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David Aldridge

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Derek Fisher has done a solid job getting the NBPA's message out, but some star power wouldn't hurt.
Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

Time has come for stars to speak up more at bargaining table


Posted Sep 26 2011 6:51AM

PHILADELPHIA -- There is a difference, of course, between selling out a game and starting up a league.

Some things require sweat, brains and sinew; others require start-up capital, MBAs and boxcars full of attorneys. Yes, LeBron James has access to Warren Buffett, but Mr. Buffett is fighting other battles these days, it seems, than trying to out-Stern David Stern. The notion that there is a league out there to be started that would compete with the NBA is folly, unless there's a Sean Parker out there with a couple billion in VC money burning a hole in his pocket.

Ultimately, there will be a new collective bargaining agreement between the NBA's players and the league, and this unrehearsed, unvarnished barnstorming summer tour, that continued this weekend in Indianapolis on Saturday and here, at the historic, hot, sold-out Palestra on Sunday (the "Battle of I-95" between Carmelo Anthony's Baltimore-centered squad and Team Philly was a fairly typical, defense-optional affair) will end. The NBA will go on.

The question of when that exactly will happen is still an unknown with the two sides making glacial progress. A source says last week's latest proposal from the owners to the players started at 50 percent of Basketball Related Income in year one of the (still) 10-year offer, and dropped into the mid-40s for most of the rest of the proposed deal. Is that better than the initial 61-39 owners' split offer back in February? Yes. But it is still not anywhere close enough to get a deal with the players. Hard to imagine this isn't exactly how the owners anticipated this would go, and that there won't be anything of substance to report until the first game checks to players go unprinted in mid-November.

But if the NBA's star players can't build a league from scratch, couldn't they at least be making more noise at the bargaining table?

It's time for Kobe Bryant, LeBron, 'Melo and some of the game's other bright lights to join Chris Paul -- the lone superstar representative on the players' bargaining committee -- and make their voices heard.

No one is arguing that some tough words from Kobe or Kevin Durant will make the hardline owners who seek a hard cap capitulate. But most businessmen are like any other group of people -- they're swayed by celebrity. They know the players that fans come to see, who move the ratings needle and who sell apparel. A superstar who publicly says 'this is my fight, too,' stands a better chance of convincing a skeptical public that this union's battles with management mirror their own.

"We're all coming together and trying to speak to Derek Fisher, who's a great guy and a great person," Clippers forward Craig Smith said recently. "At the same time, there's kind of a difference between him and Kobe. Just being honest."

That truly is not an indictment of Fisher, the union's president, or the players on the bargaining committee. They don't need help with the issues, and their commitment to the task is first-rate. But other unions have used the star power of their marquee players to great effect. The NFL Players Association understood that having Saints quarterback Drew Brees front and center at the bargaining table (and in front of the cameras) could help frame the issues better than any shows of solidarity at a podium. Many of baseball's top players, notably former Braves pitcher Tom Glavine, were fixtures across the table from the owners during MLB's labor issues.

Yet other than a single collective appearance in February from 15 All-Stars at a negotiating session during All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles -- James, Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire were among the participants -- there has been next to no star presence in the many sessions that have followed. Anthony came to a meeting between the sides in New York in June, but hasn't attended since.

You continually hear, from NBPA executive director Billy Hunter and others, that the stars are engaged behind the scenes, talking to players and offering their support for Hunter and the union. And, it is true, you haven't heard one star player represented by the handful of agents that have been pushing decertifying the union publicly come out and agree with that stance. Bryant was at a regional union meeting earlier this summer where he gave unequivocal support to Hunter and Fisher. There is some sentiment that the stars can be best used if they sign -- or, even threaten to sign -- with teams abroad. But among the game's elite, only Bryant has had significant discussions with teams outside the States. (Kevin Durant's agent, Aaron Goodwin, told Yahoo! Sports last weekend that he's now beginning to seriously contemplate offers from teams in Russia, Italy, Turkey and Spain in the wake of the NBA cancelling the start of the preseason.)

Yet some of their fellow players wouldn't mind seeing them sit across from Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver.

"I think from my recollection of how the '98 lockout went, the Michael Jordans and the Patrick Ewings, all the top-tier guys was there," Nuggets forward Gary Forbes said Sunday. "From the outside looking in, I think that helped. I don't know how the bargaining talks are now, but I think it would help. It would put a little bit more pressure on the owners to see the faces of our league in there who wanted to play. We all want to play. Hopefully they get this stuff resolved. It would help a lot."

Of course, the stars' presence in '98 is part of the reason why the union's negotiating committee looks the way it does. There was strong sentiment among some union members then that the star players -- Ewing was the union's president, and stars like Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo were vice presidents -- did not have the backs of the rank and file, even though that CBA was the first in which the salaries of the game's superstars was capped, costing players like Ewing millions.

Smith is fully behind Fisher and the union. But he also thinks the stars can bring more pressure to the table.

"I think I would want to see them at the bargaining table," Smith said last month, at the Goodman (D.C.)-Shaw League (L.A.) game in Washington. "I mean, I don't know, I probably have a lot of people that probably agree with me, too, if we had those guys up front. Because (those are) people (who) you come to see win, every single game -- [Dwyane] Wade, Carmelo, Stoudemire, KG [Kevin Garnett], you know? Those are our leading guys, every year."

For his part, Anthony said Sunday that there is no problem with communication between the union and players. He just doesn't see a regular role for the star players.

"We done tried it," Anthony said. "You saw me at a lot of meetings. You see CP. You saw 'Bron at a couple of meetings. But right now, the same thing just keeps going back and forth, so we don't know how powerful we are at this moment. We'll just see what happens.

"We support Billy 100 percent; we support D-Fish 100 percent. My main thing is that we've just got to stick together. As players, we're sticking together. And in the meantime, keep doing stuff like this. Keep having basketball games, keep playing, keep giving the fans what they want. It's not everything they want, because they want a season. But, hey, it's something."

It was shortly after that that my man Michael Tillery (who, by the way, disagrees with me that the stars couldn't put their own run together), from the terrific website The Starting Five, asked Anthony why the star players don't speak out like the NFL's players did during the NFL lockout.

"We're not allowed," Anthony said. "I mean, everybody has their own opinion. You hear people talk here and there. But nobody comes out and says what they really want to say. That's just the society we live in."

He laughed a little.

And, then: "Athletes today are scared to make Muhammad Ali-type statements."

Say what?

Forget for a second that Ali got in trouble (with some) for his vocal opposition to the Vietnam War, for refusing induction into the Army and for not only becoming a Muslim, but a Muslim who supported the controversial teaching of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad until Muhammad's death in 1975. Kind of big things. And by comparison, Anthony was asked about speaking up on a labor dispute involving millionaire athletes and billionaire owners. Kind of little things, in the grand scheme.

What on earth could be controversial about a star player expressing his opinion, whatever it is, on a lockout that directly involved him, his livelihood and his family's future? Does anyone really think Nike or Converse or McDonald's or any of the dozens of corporate partners that love them some James and 'Melo are going to end their associations with the very guys that make them millions?

I had to follow up. Why would Anthony believe that he or other prominent athletes couldn't speak their minds?

"I don't know, man," he said. "I really can't answer that question. I don't know. But they can't really say what they want to say."

Was it that long ago that Michael Jordan, then finishing his second three-peat with the Bulls and at the height of his influence and power, confronted Wizards owner Abe Pollin during a collective bargaining session during the '98 lockout? Jordan's message to Pollin was simple -- if you can't make a profit while paying players what they deserve, you should sell your team. It doesn't appear that Jordan's confrontation cost him; he became majority owner of the Bobcats in 2010 for $275 million and still seems to be on television from time to time.

The whole notion of needing a push from the stars or others is understandably underwhelming to Fisher, a proud guy who's been as much a part of the Lakers' championships over the last decade as anybody. He also knows more about the details of the various proposals than anybody.

"First and foremost, our 430-plus players elected members to carry the message and to lead the charge in collective bargaining," Fisher said a couple of weeks ago in Las Vegas.

"That's where this whole process starts. From there we have player representatives on each team that carry the message and carry the vote for their respective teams. And so generally what you find in our meetings is executive committee presence, and player rep presence, or players that truly want to be involved in the process. At the same time we have our players, star players and other players, that stand behind us, communicate with us daily, have expressed things publicly about how they feel about the situation and where things lie. We don't have any misunderstanding about where our players stand. We're together."

The players certainly appear to be unified. Whatever gripes they have about how the negotiations have gone so far have been muted. I think that's because of the respect Fisher has and because of the efforts Hunter and the union have made over the past two yeas to prepare their charges for the likelihood of a long work stoppage. No one has gone off message like Kenny Anderson did about the potential need to sell a car or two to make ends meet. Eventually, this group will make a deal with the league.

The question is whether the stars who are, in every other way, the alpha males in their respective locker rooms will find their voices, or be content to wait it out with the rest of us.

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Mo Williams is clear that he will not be a taskmaster kind of coach.

"It'll be one a day, like it's supposed to be," Williams said, referring to his hopes of getting his L.A. Clippers together in the next couple of weeks for what he hopes will be a full-blown training camp.

Obviously, there will be no real coaches present, but Williams expects -- hopes -- to have everything else in place, from referees to cue cards with the Clippers' written down. The Clippers have been working out in bunches informally during the summer, both at Loyola Marymount University and at a Manhattan Beach high school. But this will be more intense if Williams has his way.

"And we expect the guys to be there, be on time and approach it like work," he said. "I think we'll get the support from our teammates. At the minicamp, everybody showed up. Chris Kaman was playing basketball with Dirk (Nowitzki, for Germany, at EuroBasket 2011), but he was getting basketball in. Everybody else showed up. We had a good minicamp this summer a couple of months ago."

Lots of teams are going to have similar get-togethers if the lockout persists. But the Clippers may need the work more than most. Blake Griffin spent much of his summer interning for FunnyorDie.com and has been working out on his own. With four core members still with three or fewer years of NBA experience, Williams thinks his guys need all the work together that they can get.

"The season's going to start back, and if we have one, it's going to start in the middle of the season," he said. "If we miss the first part and start in the middle we're going to be playing three games back-to-back-to-back. Maybe a practice. (But) you can't practice that day, because you're too tired and you've got to get your rest. So we've got to get as much in as you can, especially if there's a (prolonged) lockout...

"Once the lockout's over, it ain't gonna be enough time to teach. And we've got a really, really young team. It's going to very valuable, crucial and critical for us to get together and get some of these sets down for these young guys that's going to play a lot of minutes. With the rookies (Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins) we have, they need to get back into the gym and get back into basketball, just not pick up (after the lockout) and work it out."

It will be another step in Williams' evolution as a leader for the Clippers. In Cleveland, like everyone else, he took a backseat to LeBron James. But the Clips expected the 28-year-old Williams to provide some stability when they acquired him from the Cavs for Baron Davis and L.A.'s first-round pick in the 2011 Draft. That pick turned into the top pick in the Draft, Duke's Kyrie Irving. But the savings the Clippers received from Davis' contract, combined with not wanting to have yet another kid on the roster, made the deal easy for the Clippers to make then and to defend today.

So, will Williams -- who didn't exercise an early termination option this summer and will make $8.5 million next season -- and Griffin -- who's probably due for a fairly large payday soon, I reckon -- spring for this camp?

"Absolutely," Williams said. "But we'll get the most deals we can get."

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How do you fix the "competitive balance" issue?

Last week, I tried to determine whether there was any real correlation, as the league has claimed before and during the lockout, between spending money and being competitive on the court. It has been one of the NBA's main arguments -- the disparity in payrolls between the teams that spend the most and least is too great, and has to be closed, in order for more teams to be able to compete for championships on a yearly basis. My research found that argument to be not so clear -- teams that have gone into the luxury tax have had mixed results as far as winning. The Knicks didn't win at all despite paying the tax for five years; the Lakers and Mavericks paid the tax reguarly regardless of whether they won titles, Utah and Portland, which rarely paid the tax, have been playoff regulars.

But are there ways for teams at the bottom of the won-loss scale to improve?

I think there are.

These ideas are, of course, not panaceas for payroll disparity. There may well be a need to keep the Lakers from going to $110 million in payroll and luxury tax, while Sacramento stays at $45 million. But there's only so much a CBA can do to keep owners from spending. (Again, payrolls are the results of decisions made by front offices and owners. No one forced the Lakers to give a then-29-year old Lamar Odom a four-year, $32.8 million deal in 2009. Nobody made the Celtics give Ray Allen two years and $20 million at age 35. Those are choices franchises make. If the Lakers had let Odom walk, and hadn't signed Steve Blake and Matt Barnes to free agent deals in 2010, they wouldn't have a $110 million payroll now. Those are choices that Jerry Buss and Jim Buss made in concert with GM Mitch Kupchak.)

But there are changes that can be made systemically to help smaller-market, smaller-revenue teams compete. Here are a few. Some are mine, some come from discussions with basketball people and agents who have also given this some thought.

1) Revenue Sharing -- National TV money

One of the major sticking points in the discussions between the league and union is what is taking place behind the scenes among the owners, who are trying to put together an enhanced revenue sharing plan to help the smaller markets. Stern has said that the new plan will be at least three times the existing plan that distributes around $60 million to teams that need it. The union has insisted that revenue sharing among the teams will go a long way toward alleviating the $300 million in losses the league says it collectively suffered this past season. The NBA has been equally insistent that a new revenue sharing plan is pointless if the existing system -- which it says is unsustainable -- remains intact.

The argument among teams has been whether teams like the Lakers, who have enormous local television contracts that dwarf those of the Kings and Grizzlies, should share some of their local largesse. L.A.'s new 20-year deal with Time Warner to broadcast its games on two channels is worth up to $3 billion, according to various reports, though the team has disputed that figure. Nonetheless, deals like those and that teams like Boston and Houston have with local broadcasters is a line of demarcation with their lessers in the game.

But why begrudge the Buss family its billions? Their business people went out and earned that deal, and if that market can bear that kind of outlay, more power to them.

Where the smaller markets do have an argument, however, is with the national television money -- the rights fees paid to the NBA by the likes of ABC, ESPN and TNT (which is owned, ironically, by Time Warner).

I would propose turning things inside out; instead of teams giving up some of their local money, which they earned fair and square, they should give up a share of the national TV money, which is, supposedly, a sign of the strength of the entire league. The NBA will get around $7.4 billion from the networks in the current deal, which expires in 2016. That $7.4 billion is split equally among the 30 teams -- and with the Silna Brothers of Southern California, who once owned the Spirits of St. Louis of the ABA and who arranged for what is simply the greatest deal in the history of sports.

(This is worth a couple of minutes of your time.)

When the Spirits were not included in the 1976 NBA-ABA merger, the Silnas -- who had to approve the merger with the ABA's other owners -- worked out a deal with the NBA. The deal provided that the league would pay the Silnas one-seventh of the television revenues that the four ABA teams that did merge with the NBA -- New Jersey, Denver, San Antonio and Indiana -- would receive in subsequent deals. The beauty part of it for the Silnas -- that money would come in forever, or as the settlement reads, "as long as the NBA or its successors continues in its existence."

According to Forbes, the Silnas have received, as of this year, approximately $237 million from the NBA over the last three decades -- or more than two-thirds of the losses that the league says it incurred this past season. Scores of lawyers have tried to find a way to scotch the deal over the years, without success. (Unfortunately for the Silnas, they invested some of their score with a guy named Bernie Madoff, with unfortunate results.)

Anyway, here's the idea. The top five revenue-generating teams -- which most observers universally believe to be the Knicks, Lakers, Bulls, Celtics and Rockets -- would take a portion of their 1/30th of the national take. If my calculator is correct, that's about $31 million a year over the eight years of the deal. That money is put into a pool fund.

For the sake of argument and neatness, let's say they each put in $6 million annually, leaving them with $25 million from the national deal and whatever multipliers of that they get from their local deals, which are now off-limits. If each of the five did that, there would be $30 million available each year for the smaller-revenue teams to split in whatever way they and the league decide. Over the five remaining years of the current TV deals, that would be $150 million.

And if the next TV deal increases in value by at least 30 percent, as many anticipate, that would up the national money to $9.6 billion. Over an eight-year deal that would mean around $40 million annually per team from the national TV deals; if the top five teams raised their contributions to, say, $8 million apiece, that would put $40 million annually into the revenue sharing pool.

Whatever the split, the national TV money is a potential source of significant increased revenue sharing among teams, and one that would be more fair to the bigger market teams.

2) Weighted Cap Exceptions

The league is trying to get to a hard cap that would eliminate almost all exceptions, believing that would provide the best boost for smaller-revenue-producing teams. But just as politicians talk about "targeted tax cuts" for the middle class, the NBA could help its middle and lower classes by creating a reasonable, targeted cap exception.

The idea is simple. The smaller-revenue, smaller-market teams would be able to spend more money on free agents -- significantly more -- than large-market, large-revenue teams.

Here's how it could work.

Let's say the league and union agree to scotch the mid-level cap exception, which currently begins at the league average salary and goes up eight percent, up to six seasons. Instead, each team, each season, would be allowed one cap exception to sign free agents, in a contract that could not exceed five years. That cap exception would be weighed, according to market and/or revenue size. The bottom 10 revenue-producing teams would receive a cap exception that begins at, say, $5 million annually. The second 10 revenue-producing teams would get an exception beginning at $4 million. The top 10 revenue producers would get an exception starting at $3 million.

Assuming eight percent annual raises, that would allow the lowest revenue producers to offer free agents a five-year, $29 million deal. The second tier teams could also offer five years, but only $23.2 million. The third-tier, or top 10 revenue teams, could offer five years, but only $17.4 million.

That would mean real choices for free agents. Is playing in Los Angeles worth giving up almost $12 million over five years? For some who could make up the difference in off-court endorsements, maybe. But for others, maybe not. There's nothing you can do if a guy wants to play in a bigger market, but at least a weighted cap exception would give the smaller-revenue teams a leg up and a better chance to attract good players with affordable contracts.

3) Tweaking the Schedule

Stick with me. This takes a while.

The easiest way to address competitive imbalance is to make schedules ... more imbalanced.

The NFL no longer has a "fifth-place schedule" for its bottom-feeding teams since realignment produced eight four-team divisions in 2002. In that league, Fourteen of a team's 16 regular-season games are predetermined according to a formula which guarantees each team in the league will play, in addition to its two yearly games against its three division opponents, each of its non-division conference opponents at least once every three years and each team in the other conference at least once every four years.

But two of each team's games are based on the previous season's standings. Division winners from the previous season play at least two other division winners in their conference the following season. Second-place divisional finishers from the previous season play at least two other second-place teams in their conference the following season. And so on. Why can't the NBA follow a similar tack?

Now, things are relatively easier for the NFL's scheduling team. They only have 256 games to schedule, in stadiums that are mostly football-only venues (there are two remaining exceptions: Miami and Oakland. The Dolphins and Marlins share Sun Life Stadium while the Raiders and Athletics share Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Marlins, though, are moving into a new ballpark near downtown Miami next season. Toronto's Rogers Stadium is home to Major League Baseball's Blue Jays and a part-time home to the NFL's Buffalo Bills, who have played a couple of games there each season since 2008).

By contrast, the NBA has to schedule 1,230 games, many of which are in buildings that NBA teams not only share with NHL tenants, but with college basketball teams, concerts, circuses and other indoor attractions. But if the league is serious about improving competitive balance, it can initiate small tweaks to the schedule that will make things just a little harder for the good teams and a little easier for the bad ones.

Here's one idea. Thank me later.

Currently, the NBA has each team play the four teams in its division four times per season, two home, two away, for a total of 16 games. Each team plays four games against six of its non-division conference opponents each season -- again, two home and two away -- equalling 24 more games. Each team then plays the remaining four non-division conference opponents only three times, equalling another 12 games. (The determination of which non-division conference opponents a team plays four times instead of three is made on a rotating, five-year basis.) And each team then plays the 15 teams in the other conference twice a season -- one home, one away -- for 30 games.

In chart form (current system):

opposite conference (15 teams) 2 times = 30 games
division opponents (four teams) 4 times = 16 games
same conference, different division (six teams) 4 times = 24 games
same conference, different division (four teams) 3 times = 12 games
Total = 82 games

Voila! An 82-game schedule, one that is, relatively, as evenly balanced as possible.

I seek imbalance.

Under my plan, there would be subtle changes that would make it just a little easier for bad teams in a given season.

For the sake of argument, let's take two teams from the Southeast Division: Miami and Washington. The Heat won the Southeast last season while the Wizards were last.

In my plan, the Heat and Wizards would still play 30 games total (one home, one away) against the 15 Western Conference teams, just as they do now. But they would not play each of their division opponents four times. I would also change the current three- and four-game structure against non-division opponents in the Eastern Conference. For beginners, have the three division winners from last season -- Miami, Chicago and Boston -- play one another six times apiece, three home and three away, for a total of 12 games a season.

The division winners would then play the second- and third-place teams in their conference, including teams in their division, four times apiece (two home, two away), for a total of 24 more games. Using Miami, that would mean the Heat would play the Knicks (second in the Atlantic last season), 76ers (third), Pacers (second in the Central last season), Bucks (third), Magic (second in the Southeast last season) and Hawks (third) four times each.

But the division winners would play the fourth- and fifth-place teams in their conference, including teams in their division, just two times a season -- home and away. That would mean Miami would only play New Jersey (fourth in the Atlantic last season) twice, Toronto (fifth) twice, Detroit (fourth in the Central last season) twice, Cleveland (fifth) twice, Charlotte (fourth in the Southeast last season) twice and Washington (fifth) twice, totalling 16 more games.

In chart form: (my system, with further details detailed below):

opposite conference (15 teams) 2 times = 30 games
division winners, same conference (two teams) 6 times = 12 games
second- and third-place teams, same conference (six teams) 4 times = 24 games
fourth- and fifth-place teams, same conference (six teams) 2 times = 12 games

Voila! A....78-game season?

No.

My system does leave four extra games not accounted for. Those games would be distributed among the 12 non-division winning teams in a similar rotating fashion that the NFL uses to assure that every team plays one another once every few years.

In my NBA system, the division winner would get a third game with four of the second through fifth place teams this season, four others in 2012-13 and the remaining four in 2013-14, then start the rotation again in 2014-15. So this season, Miami would get an additional game with, say, New York, Milwaukee, New Jersey and Cleveland. In 2012-13, the Heat would get an extra game with Philly, Orlando, Toronto and Charlotte. In 2013-14, the extra game would go to Indiana, Atlanta, Detroit and Washington.

Now, the Wizards.

Washington would have the same 30 total games against the West teams as the Heat. But instead of playing the East's other division winners 12 times like Miami, the Wizards would play the East's last-place teams, Toronto and Cleveland, 12 times total -- six home, six away. They would play the East's third- and fourth-place teams (six teams) four times apiece, for a total of 24 games: New Jersey, Philly, Milwaukee, Detroit, Atlanta and Charlotte. And Washington would play the conference's first- and second-place teams -- Boston, New York, Chicago, Indiana, Miami and Orlando -- two times apiece, for a total of 12 more games.

That totals 78 games, leaving the Wizards, like the Heat in the above example, with four extra games. And the Wizards would play an additional game this season against four of the East's first- through fourth-place teams, rotating over a three-season stretch. For the sake of argument, let's give Washington the Celtics, Philly, Orlando and Detroit this season. In 2012-13, the Wizards would have an extra game with Miami, New York, Indiana and Charlotte. In 2013-14, Washington would get an extra game with Chicago, Atlanta, Milwaukee and New Jersey.

Still with me?

The bottom line: Miami would play a schedule next season against opponents with a cumulative win percentage of .511 last season. Meanwhile, the Wizards would play a schedule next season against opponents with a cumulative win percentage of .471 last season. The second through fourth-place teams in each division would play schedules more in line with the existing ones, though there may need to be a few changes. But the point of this is to make it a little harder for the good teams and a little easier for the truly bad ones.

There are potential problems, of course. It would be much harder for the Wizards to sell tickets for three games with Toronto and Cleveland than with, say, Miami and Boston. Television ratings for the bad teams could also suffer in the short term with fewer marquee games. But you can't have everything. Either you want to improve the chances for bad teams to improve quickly or you don't. An adjusted schedule is one way to help bad teams immediately, without adding extra Draft picks or rounds -- which would provide no guarantee for success, either. And as teams improve, their schedules would get a little harder.

MIAMI "WEIGHTED" SCHEDULE

(Cumulative Record is the won-loss record of each team muliplied by the number of games they would play against the Heat in this system):

Opponents Cumulative Record Win Percentage
30 games vs. 15 West teams (home/away) 1302-1158 (651-579 x 2) .529
12 games total vs. 2 East division winners (Celtics & Bulls), 6 games each 708-276 (Celtics cume 336-156 + Bulls 372-120 cume) .720
24 games vs. 6 East second-, third-place teams (Knicks, Sixers, Pacers, Bucks, Magic, Hawks), 4 each 1004-964 .510
Knicks (168-160 cume)
Sixers (164-164 cume)
Pacers (148-180 cume)
Bucks (140-188 cume)
Magic (208-120 cume)
Hawks (176-152 cume)
12 games vs. 6 East fourth-, fifth-place teams (Nets, Raptors, Pistons, Cavs, Bobcats, Wizards), 2 each 304-680 .309
Nets (48-116 cume)
Raptors (44-120 cume)
Pistons (60-104 cume)
Cavs (38-126 cume)
Bobcats (68-96 cume)
Wizards (46-118 cume)
4 "extra" games (1 each) vs. Knicks, Bucks, Cavs, Nets 120-208 .366
Total: 3438-3286 .511

WASHINGTON "WEIGHTED" SCHEDULE

(Cumulative Record is the won-loss record of each team muliplied by the number of games they would play against the Wizards in this system):

Opponents Cumulative Record Win Percentage
30 games vs. 15 West teams (home/away) 1302-1158 (651-579 x 2) .529
12 games total vs. 2 East fifth-place teams (Cavs & Raptors), 6 games each 246-738 (Cavs 114-378 cume + Raptors 132-360 cume) .250
24 games vs. 6 East third-, fourth-place teams (Nets, Sixers, Bucks, Pistons, Hawks, Bobcats), 4 each 832-1136 .423
Nets (96-232 cume)
Sixers (164-164 cume)
Bucks (140-188 cume)
Pistons (120-208 cume)
Hawks (176-152 cume)
Bobcats (136-192 cume)
12 games total vs. 6 East first-, second-place teams (Heat, Magic, Bulls, Pacers, Celtics, Knicks), 2 each 610-374 .620
Heat (116-48 cume)
Magic (104-60 cume)
Bulls (120-44 cume)
Pacers (74-90 cume)
Celtics (112-52 cume)
Knicks (84-80 cume)
4 "extra" games (1 each) vs. Celtics, Sixers, Magic and Pistons 179-149 .546
Total: 3169-3555 .471

Would all of these ideas work? Are they even practical? Would this mean a lot more work for the league's scheduling guru, Matt Winick? 1) Don't know. 2) Don't know. 3) Yes. But why wouldn't a league in such supposedly dire financial straights be willing to try everything, anything, to help its weakest links get strong?

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Worth repeating for the billionth time: this ain't real life. From Mike Cole:

I enjoy your insights about the NBA saga. I personally can not grasp the present lockout. I am also very disappointed to hear such staunch comments from players like Durant. I have previously appreciated his attitude. But honestly I feel sorry for these guys. They have lost touch with what is important in life. My family and I live day to day. We work hard. We spend no money on cigs or alcohol or drugs or fancy living. Yet we barely scrape by. But we know that compared to countless millions of people in the world, we are rich. We don't even own a home anymore but we are thankful! For these players to think that they have to have this is nothing short of a loss of the reality of the real world around them and a loss of thankfulness and contentment. I pray all parties' eyes will be opened.

No one with a brain would conflate what you and other people on this economic roller coaster are going through with NBA players negotiating a new deal, Mike. Hopefully things turn around for you, but in the meantime, it sounds like you are rich in the things that matter. I don't think everyone that's rich -- and all NBA players, compared to the rest of society, are rich -- is without empathy, though I'm sure it feels like that sometimes.

Forgive them, for they know not what they do -- and who they sign. From Sean Perez:

That was a great article about competitive balance emphasizing on the bottom-line of doing smart moves.

I was thinking though about what you said, "And there is nothing that can -- or should -- protect a team from its own bad, dumb decisions."

Most of the times, these dumb decisions are not totally to be blamed on the team's management. These usually come in during free-agent signings, in which a bad move leads to another (i. e. trading bad players w/ other bad players, losing future draft picks to save money, blowing up a supposed-to-be promising team and start all over again, etc.).

As I see it, most dumb free-agent signings are not fully the team's fault. Most players, during their contract years, play well to impress teams as they go to free agency. Then after getting handsome contracts, they just stop working as hard as they did before. While others just got lucky playing with/against great players, when they ship to another team, they don't perform as well as they did.

Though its right to say GMs should be smart enough to see through all this and make the right decisions, I still think there should be a way for teams to be protected from these type of players who earns a lot of money and not do the job that's expected.

One way would be having an annual performance check on the players that are signed, much like a real job has. A contract must include conditions that a player must meet at the end of each year or at the start of the season. It may include physical fitness conditions like maintaining optimum body-fat percentage (for Eddy Curry, Z-Bo in NY), attendance and participation to practices and other team functions (for Allen Iverson), good public image (for those who love bar brawls), respect for team staff and team chemistry (for the likes of Stephon Marbury) and simply following team rules or laws of the state (for Gilbert Arenas and those who just love having guns). I know it seems vague now, but teams could really go down into specifics and have everything agreed upon before the contract is signed.

Afraid I disagree with your "they can't totally be blamed for the guys they sign" argument, Sean. That's their job. They are paid to make the right decisions on who to sign, and how much to pay them. No one would have killed Isiah Thomas if he had given Jerome James $8 million for two years. As for your annual review argument, that's basically what the owners are fighting for -- essentially, non-guaranteed contracts, that would allow teams to get out of mistakes quicker if they find they've grossly overpaid for players.

"Briefly" is in the eye of the beholder. From George Wright:

I was wondering how you could say that the Nets "briefly" competed for a championship, but "yes" to the Jazz and the Suns. I know the Nets only did it for a four- or five-year clip, but they made The Finals twice. The Suns did not make The Finals, but I get the feeling of the team at the time. I have never thought the Jazz could win it all in any season. If the Celts did not win it in '08, would they have been a "briefly"-type team, too? They would have had the same resume as the Nets. Interesting stuff though. Would love to hear your reasoning.

It's a subjective reasoning, George, and you're free to disagree. I know the Nets made the conference semis three times in four years after their two Finals appearances, but I just never believed New Jersey was the same team after Kenyon Martin went to the Nuggets in 2004. I think you'd agree it's been a while since the Nets were relevant. No, the Suns never made the Finals; they lost three times in the Western Conference finals. But I would argue the road of the west was demonstrably harder during Phoenix's run than New Jersey's was out of the east. Finally, the Jazz made the West finals in 2007. Again, you're free to disagree.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and suggestions for Susan Lucci's next career move to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your contribution is especially witty, thought-provoking or snarky, we just might print it!

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43 -- Preseason games cancelled last week by the NBA, as the league delayed the start of training camps, which were set to begin Oct 3.

88 -- Days since the lockout began.

$13,200,000,000 -- Estimated worth of Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen, ranked 23rd on Forbes' list of the 400 Richest Americans. Allen was the highest-ranked NBA owner, ahead of Lakers minority owner and Staples Center builder Philip Anschutz (tied for 39th, at $7 billion), Orlando's Rich DeVos (tied for 60th, at $5 billion), Miami's Micky Arison (tied for 75th, $4.2 billion), Denver's Stan Kroenke (tied for 107th, $3.2 billion), Detroit's new owner, Tom Gores (tied for 159th, $2.5 billion), Dallas' Mark Cuban (tied for 171st, $2.3 billion), Minnesota's Glen Taylor (tied for 242nd, $1.8 billion), Indiana's Herb Simon (tied for 273rd, $1.6 billion), Memphis' Michael Heisley, the Clippers' Donald Sterling and Cleveland's Dan Gilbert (tied for 293rd, $1.5 billion), new 76ers owner Joshua Harris (tied for 309th, at $1.45 billion) and Oklahoma City minority owner Aubrey McClendon (tied for 359th, $1.2 billion).

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1). One of the few positives of the lockout has been the development of entrepreneurs like Fred Smith, whose Basketball Channel live-streamed Sunday's Baltimore-Philly "Battle of I-95" game on SI.com. It was Smith's second broadcast of the summer barnstormers, having put on the Goodman-Shaw game in D.C. last month. He helped get the L.A. players to D.C. The early returns on Sunday's live-stream are encouraging, and Smith has plans to show other games in the next couple of months if the lockout continues. An idea in June; a company by August.

2) You know I don't do parochial things very often, but I'm looking forward to tuning in tonight at 7 to NBA TV to watch "Big Game James--The James Worthy Story," a documentary about one of my favorite players -- and one that, despite being a national champion and Final Four MOP, three-time NBA champion with the Lakers, one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players of all time and a Hall of Famer -- still does not, in my view, get the recognition he deserves. Playing at North Carolina with Michael Jordan and on the Lakers with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar can make even the best players, occasionally, afterthoughts.

3) There is a lot of really good stuff in this Delonte West profile in SLAM Magazine.

4) Blake Griffin, Funny or Die Intern. (Nothing visually NSFW, and I don't think there are any bad words. Play it low just in case.)

5) It always seems to me like Colts owner Jim Irsay is genuinely having fun when he Tweets ... while Gilbert is just trying too hard to be hip.

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1) This is what is annoying about the lockout: not once during last week's session between the sides did either side even broach the subject of meeting again the next day. And the season dribbles away, by design, with no one willing to compromise for the sake of a league everyone says they love, but are willing to damage severely because of money.

2) You may lose your job during the lockout. Make sure you keep quiet about it.

3) Having spoken with the Grizzlies' Hamad Haddadi about how important success in basketball is for his native Iran, it was disappointing to see Iran go out early in the Asian qualifying championships and fail to qualify for the London Olympics. Even more disappointing to see his teammates single him out for blame afterward.

4) Not the last-second shot we were hoping for from former UConn hero Tate George.

5) Adios, Pine Valley.

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I think I should have changed my name to mr.game 7

Lakers forward Metta WorldPeace (@MettaWorldPeace), formerly known as Ron Artest, Thursday, 10:48 p.m. He also could have changed it to Voted OffDWTSFirst.

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"The calendar is not our friend."
NBA Commissioner David Stern, last Thursday, after the league and the union met for five hours without, again, making much headway toward a new collective bargaining agreement.

"He's one of the few guys in this league that has that and it's special, it's unique and I believe it's at premium. And, I think it's something we have to have on our team going forward. Is Rudy Fernandez that type of player. Not that I know. He's more offensive-minded. Is he tough? Yeah, he's tough, but to guard Kobe [Bryant] and [Kevin] Durant and LeBron [James] and Dwyane Wade, you have to have a certain nastiness about you, and DeShawn Stevenson has that."
-- Mavericks guard Jason Terry, to ESPN.com, on why his team needs to re-sign free agent guard DeShawn Stevenson when and if the lockout ends.

"Yeah, I've had arguments with Kendrick in the locker room. I've had arguments with B.J. Mullens in the locker room. We're not going to agree every time...we're not going to always agree. We're going to always have arguments, but it's nothing to the point of where guys are going to walk out of that locker room and say, 'Nah, I don't like him.' We're all going to get it together and we're all going to figure it out right on the spot."
-- Kevin Durant, to Sam Amick of SI.com, on rumors of friction between his Oklahoma City teammates, Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins.

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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