four others. And so it's an interesting issue, and if I'm a team, I say, well, they're always televising a game between the Lakers and somebody else."

And, the players add, they are the ones that make the Lakers and somebody else worth watching. So James and Wade and Anthony were among the 15 or so All-Stars that were in attendance at Friday's meeting -- what union vice president Keyon Dooling called a cross-section of "the bottom feeders, mid-level players and max guys." Unlike during the '99 lockout, when Patrick Ewing was president of the union and stars like Alonzo Mourning were on the negotiating committee, the union's negotiators are more of its rank and file. So having the All-Stars in the room Friday provided moral support that will be important going forward, just as having Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal in the room in '99 was important to the players.

"Those are the guys that I looked at, when I was going to the meetings (as a rookie), they were the stars of the league, and kind of like the ambassadors," Paul Pierce said Friday in explaining why he was attending the meeting. "They dictated a lot of things that went on. So me being in that position now, I just feel like it's a need for me to go ahead, even though I'm winding down my career, in helping this league move forward, and being an ambassador in the NBA."

So the meeting ended, with the promise of more discussions between large and small groups of owners and players to follow in the coming weeks. The tone of Friday's meeting, at least, was conciliatory, with the players impressed by the words of two owners at polar opposites of the economic spectrum--Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chair of the league's negotiating committee, and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

(I had asked Stern about the small-market Spurs, who have won four titles and paid fair but not exhorbitant salaries for their players, and made good decisions about players, and kept low debt among their ownership group, and empowered their coach to coach the team. Why wouldn't they be the model for other teams of how to run a team successfully? "They're losing money this year," Stern said. "That's what Peter has told the players. That's what the books show. They are such a team. They are a model. And they are moving, in order to compete, they are moving, they have moved, into unprofitability with revenues. They were unprofitable last year; they will be unprofitable this year. They are at the margins -- with a winning record.")

An owner such as Holt, a genuinely good man who speaks not with bluster but with calm, and who has sunk much of his fortune into creating a championship team in a small market, may be able to cut through the noise and find common ground with the players. But a smart guy like Cuban, who always has another idea up his sleeve, could be very helpful, too.

"Cuban did a pretty good job," said Hawks forward Maurice Evans, a union vice president. "He kind of broke it down. He said you can have your lawyers scream at our lawyers, and we can have our accountants scream at your accountants, but it wasn't going to help us consummate a deal. Just having said that summed up the meeting. It's going to take owners working together and players working together to make this work."

The one other potential positive going forward is this: Stern and Hunter do have a history with one another. Like the relationship between former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the late union head Gene Upshaw, Stern and Hunter can scream at each other and take the positions their jobs force them to on occasion, yet be able to find some common ground. They will have to depend on one another more than ever this time around to hold their respective forces at bay.

"We know that we could take the union's position, and they know that they could take our position, if we switched jobs," Stern said. "They know the issues that we have, and we know the issues that they have. That doesn't mean that we're making huge progress or that we're closing the gap, but that's more important than people give credit for."

It has to be. Carmelo wanted to go to New York, and he's going to New York. But everybody can't play in New York.

Dribbles

Meanwhile, back on the court (for now)...

The first half of the season has provided some wondrous individual moments: Blake Griffin's weekly posterizations, Cousin LaMarcus's emergence as a leader in Portland, Stoudemire's comeback from injury and uncertainty to make the Knicks relevant again, both in New York and in the league.

But the second half of the season, always, is about teams. Which ones are really ready to make a run toward a championship, and which ones need to start planning for next season. This year, there appear to be six teams that have separated themselves from the pack:

The Lakers.

The Spurs.

The Celtics.

The Heat.

The Mavericks.

The Bulls.

Yes, Orlando is always a factor with Dwight Howard, and may have the most room for potential second-half growth if the Magic's new players come around and Brandon Bass stays healthy and Gilbert Arenas finds his lost game. Yes, Atlanta has two All-Stars in Joe Johnson and Al Horford , and Utah and New Orleans have had strong moments at times this season, and someone always comes out of nowhere. But they aren't on the top line, at least not this season. There are the Big Six, and there's everyone else.

Four of the Big Six have a Finals MVP in their locker room: Kobe Bryant in L.A., Tim Duncan and Tony Parker in San Antonio, Paul Pierce and Shaquille O'Neal in Boston and Dwyane Wade in Miami. That matters. It really does. Having someone on your side who's led his team through the crucicle of playoff basketball--the fatigue, the targeting by smart and determined opponents, the uncertainty, the fear of losing--and come out victorious is invaluable in May and June.

"Well, we (four) have a better chance of figuring it out than some of the other teams," Bryant said Friday. "That doesn't mean that Orlando won't get in there, or Chicago won't get in there, or Dallas won't get in there. It's really about how well teams are playing together at the right time."

Each of the six, though, has significant impediments or problems in the way of a potential title run.

The Lakers have been terrible at times this season, as evidenced by the horrible end to their east coast swing before the break. They are 2-7 against the other top six teams in the league (Boston, Miami, San Antonio, Dallas, Chicago, Orlando). Pau Gasol looked worn down before the break, and Andrew Bynum was 2 of 12 against Cleveland, and Bryant is making scowling and bad body language into an art form, and Ron Artest is in one of his disengaged funks.

"I don't care about the rest of the contenders," Gasol said. "Obviously, seeing how the regular season's going, and playing against those (elite) teams, you respect and understand and are aware of their power. But we have to worry about what's going on on our team and what can we do to get to our best level possible, so we can get to the playoffs with the best chance to win it again."

Bryant has been monosyllabic for the last couple of weeks in discussing L.A.'s struggles.

"Do you know why you're struggling right now?" I asked Friday.

"Yep."

Care to share any details?

"Nope."

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Andrew Bynum has drawn criticism for inconsistent play this season.
Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Is it fixable?

"Yep. Absolutely."

Bryant does acknowledge concerns about the Lakers, though he obviously believes they can turn things around in time for a ThreePeat.

"You're concerned because it's always a challenge," he said. "Every team goes through struggles. It's about figuring out that puzzle before the end of the season comes around, and before you get eliminated from the playoffs. That's the trick. For us, it's more public than anybody else is, but it's a challenge nonetheless...that's what brings the excitement, is not knowing. Even when you're rolling, and you're playing very well, there's the still the unknown of saying, well, this could slip away from us at any given moment, in any game of the series. It cuts both ways."

But most aren't buying the Lakers Tales of Woe. Gregg Popovich still thinks they're the best team in the west (though Dallas is very close, he now thinks).

"We were the Lakers last year, around this time, losing that many games, people counting us out," Boston's Rajon Rondo said. "The Lakers are the two-time defending champs. Simple as that."

San Antonio is a league-best 46-10 at the break, six games clear of Dallas in the west for the best record in the conference and four up on Boston for the best record in the league. But the Spurs have been incredibly fortunate with injuries in the first half of the season. Duncan, Parker, Richard Jefferson and DeJuan Blair have each started every game, and Manu Ginobili has only missed one. (When you're old and healthy you're a "veteran" team; when you're old and injured you're an "aging" team.) The Spurs will be counting on players in their rotation, like rookies Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter, who have never been in the heat of the postseason.

"I'm very confident," Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said, "with Tony and Manu and Tim, and players like Richard Jeferson, who've gotten to the Finals twice and lost, and a guy like Antonio McDyess, who's definitely in the autumn of his career, when you have a group like that, they know full well that it's an opportunity that the vast majority of players in this league, past and present, never even have. And to even think for a moment that anything has been accomplished, or to be complacent or satisfied to any degree, would mean failure for sure. Because we've got to act like the season just started. And even if we do all that, we still may not end up doing it. There's too many good teams out there. So all we've had is a very good start, and we'll see if we can take advantage of it or not."

Boston's worry is the exact opposite of the Spurs'. The Celtics haven't been able to stay healthy all season. Kevin Garnett missed time with a calf injury. Shaquille O'Neal has been out the last two weeks with an achilles' strain and Jermaine O'Neal (knee) hasn't been a factor at all this season. Marquis Daniels will be out indefinitely after his frightening fall and bruised spinal cord last week, potentially leaving the Celtics a man short in the rotation down the stretch. The Celtics and Heat are essentially tied for the best record in the east.

"We haven't got a big enough gap, I don't think," Rondo said. "With what we've had this year, the injuries we've dealt with--which every team does, but it seems like we catch it every time--we did a pretty good job and I'm pretty pleased with our record. The best thing is, I hope we can stay healthy."

Miami is faster than anybody, with James and Wade on the wing. But of the contenders, Miami is smaller than anybody. When the Heatles can force tempo with their defense, they can smoke any team in the league, like they did on Christmas Day, when Miami popped the Lakers at Staples. But without Udonis Haslem for at least a few more weeks, the Heat remains vulnerable to the biggest and baddest--like Boston, which has dispatched Miami three straight times this season.

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The Heat await the return of blue-chip forward Udonis Haslem.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/NBAE via Getty Images

"I think right now, they're a better team than us," James said. "It's that simple. They're a better team than us. They've been together longer than us. The first game (in November), it goes without saying, they were 50 times better than us. It was our first game together. And they caught us a few weeks later, and we were still trying to improve. Last game, we seen improvement, but we understand we've still got a little ways to go to get where Boston is. The good thing is we know we're not that far away. We know we've still got a lot of work to do."

The Mavericks have depth and experience and 14 feet of domestic centers in Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood to throw at the Lakers and Spurs along with their seven foot imported German. Now healthy after suffering a knee injury in December, Nowitzki is again playing at an MVP level like in 2007, when he won the regular season award. Popovich believes that if not for Nowitzki's injury, the Mavericks would have the exact same record as San Antonio.

But Dallas will have to play the rest of the season without Caron Butler (knee), whose slashing and cutting game were a perfect complement to Nowitzki's perimeter firepower. Butler's presence also gave Dallas the luxury of bringing Shawn Marion off the bench and keeping him fresher, so he wouldn't wear down by season's end. The Mavericks will have to depend on Peja Stojakovic re-discovering his legs and shot in order to stay hot and in the chase. And a team rarely has won a championship playing as much zone as Dallas utilizes, with Chandler anchoring the Mavericks' 2-3 look.

With the incandescent Rose, Chicago is playing its best basketball since the Jordan Era ended, and Joakim Noah is finally back after missing 30 games with a thumb injury. The Bulls haven't had Noah and Carlos Boozer together all season, and the potential for further growth as this still-new team comes together is strong. Rose's game is off-the-charts spectacular, and the third-year guard is the kind of anti-leader leader people flock to--he was, by far, the most popular player in the Eastern Conference locker room this weekend, part of no one's clique, feuding with nobody, finding a chair in the back and sitting quietly, not drawing attention to himself. The kid is the goods.

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Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer await Joakim Noah's return.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/NBAE via Getty Images

Yet the Bulls have just one player--Kurt Thomas--who's been in a Finals. (Thomas went with the Knicks in '99.) Boozer and Kyle Korver couldn't solve the Lakers while with the Jazz; Rose and Luol Deng and Taj Gibson came up short in the first round against the Celtics in '09 and the Cavaliers last season, albeit with a much different team than the one they have now. Inexperience usually rears its head at the most inopportune times, and this Bulls team is just in its first go-round together. Sometimes that doesn't matter and alchemy produces an immediate champion, as with Detroit in '04 once Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince joined the core of Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton and Ben Wallace. But it usually takes time.

Time. LeBron has all the time in the world; he has a group of stars and role players all signed up for at least the next five years.

Time. The aging Celtics and Lakers and Spurs have almost run out of it.

"I do feel like it's a last chance," the Spurs' Tony Parker said right before the break. "Especially next year, you don't know what's going to happen with the lockout, and Timmy's going to be 35. It'll be tough. So I definitely treat it like it's maybe our last chance to have a definitely legit chance to win it. 'Cause a lot of teams say they want to win it,' but they're not going to win it. So I think it's maybe our last real chance. I think that."

Top O' the World, Ma!

(Last week's rankings in brackets; this week's record in parentheses)

1) Dallas (2-0) [2]: All of a sudden, Mavericks have won 13 of 14 and have passed the Lakers in the west. They won't catch the Spurs, probably, for the best regular season record, but Dallas will be a major postseason threat.

2) Chicago (1-0) [3]: The Bulls have roared to within a game and a half of Miami in the Eastern Conference standings -- without Joakim Noah, who should be back this week.

3) San Antonio (1-1) [1] : Spurs' starters have missed just one game in first half of season to injury. How long can they remain that lucky?

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Tony Parker and Co. has been virtually injury-free.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/NBAE via Getty Images

4) Boston (1-0) [5]: Celtics are extremely confident they can beat anybody--if they're healthy. If. And they're looking for a scoring three who can spell Paul Pierce now that Marquis Daniels (bruised spinal cord) will be out indefinitely.

5) Miami (2-0) [6]: If you're the Heat, you have to be concerned about Mike Miller's ability to stay healthy, both down the stretch of the regular season and the playoffs.

6) Orlando (1-0) [7]: The Commish asks the media to cut Dwight Howard some slack and stop speculating on what he'll do two years from now, when he becomes a free agent. Well, Superman could end all the speculatin' right now if he put pen to paper and signed an extension, as he is now eligible to do.

7) L.A. Lakers (0-2) [4]: Two-time champs begin second half only a game and a half ahead of Oklahoma City for fourth in the western conference. If they fell to fourth that would probably mean a second-round playoff date with the Spurs; if they stay third it's likely a second-rounder with the Mavericks.

8) Oklahoma City (1-0) [8]: Serge Ibaka's dunks during the Dunk Contest Saturday--the takeoff dunk that actually was from Video further back than Dr. J's legendary flyover in '84 and MJ's in '88--and the take the toy off the rim with his teeth while dunking dunk--should be two of the headliners when and if TNT does "The Lost Dunks, Part II."

9) Portland (2-0) [9]: Tough call for Blazers' management as trade deadline nears--team is playing its best basketball of the season, but does it really mean anything given the reality of how tough the west is?

10) Memphis (1-0) [10]: With Rudy Gay (shoulder dislocation) out a month, Grizzlies may need to re-think desire to trade O.J. Mayo.

11) Atlanta (1-1) [11]: While other contending teams in the east made significant moves either last summer or this season, Hawks stayed relatively pat. We'll see if that was the right move come playoff time.

12) Denver (1-1) [14]: There had been a lot of criticism of new executive Josh Kroenke and general manager Masai Ujiri for their handling of Carmelo's trade request, and the constant asking for more from teams. The end result is that they seem to have done very well and gotten as much as anyone could expect for their franchise player.

13) New York (1-0) [15]: Knicks haven't been above .500 this late in the season in a decade. Should stay above .500 now, one would think.

14) Utah (0-2) [13]: Jazz haven't lost five straight at home since 1982.

15) New Orleans (0-2) [12]: Streakiest team in the league went into break dropping three straight, seven of eight and 9 of 11 after winning 10 straight and 13 of 15.

Team of the Week

Golden State (2-0): The Warriors don't make a lot of headlines, but they've climbed within three games of .500 and have already bettered their win total from last season by 10 games. And I'll say it again: Monta Ellis should have been in L.A. with the other All-Stars. Keith Smart is doing a very good job behind the bench.

Team of the Weak

L.A. Lakers (0-2): Getting thumped by Charlotte is bad. But the Lakers do lose a lot to the Bobcats. There are no words to describe how pitiful you have to play to lose to the Cavaliers.

Nobody Asked Me, But...

Are we seeing the endgame for the Kings in Sacramento?

The disclosure Saturday by Commissioner Stern that Kings co-owners Gavin and Joe Maloof have been talking with officials in Anaheim, California about a potential move of the Kings there does not bode well for the future of the franchise in the California capital. The Kings would have to inform the league by next Tuesday, March 1, if they planned to move the franchise in time for next season. Anaheim has an NBA-capable building with the Honda Center, that already houses the NHL's Ducks. The city has frequently been thought of for potential relocation, given its own fast-growing "Platinum Triangle" area near the Angels' baseball stadium, and its proximity to the "Inland Empire" area of millions.

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How long will the Kings stay in Sacramento?
Photo by Ethan Miller/NBAE via Getty Images

The Kings have tried in vain for a decade to get public financing or create a public/private partnership for a new arena to replace Arco Arena. The NBA enlisted the help of John Moag, a former chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority who helped broker the deal with the NFL that brought the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1996, to try and create a deal between the city, state and team. But Moag was no more successful than the Maloofs. A sales tax measure went down to defeat by voters in 2006, and the recession killed whatever significant support remained to spend public money for a sports facility.

The city of Sacramento had commissioned four potential plans for another stadium project for review and selected one earlier this month. But that group is operating in a 90-day window to develop a new plan, and the Maloofs only have a week to apply for relocation. (The league could, under certain circumstances, allow an extension for a team to file after March 1.)

Stern washed his hands of the Kings' future in his State of the League news cofnerence Saturday.

"We and they tried very hard over the years to see if a new building could be built," Stern said. "With the collapse of the last attempt...I said, we're not going to spend any more time on that. That's up to the Maloofs and the city of Sacramento."

(I'd asked Stern, during our interview Thursday, if the era of public funding for new buildings--which was central to the construction of the new arenas in many NBA cities during the 1990s and early 2000s--is over. "I'd say that the era of arena building with large or complete public subsidies is winding down," he said. "I don't know exactly how we're going to see it happen (in the future), but there are going to be imaginative ways for cities to help out. What's happening now, I think, is that citizens may not want to have their taxes raised, but they're not quite as upset or concerned if city-owned land is made available, and a developer can not only build a building, but also recoup some of the money by doing other developmental things, and there are federal funds for improvements, transportation or highways and exit ramps and the like. So I think the era of cities stepping up and voting in new taxes is under enormous pressure, and we won't see it much more.")

One historical factor that had always been an impediment to a potential third team in the L.A. area has always been the difficulty an incoming team would have in getting a local television deal. While there are two Fox Sports regional sports networks in Los Angeles, both are filled to capacity with programming. Consider the number of teams that are already on locally: the Lakers, the Clippers, the NHL's L.A. Kings and Anaheim Ducks, Major League Baseball's Dodgers and Angels, UCLA and USC basketball...the list goes on and on.

But with the Lakers announcing last week that they would be leaving Fox Sports West beginning next season to start a 20-year deal with Time Warner Cable that will create two sports channels--one in English, one in Spanish--FSW has suddenly lost its marquee draw, a team that it paid $30 million annually in rights fees, according to the Los Angeles Times. And if Time Warner goes after the Dodgers, as the Times speculated last week, once the Dodgers' deal with Fox's Prime Ticket channel expires in 2013, Fox would have gaping programming holes in each of its L.A.-based networks--and need something to fill them.

I hope it's wrong, because the L.A. area is already well-served by the Lakers and Clippers, while Sacramento only has the Kings to call its own major league sport. Kings fans have been among the most loyal in the league, selling out season after season when the product on the floor was dreadful. And when Chris Webber and Vlade Divac led the Kings back to prominence, the atmosphere at Arco was electric, as good as anyplace. But the Maloofs need a new building. And they're going to get one, somewhere, and soon.

...And Nobody Asked You, Either

Making a pitch about the pitch. From Michael Stelle:

Regarding the 'Nobody Asked Me, But...' if we are talking about all sports, Sir Alex Ferguson has been in charge of Manchester United for 24 years (25 on Nov 6th) but i agree from the sense that it'll probably never happen from now onwards. As well as that, seriously, who decides who participates in the 3 point contest. How does Matt Bonner not get there?? On top of having the top percentage in the league, he also appears to be one of the goofiest, funniest players around which can't be bad for All-Star weekend.

From Juan Urquiola:

You might not care about this since this is European football (soccer in the US), but I have an answer to your question about Jerry Sloan. Sir Alex Ferguson has been coaching the Manchester United Footbal team in the Premier League for 24 years in a row! and it looks like he won't retire anytime soon. Just thought it might be interesting to know. It's not like I'm mentioning some random guy either, Ferguson is well known on the other side of the pond.

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The "Sandwich Man" Matt Bonner should've been at All-Star Weekend.
Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

I take your word(s) about Sir Alex and his reign on the pitch for ManU. That is an amazing run considering how competitive football is over in Europe. As for Bonner, I'd love to see the Sandwich Man get some love.

From James Reid:

I was watching Celtics @ Lakers not too long ago, when Pierce put up 32, 16 in the third alone. It got me thinking. Where do you think Paul Pierce stacks up against all time Celtic greats? Obviously theres Bird, McHale etc. But where would you put him considering he's played his whole career in Boston and has scored over 20,000 points?

Top 10. Would take Russell, Sam and K.C. Jones, Havlicek, Heinsohn, Bird and McHale ahead of him, but after that, who? I'd rank Paul ahead of Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, Don Nelson, Dave Cowens and Reggie Lewis, and I'd have him ahead of KG and Ray Allen as well simply because of greater longevity. Pierce isn't the defender that DJ was, obviously, but he's worked much harder on D in recent years and has accepted the challenge of taking on the likes of LeBron.

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Is Paul Pierce a Top 10 Celtic?
Photo by Jeff Gross/NBAE via Getty Images

From Chuck Aguolu:

I was reading your Mr. 15 for Steve Novak a few days ago, and I read the part in which Popovich interrupted and asked you why you were talking to Novak. Although evidentely Novak found it rather funny, i am very alarmed at the disrespect that some coaches can display towards players in the league, neverless their own players. I found it very disrespectful and rather annoying that coaches can refer to their players any way they like. Please tell me that im just overexaggerating what occured there so as to not ruin my perspective of one of the best coaches in this game.

This is my fault, I think, Chuck. I was trying to convey how playful Pop can be sometimes when he made his comment and it may not have come across that way if you were just reading the transcript. Pop has a wonderful, sarcastic sense of humor and it's almost always self-deprecatng; he was not in any way being disrespectful to Steve. His players know he's hard-driving, but he's eminently fair to them and he has good relationships with most of them. Again, probably my fault more than his.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and Oscar nominations to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail bon mots are sufficiently thought-provoking, challenging, funny or snarky, we just might publish them!

MVP Watch

(weekly averages in parenthesis)

1) LeBron James (25 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 6.5 apg, .500 FG, .688 FT): LBJ's contention at the start of the season that he and DWade would cancel each other out for MVP consideration seems not to have stood the test of time.

2) Derrick Rose (30 ppg, 4 rpg, 10.5 apg, .548 FG, .933 FT): Made his MVP case plain with a 42-point explosion against the Spurs Wednesday.

3) Dwight Howard (32 ppg, 10 rpg, 3 bpg, .800 FG, .727 FT): Only one game this week, and it was against the woeful Wizards, so not sure it really should count.

dirk.jpg
Dirk has come on strong since returning from an early season injury.
Photo by Christian Petersen/NBAE via Getty Images

4) Kobe Bryant (18,5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2 apg, .364 FG, .750 FT): Who knows what thoughts are rolling through Bryant's mind with the Lakers stalled out going into the break. On the other hand, The Black Mamba mini-movie premiered this weekend! And he won his fourth All-Star MVP award on Sunday after dropping 37 on the east.

5) Dirk Nowitzki (24 ppg, 2 rpg, 4 apg, .679 FG, 1,000 FT): In last 10 games before the break, shot 52 percent from the floor. Mavericks won nine of those 10.

By the Numbers

2 -- Triple-doubles in All-Star competition after Video LeBron James posted 29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists Sunday in the West's 148-143 victory. Michael Jordan (14 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) first did it in 1997.

8 -- Consecutive years the All-Star game has been held in a Western Conference/neutral city, dating back to 2003, when the game was played in Atlanta's Philips Arena. Since then the game has been in Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Phoenix, Dallas and L.A. again. Next year the streak will end when Orlando hosts the game in its new Amway Arena.

63,000 -- Baskets made since 2009 by now 14-year-old Justin Friedlander to raise awareness of pirmary brain tumors. Justin was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in 2009 and soon after decided he'd try to make a basket for every person--63,000--diagnosed each year with brain tumors. He made shots at several NBA arenas and made the final shots Saturday during the All-Star teams' joint practice in L.A. at the Jam Session, with the assistance of the Lakers' Pau Gasol.

I'm Feelin' ....

1) We'll be seeing this for a while.

1A) That was a Video pretty good dunk contest Saturday. Two words: Props work.

2) There are times when this job, like any job, feels like a job, and the day is long and hard and not especially rewarding. And there are times, like when Julius Erving, Dwight Howard, Clyde Drexler, Darryl Dawkins, James Worthy and Dominique Wilkins all walked into our green room at Staples Center Saturday night, and spent the next 20 minutes swapping stories with the Chuckster and McHale, that I realize how incredibly lucky and fortunate I am to do this for a living.

3) And then, on Sunday, Ciara walked past me on the way to her seat at Staples and smiled. At me. This does a man good.

4) Love the rivalries just below the surface that poked out, even at All-Star. On Saturday, Doc Rivers put his four All-Star Celtics on the floor during practice and then brought out Miami's Chris Bosh--and proceeded to run some of Bosh's plays in Miami's offense. The subtle message to Bosh, LeBron and D-Wade--we know all your stuff. Then on Sunday, Kevin Garnett refused to do a pregame interview standing alongside Dwight Howard with our Craig Sager. Childish? Maybe. But I recall John Stockton saying something similar before the Dream Team started Olympic play in '92. Asked why the U.S. team was staying outside the Olympic Village, away from the other competitors--which had been custom--Stockton said, "We aren't here to make friends. We came here to beat them. Back home in Utah, we have a saying: 'the Indians did not dine with Custer.'" Put that in your team photo--the one where KG is scowling.

5) The great Claude Johnson, founder of blackfives.com, points out that while the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame made other news last week (see below), it also disclosed it would be forming an Early African-American Pioneers of the Game Committee, which can induct selectees into the Hall on its own, without the usual 75 percent of eligible Hall voters. The first enshrinee from that committee should be Edwin Henderson, who organzed black basketball teams in Washington, D.C. at the turn of the 20th century and became one of the first chroniclers of African-American achievement on the court (as Claude pointed out three years ago) ; Mr. Henderson's family has been toiling in near-obscurity for years, trying to get influential basketball voices and Hall voters to recognize the incredible contributions he made to the game. Now is the time.

6) Met Cam Newton on Saturday, standing next to the Chuckster. My word, that young man is big. Newton, I mean.

Not Feelin' ...

1) The front page on Pacers.com said it better than anything I could come up with at this hour: "April Fools in February?" How else to explain that my TNT colleague Reggie Miller didn't even make the list of finalists for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame? This wasn't like when Dominique Wilkens wasn't voted into the Hall in his first year of eligibility; this was worse. Reggie didn't even (ital)make the ballot(endital). His name won't even come up for a vote this year. On what possible grounds could the nominating board/group/ not even give Miller a chance to be voted on by the 24 selectors who pick each Hall of Fame class (a winner needs 18 of the 24 votes, or 75 percent, to be enshrined)?

reggie.jpg
No Hall of Fame love for Reggie?
Photo by Allen Einstein/NBA via Getty Images

2) Is it possible that there's still two more days until the trade deadline?

3) Without re-hashing all that went down in New York during the past decade under Isiah Thomas, let me just say this: if Jim Dolan lets Donnie Walsh walk, he's making a major mistake. If Walsh is never going to be forgiven for not delivering LeBron last summer, that's just absurd.

4) This should give Timberwolves fans food for thought: before the All-Star break, Minnesota was 5-30 this year against the Western Conference, the worst such mark in the league.

5) I don't know anything about NASCAR and even less about strategy in NASCAR, but this whole thing where two cars partner up with one another down the stretch of races, with one car serving basically as the rabbit so the other, faster car can win? Don't like it.

Tweet of the Week

Hard to believe it's been two years. Miss you dad.
-- Jazz owner Greg Miller (@GreginUtah), Sunday, 2:13 p.m., noting the death of his father, Larry, in 2009 due to complications from diabetes. Greg Miller's ownership of the team became more chronicled and critiqued earlier this month when Jerry Sloan abruptly announced he would be resigning from Utah's head coach job.

They Said It

"Nothing's going to beat a car, unless I bring out a plane or something."
-- Wizards forward JaVale McGee, accurately summing up the competition's chances in the slam dunk contest Saturday night once Blake Griffin went all Bob Beamon on everyone.

"We want to make it abundantly clear that we have been in constant communication throughout this process and the three of us are in complete agreement with everything that we are currently working on."
-- Statement from Knicks owner James Dolan, president of basketball ops Donnie Walsh and Coach Mike D'Antoni, issued Sunday, in response to numerous reports that Walsh and D'Antoni did not support New York's extreme pursuit of Carmelo Anthony--and to head off increasing speculation that former team president and head coach Isiah Thomas has been plotting manuevers behind the scenes in hopes of returning to New York's organization next season.

"Why would you think he's coming back? People move from Cleveland to Miami every (bleeping) day. They don't move from Miami to Cleveland."
-- Comedian Chris Rock, to Esquire writer (and avowed LeBron James hater) Scott Raab, in an interview with the magazine for its March issue. Raab argued that James should have come back to the Cavaliers and that many people in Cleveland expected him to return there last offseason, before he helped form the SuperFriends in Miami.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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