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David Aldridge

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Jerry Colangelo is already getting calls from players interested in playing in the 2012 Olympic Games.
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Lockout not dimming future for Team USA at 2012 Games


Posted Aug 8 2011 6:51AM - Updated Aug 9 2011 5:51PM

A year out from the 2012 Olympics, with the lockout in full swing, Jerry Colangelo nonetheless has no doubts that he will find 15 NBA players to put on the red, white and blue.

"I haven't even really started reaching out, and I'm feeling calls," he said Friday. "They're calling me. They're calling me to say they're playing."

Truth is, no one -- not even Colangelo, the head of USA Basketball -- knows what the potential impact of the lockout will be on the Summer Games. If the lockout is still ongoing then, there would be any number of logistical and potentially legal nightmares for each.

Yes, USA Basketball is a separate entity from the NBA. But for all practical purposes the NBA has been in partnership with USAB for the last 20 years, since basketball's international governing body, FIBA, changed its rules in 1989 and allowed NBA playes to compete in the Games. Soon after, the men's senior national team changed from one with college players to one dominated by the NBA's best, and it's been that way ever since.

Several members of USAB's board of directors have current or past NBA ties, starting with Colangelo, the longtime former owner of the Suns and one of commissioner David Stern's most trusted advisers for three decades; Stu Jackson, the NBA's executive vice president of basketball operations; Kim Bohuny, the league's vice president of basketball operations, international; former NBA player and current CEO of iHoops, Len Elmore, and my NBA TV colleague Steve Smith, the board's athlete representative.

But, in a wide-ranging interview Friday, Colangelo wanted to make clear the difference between affiliation and control.

"I think it's important that people in the basketball world -- fans, media -- understand something very basic," he said. "USA Basketball is self-sustaining. It's its own entity. It is not an arm of the NBA. The board is made up of people like (National Basketball Players Association executive director) Billy Hunter. There are people from the NBA and the NCAA ... USA Basketball at one time had trouble raising money. The NBA was willing to be a backup from a financial point of view, and cover any shortfall."

When Colangelo took over the selection process for the Olympic team in 2005, his first task was to get USA Basketball out of the red, and Colangelo says he's done that -- according to him, USAB quadrupled its revenues in the four years leading up to the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. And the success of the "Redeem Team" has helped further.

"We are self-sustaining," he repeated. "The NBA gives us people when we need people for events."

Still, the 2012 roster will be comprised solely of NBA players. Kobe Bryant is a yes whatever happens, according to a source close to the 34-year-old; Bryant badly wants a second gold medal to go with the one he won in '08. Kevin Durant, who led Team USA to the gold medal at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey, would probably go if selected even if the lockout were still in place, a source close to him said Sunday. The source added, though, that circumstances could change in the next year. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have yet to have discussions about what they would do in case the lockout is ongoing, according to a source; ditto for LeBron James, according to another source with knowledge of James' thinking.

Colangelo said he doesn't have a specific plan for what to do about the USA roster if the lockout consumes all of the 2011-12 season and is still going when USAB has to submit a roster to FIFA next June. (There wasn't much he could say, anyway; Colangelo is still, technically, a minority partner with the Suns, though he sold the team to Robert Sarver in 2004 for $401 million, and thus can't talk specifically about the lockout or many ancillary issues.) But he has enough information to believe he can put a team together from members of the '08 Olympic gold medal team and the '10 world championship squad.

"I would hope people would take care of their business," he said. "I know all of the issues from both sides, the pros and cons. I have to look at it from a different perspective as chairman of USA Basketball. We're moving ahead. We're fielding a team. The only question is who's going to be on it. We have to submit a roster to FIBA by next June ... we're going to have a great response to participation in 2012 from our players. We have the depth of players, looking at the Olympic roster and the World Championship roster, to field a team."

Of course, Colangelo has a lot of things on his plate. This weekend he'll be in Springfield in his role as chairman of the board of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which will induct 10 new members on Friday and Saturday, including former Bulls, Spurs and Pistons forward Dennis Rodman, Dream Teamer Chris Mullin, former ABA star Artis Gilmore, Olympic gold medalist and European star center Arvydas Sabonis, triangle offense innovator Tex Winter and former Harlem Globetrotters star Goose Tatum.

Colangelo came to the HOF in 2009 saying he wanted to make several changes to both the selection process and Hall itself. Some have come to fruition; others have not. He began his stint at the Hall with similar money issues that he had with USAB; one of the first things he did was to cajole 28 of the 30 owners -- along with Commissioner David Stern and then-deputy commissioner Russ Granik -- to make contributions totalling $7 million to the Hall to stem some of the red ink. The Hall, as you'll read below, is developing other revenue-generating programs it hopes will come on line in the next couple of years. As for the others, a checklist follows:

Opening up the selection list for more candidates.
• Grade: Check

Gilmore and Tatum were selected this year from the new ABA and Early African-American Pioneers committees, established on Colangelo's watch. The Early African-American committee recognizes players and contributors who helped grow the game before the establishment of the NBA in 1946. (Here's hoping that committee remembers Edwin Henderson, the "Father of Black Basketball" who organized the first teams of black players early in the last century in Washington, D.C., and later became a title-winning coach and author. His Spaulding Official Handbook chronicled the exploits of African-American athletes in all sports in the early 1900s.)

In doing so, the Hall also re-establishes its long-repeated mantra that it is not an NBA Hall of Fame, nor does it want to be.

"It creates a new look for the Hall of Fame," Colangelo said. "It truly represents all levels of basketball. It's not the NBA Hall of Fame. All of these changes show that we want to recognize those who made contributions at all levels, in all eras."

Fan participation in voting for Hall of Fame candidates.
• Grade: Incomplete.

Colangelo has proposed opening the vote to include fans, who would contribute a certain percentage of the ballots for proposed candidates online, with a committee of voters that includes coaches, media members and former players still casting the majority of votes. But that plan has yet to come to fruition. He said he's currently negotiating with two companies for potential sponsorship.

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Improving aspects of the Hall of Fame voting process are high on Jerry Colangelo's to-do list.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

"I'm very hopeful it's going to be done in time for next year's election," he said.

Generating more business for the Hall itself.
• Grade: Half-check.

The president of the Hall, John Doleva, said earlier this year that the Hall was considering selling naming rights to the museum, as well as events and games sponsored by the museum, and it hired a marketing company to help the endeavor along. Colangelo said Friday he's working to open "satellite Halls of Fame" in several locations around the country and outside the United States that will allow fans that can't get up to Springfield access to some of the Hall's memorabilia, programming and displays.

"I think our attitude is bullish," he said. "You look at all of the Halls -- in Cooperstown [for baseball], in (Canton) Ohio [for football]. None of them is greatly located, and Springfield, Massachusetts, has those same issues. So, let's bring it out for the fans."

Making the voting process for the Hall transparent.
• Grade: Failure.

The biggest criticism most fans have about the Naismith Hall of Fame is that its voting for Hall of Fame induction is done almost completely in secret. The identity of the 24 voters is kept silent; most voters have no idea who else is voting in a given cycle. (Most of those voters are rotated out every three years or so.) The votes themselves are never disclosed or made public. No one knows, for example, exactly how many votes any of the inductees receive, or how many those that don't make it in a given year get.

This is completely different from Major League Baseball, which gives the complete vote totals for all who are considered in a given year. The 44 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame are named on the Hall's website, and many of them, while not completely specific in detailing what goes on at the election meeting held the day before the Super Bowl, often disclose their own votes, and the reasons why. Ditto for the Baseball Writers Association of America, whose 581 eligible voters this year put Bert Blyleven, Pat Gillick and Roberto Alomar into baseball's shrine.

But this hasn't happened yet with the Naismith voters.

"On a personal basis, I have no problem with going public. None," Colangelo said. "The problem is there are people who are voting that don't share that view. We've asked them. And there are some in the media who say, 'Bring it on.' This is not meant to be a policy. This is meant to be a representation of those who vote and what they want to do. But I haven't given up on that yet."

Dribbles

Ownership change in Atlanta revives hope

Incredibly, in the face of supposed doom with an unworkable business model, NBA teams keep going like hotcakes.

California businessman Alex Meruelo is the latest businessman who's been "duped" into buying an NBA team, reaching a deal to buy the Atlanta Hawks from the multi-headed group known as Atlanta Spirit. Word of the detail broke Sunday morning, and the Hawks will make it official at a news conference today. The Board of Governors will officially approve Meruelo next month at its annual meeting.

The sale price, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, is in excess of $300 million. This does not including the debt that Meruelo will assume from Atlanta Spirit, which will retain between 20 and 25 percent of the team initially. Meruelo will have the option of buying even more of the team from the group in the next few years. The team will remain in Atlanta, unlike the Hawks' former co-tenant at Philips, the NHL's Thrashers, which Atlanta Spirit sold to a group in Canada that moved the team to Winnipeg earlier this summer.

Of course, Meruelo wasn't duped. He sees the NBA as a good investment and plans to move to the Atlanta area, according to reports, at least part of the time to see his team.

Like new NBA owners Joe Lacob (Golden State), Joshua Harris (Philadelphia) and Tom Gores (Detroit), Meruelo has made much of his money in the private equity business, though Meruelo also does extensive work in the construction, real estate and food service industries. He also has bought a Reno casino and Los Angeles Spanish language television station. (Meruelo, of Cuban decent, will become the first majority Latino owner of an NBA team; Arte Moreno, who owns MLB's Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, is the only other Latino majority team owner among the four major U.S. sports.)

But Meruelo is already being lionized in Atlanta not because of who he is, but who he isn't. The reign of Atlanta Spirit was fraught with internal bickering and uncertainty about exactly who was in charge. Several people in different cities had pieces of the group, and one, Steve Belkin, wound up suing the others in 2005. He disagreed with his fellow owners about trading Boris Diaw and two first-round picks to Phoenix for Joe Johnson, and tried to block the deal as the team's representative on the board of governors. His partners tried to have him removed as the team's representative. (The lawsuit was finally settled last December when two of them, Michael Gearon and Bruce Levenson, bought out Belkin's 30 percent of the Hawks, Thrashers and Philips Arena.)

Despite the internal disagreements, the Hawks have become a consistent success on the court. They've made the playoffs four years in a row and have reached the East semis in each of their last three trips. In last season's playoffs, they played the Bulls competitively before falling in Game 6.

But what are we to make of this, the seventh NBA team (Bobcats, 76ers, Warriors, Pistons, Hornets, Nets) to be sold in the last two years? Does a healthy league have almost a quarter of its teams change ownership in such a short period of time? Or do businessmen see a growth opportunity despite the sluggish economy because the game is so compelling on the court? One thing is certain: there is no seeming shortage of multi-millionaires and billionaires with checks at the ready to get into the game. Which, in itself, says something about the game.

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Where do you go when optimism starts to die?

After speaking with people on both sides of The Great Divide last week, there is nothing -- nothing -- that indicates the lockout is going to end any time soon. The phrase that came was "anchored," as in, both sides are anchored to their positions. The league still insists it has to have a hard cap with a significant shift in the split of Basketball Related Income; the union still insists the current system just needs to be tweaked, not overhauled, and is not going to budge off its last offer to reduce its BRI split from 57 percent to 54.3 percent.

The union was surprised at the timing of the league's decision to file a lawsuit and an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, though not surprised that the league would ultimately pursue that course of action. Last Monday's meeting between the two sides in New York, while not especially productive on the big issues, was cordial, according to sources involved. The two sides did talk at least a little about non-economic issues in the hopes that some progress could be made on those while they tried to chip away at the big problems. But the next morning, David Stern called the union's executive director, Billy Hunter, to inform him of the legal steps that the league was about to take. Clearly, the NBA didn't decide Monday night to file the lawsuit and NLRB complaint, making the commissioner's statements after last Monday's meeting less about that meeting and more about the strategy the league had obviously decided to undertake weeks ago.

A source who deals with owners on a regular basis said that they remain determined to, if not break the union, break its current salary structure. The source said owners frequently speak of "being tired of making these guys rich" and are even contemplating asking for more, such as including income the players receive from their commercial endorsements and sponsorship money into the BRI pot -- the theory being the players wouldn't become famous and able to make such deals if not for the NBA infrastructure that puts them on television and other media. (Good luck with that one. And, yes, I asked my source if that were the case, why not cut players in for a slice of the action when owners sell their teams? I got something about there being a difference between the risks the players assume on the court and the risks owners take in financing their teams, got a headache in my eye and stopped listening.)

Hunter is trying to hold off agents who want him to go to court and decertify already. But Hunter, according to a source, is on his own timetable and is not going to be swayed into doing something until he's convinced there's no alternative. The union still has hope that its own filing with the NLRB accusing the NBA of not negotiating in good faith will be heard sometime this month.

It is the time of lawyers and lawsuits, not of basketball. And thus the cold winter continues, and there is a harsh reality staring back at us: they may well lose a whole season.

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

What a revoltin' development this is. From Karol Milcarz:

Let's say the lockout lasts whole year and the entire season is cancelled. No paychecks to the players, not a penny spent on jet fuel or on suites in Mariotts and Hiltons. The question that stands is: financially, is it reasonable and "profitable" to the owners to keep players locked out the whole 2011-12 campaign? In fact, the expenses owners have to incur during the season wouldn't be relevant. Yet, from what I know, TV contracts still are going to be valid and some dollars will be filling in team's bank accounts. Having in mind that majority of teams are "in red", wouldn't it be the right move for them to make?

Have you been spying on the owners, Karol? Other than your choice of hotels (no self-respecting NBA player would be caught dead in a Marriott or Hilton these days), that's precisely the argument that many owners make behind the scenes. They can make more money -- or, at least, not lose money -- by not playing. And that is the fundamental difference between the NBA and NFL lockouts. Every NFL team makes money. Some more than others, to be sure, but no one is losing. So the incentive for NFL owners was to make a deal before the season started. For at least a few NBA owners who are losing money, there is no incentive to reach a deal for anything like the current system. They will do better not playing. Which is why it's going to be so hard to make a deal.

The Fall of Paul? From McKay Kelly:

I'm a raving Utah Jazz fan. My favorite player for the past few years has been Paul Millsap. When we were relying on Boozer's front-of-the-rim jump shot, I couldn't wait for Paul to come off the bench and dazzle us with his footwork and ability to get to the rim. (Sadly, ever since his 46-point Miami experience, he relies on a jumper a lot more than he should. But it's still pretty dependable.)

With Jerry Sloan and Paul Millsap in mind, obviously it would make sense that I'm not an Okur fan. I appreciate ball movement that turns into an opportunity in the paint, and disapprove of CENTERS hanging around the 3-point line. Even Dirk got the memo on that one. He started playing in the post a whole lot more.

Basically, we've got a lot of awkward players on the Jazz. Not to say they're not talented, but Okur, [Andrei] Kirilenko, [Kyrylo] Fesenko, [Francisco] Elson etc. do not have the athleticism of a Millsap, [C.J.] Miles and [Ronnie] Price.

We just picked up [Enes] Kanter in the draft. A center. A beast really. I was hoping for some backcourt star power, like maybe taking [Brandon] Knight at No. 3, but seeing him fall to No. 8 made me realize maybe he wasn't worth a No. 3 pick, so I'm definitely coming around on the big guy.

My question is (sorry for taking so long to get to it), WHY ON EARTH, AFTER PICKING UP ANOTHER EUROPEAN BIG MAN, ARE WE HEARING TALKS OF TRADING MILLSAP? Where are the articles about how we no longer need a non-center center like Okur? Or how we might benefit greatly by getting rid of the ridiculously expensive Kirilenko? The Millsap-Al Jefferson combo was working quite well before December.

If Utah deals Millsap -- and I've heard no specific rumors, obviously, with the lockout killing basketball's Hot Stove League -- it would only be for financial reasons. With Al Jefferson (still on the hook for $29 million the next two seasons), Derrick Favors, Kanter and Millsap up front, someone's going to get squeezed for minutes. Kirilenko comes off the books as an unrestricted free agent. The Jazz are committed to Favors, and assuming they didn't draft Kanter to have him sit like a potted plant, that would leave Jefferson and Millsap to fight for playing time. It would certainly make sense and likely be easier for Utah to move Millsap ($16.7 million left the next two years) than Jefferson.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and suggestions for what I should do with my soon-to-be-useless credit cards to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently interesting, thought-provoking, funny or snarky, we just might publish it!

By The Numbers

593 -- Ranking for Hawks center Josh Powell, dead last in the league according to this sabremetric-ish compliation, published last month, of every NBA player who has played at least one game since the 2008-09 season that I just came across. How they arrived at their numbers involves math I have no interest in checking or explaining. Take it for what it's worth.

7 -- Timberwolves coaching candidates after Minnesota added former Wolves player and Raptors coach Sam Mitchell to the mix. Mitchell joins Larry Brown, Rick Adelman, Don Nelson, Bernie Bickerstaff, Mike Woodson and Terry Porter on the list of known candidates for the job. Adelman, though, has already told one paper he isn't likely to coach next season.

39 -- Days since the owners began the lockout.

I'm Feelin' ...

1) Interviewing the Worm on Thursday in Springfield. That ought to be good.

2) My girl Holly MacKenzie up in Toronto often Tweets about her love of the game. I think she probably saw that Kevin Durant exhibition at the Rucker last week and just went, "damn." (Durant is ridiculous throughout the highlights. You know what makes me insane? I was in midtown Manhattan last week waiting for lawyers to stop gabbing at each other and then announce absolutely nothing had happened over three hours, instead of being uptown watching Durantula do work.)

3) It's like watching a river full of sludge, tree stumps and syrup meander toward a falls on a summer day, in no particular hurry.

4) I hope this is true, because the rift between Chris Mullin and the Warriors got especially ugly toward the end of his tenure as general manager, and was beneath everyone involved.

5) After next Monday's Tip column from the Hall of Fame ceremonies, I'm taking some time off to re-introduce myself to the woman with whom I am related by marriage and my other dependents. Working on some solid guest columnists for the Tip just as we had last year. I'll have more info for you next week.

Not Feelin' ...

1) The conflict between these two makes me very sad, because I like and respect both men very much, and they are both working toward the same end and the same goal. They just have this issue between them that they can't squash.

2) Sonny Hill informed us Friday that Sherman White had died. A great example of a young man who made a mistake surpassing it and becoming a good man who helped young people in his community.

3) All class, that Steve Williams. Good to know he "won" 145 golf tournaments and not the golfers for whom he was caddying.

Tweet of the Week

@ deandrejordan you can't bash an airline just because they won't let you fly the plane, it's a safety thing, we've talked about this.
--
Blake Griffin (@blakegriffin), Sunday, 7:28 p.m., doing his part in the midst of the FAA shutdown to keep our airways safe by discouraging teammate DeAndre Jordan from showing off his cockpit "skillz."

They Said It

"I think some of my political views would be tough for me to get elected from where I live ... let's put it that way. I see the views that people use to get elected, and I'm not sure I'm on that side. I might just be setting myself up for defeat."
-- Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, telling the Orlando Sentinel that he is considering getting into politics when his coaching days are over. Van Gundy did not disclose which party or what politics he follows.

"If I knew what I know now, I wouldn't have retired. But I didn't know that then. And you've just got to go with what happened."
-- Magic Johnson, in a Los Angeles Times forum last week, reflecting on his life since being diagnosed with HIV in November, 1991. Johnson retired, returned to the NBA a year later but retired for good in 1995 amid fears he may have been putting other players at risk for getting the disease--a fear that has since been completely debunked.

"I think people need to lay off that kid, that's what I think. I've gotten to know him pretty well playing on the Olympic team, and I think they just need to back up off him and just let him play and let him live his life."
-- Kobe Bryant, defending LeBron James in an interview with ESPN last week.

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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