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David Aldridge

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If federal mediator George Cohen (left) couldn't foster labor peace between owners and players, who can?
Steve Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

League's ultimatums bring labor talks to a screeching halt


Posted Oct 24 2011 11:19AM

Administrator: And what are your reasons for wanting a Little Brother?

Homer Simpson's Brain (to Homer): Don't say revenge! Don't say revenge!

Homer (out loud): Uh, revenge?

Homer Simpson's Brain (to Homer): That's it, I'm gettin' outta here.

[footsteps, and a door slam]

Thursday was the last straw, the end for those who believed this was a negotiation -- a hard-nosed one, to be sure, but a negotiation -- between two worthy adversaries, each looking for the best possible deal for themselves, but ultimately willing to make a deal. Thursday came and went, and at the end of 30 hours of negotiations that were finally, painstakingly bringing the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association toward a deal that would finally end this damnable lockout, there was, for some unfathomable reason, no deal. No further talks were scheduled and there was no more George Cohen, the mediator who just a day before had publicly expressed optimism at how well things were going. Thursday came and went, and it was clear that the NBA's owners were determined to get everything.

David Stern made it clear at the beginning of this month that he could get his owners to agree to a 50-50 split of Basketball Related Income, the deal so many of us -- me -- thought was the end game, and a fair one at that, one that represented a painful economic giveback by the players but one that would indicate the union's seriousness about being a true partner with the teams.

The Commissioner is as good at counting votes in his room as Harry Reid is at counting votes in his, and if David Stern says he has the votes, trust me, he has the votes. Let me say again: I thought, and think, 50-50 is the right deal.

But even if the players accepted 50-50, Thursday proved that wouldn't be enough.

"We did get a sense from the players in attendance that they felt, in essence, there should be a trade on those issues," deputy commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday. "That if we were to reach a negotiatated compromise on the split of BRI ... that they, therefore, should get what they're looking for on the system issues ... as I've been saying now for a few years, it seems, there are two independent goals, both of which are critically important for our teams. One is to be economically sustainable. And number two is to have the ability to compete. And what we told the players today is we could not trade one for the other."

The league demands both, or no deal. Or no season. That is, to me, not a negotiation. That is an ultimatum.

Two weeks ago, it was the system issues that were supposed to be insurmountable. The league says it has to close the gap between its highest and lowest spenders, but the smaller revenue generators want the big producers to come down, not for them to go up. (NBA teams only have to spend 75 percent of the cap in a given season, which is why the Kings spent $44.9 million last season. The NFL, whose hard cap is the envy of the NBA, just increased its minimum payroll per team to 89 percent of the cap in its new collective bargaining agreement.)

But last week, it was BRI again. The league, which spent two weeks claiming it hadn't offered 50 percent and that that had been the players' idea first, formally offered the players 50 percent. The union came down from 53 to 52.5 percent, adding another $20 million to the $160 million per year they'd already agreed to return to the owners. And that doesn't count the $170 million in salaries the players have already lost with the first two weeks of the regular season gone.

If the league gets the 10-year deal it has previously offered to the union -- the NBA has subsequently offered the union an out after seven years -- that means the NBA's teams will get, at minimum, $1.8 billion in direct transfer from the players' wallets to the owners' wallets over the life of the deal. And that doesn't take into account the escrow plan that has been in place since 2005 and returned more than $1 billion in salaries to the owners.

No one is saying that the league is lying about losing money, or that it is wrong in its belief that the financial structure of the game has to change. Nor are the players correct in continuing to act sometimes as if they are mine workers. They are basketball players, paid more than 98 percent of the working people on earth, and coming out of a severe recession, it's not unreasonable to ask for a substantial giveback.

But $1.8 billion over 10 years is a substantial giveback, not a mere gesture. At some point, a win becomes a rout. The league has gotten salaries back in line, it will make it harder for the Lakers to spend $110 million in the future and it supposedly has a "robust" revenue-sharing plan in place to help the smaller markets.

When is enough enough?

"I understand, from the players' perspective, that what they see is us asking to win at everything," Silver said. "And that's what we heard loud and clearly from the players who participated over the last three days. But again, we have a greater obligation to the game. It's not just about money. We believe that it will be a better league if all 30 teams are in a position to compete."

Arrrggghhh! Thirty teams -- or 26, or 12 -- have never been in a position to compete.

The NBA is never going to be the NFL, whose popularity allows each team to get nearly three quarters of a billion dollars in television money under its current deals. That money, and not the hard cap, is what allows Green Bay to compete with the Giants, Cowboys and Patriots.

The league accuses those who question its motives and its math of being biased toward the union. Well, just call me Eugene V. Debs and let's get on with it.

Peter Holt, a good man and owner of the Spurs, said on Thursday that his team lost money the last couple of years.

"That had not been true before," he said. "So the CBA we'd had, that ended as of June 30th, was progressively getting worse. Twenty-two teams losing $450 million (the league has put its losses for 2010-11, among all 30 teams, at $300 million) the year before, almost the same amount, and San Antonio was going the same route. We just got there a little later, 'cause fortunately, a fellow named Tim Duncan showed up, and we had David Robinson before that, and we won some championships, and so when we were able to go so deep into the playoffs, it helped cover our losses ... if we had not had that situation, we would have been losing money before, even before these last two years, in this last CBA."

But Holt -- who is, again, a good man -- is leaving some things out.

Part of the reason the Spurs went into the red the last two years is because Holt OK'd the acquisition of Richard Jefferson's remaining $29.2 million contract from Milwaukee instead of keeping the expiring contracts of Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto. He OK'd a three-year, $39 million extension for 32-year-old Manu Ginobili instead of letting Ginobili become a free agent in the summer of 2010. He gave Antonio McDyess a three-year, $15 million deal and gave veteran center Theo Ratliff $1.3 million.

San Antonio could have gone down to $35 million in payroll for the 2010-11 season. Instead, after reworking the last year of Jefferson's deal so that they could sign Tiago Splitter, the Spurs' payroll was a little more than $69 million. By the way, the Spurs -- who had the league's second-best record in 2010-11 -- were not at all wrong in making those decisions. But it was a conscious choice the organization made to get so close to being a luxury-tax payer in the pursuit of one or two more chances at a championship. It had nothing to do with a broken economic system.

I'm fairly certain of it because that is exactly what Holt told me he was doing in the summer of '09.

"In our case, lots of things over the years played out," Holt said then. "I get credit, R.C. (Buford, the general manager), Pop (Gregg Popovich, the head coach). But we lucked out on some deals, to be blunt with you. Then, we have an ownership group that's strong. No money has come out of that business, ever, or at least since 1993. So the debt on the Spurs is way down. And so we, as owners, have decided to give us a transition period, are willing to take some hits. But the main reason is that because we have such little debt on the business ... it gives you opportunties that in the past, we didn't have to take advantage of."

In other words, because the Spurs had been an extremely well-run organization in the 16 years since Holt's group bought the team -- and during which time it spent millions on a new arena (with millions in taxpayer dollars as well, it must be said) and won four NBA titles -- it had enough of a financial cushion to take one last shot at championships.

I'm pretty sure I know what Holt's and the league's response would be. This proves our point. In order to stay competitive, small-market teams have to become deficit spenders and lose money. And if the Spurs were an outlier, the exception to the rule, then the league would be right to ask for everything it's asking for.

But the Pistons won a title in 2004 without breaking the bank. The Jazz and the Pacers have been playoff regulars for the last decade, even as they've remade their rosters.

Under owner Paul Allen -- who reportedly sat Sphinx-like in last Thursday's crucial meeting with the players -- the Blazers spent crazily for years on marginal-character guys. They cut salaries to the bone during the time in which Allen put the Blazers' arena, the Rose Garden, into bankruptcy, then they built the payroll back up after Allen reached a deal in which he retook control of the Rose Garden. And during all of that, during all of the inexplicable firings of general managers over the last two seasons, the Blazers, being well-coached and full of high-character players, have still made the playoffs.

And understand one thing above all. My questions about what the owners want don't come because the owners aren't entitled to hold out for the best possible offer they think they can get, or think they deserve. My questions come because of fear.

The league was poleaxed by the 1-2-3 combo of the '98 lockout, Michael Jordan's retirement and the Brawl at Auburn Hills, all within six years. The same demons that have always plagued the NBA -- resentment by people of all stripes at the huge salaries players receive, combined with recoil by many middle-class whites at the aesthetics of young African-American male appearance (in the 70s it was Afros; in the 2000s it's cornrows, tats and saggy jeans) -- reared their heads.

Television ratings sagged as American sports fans' hypocrisy came into stark relief with the Spurs -- a great team with good guys who caused no trouble off the court. People say they want selfless athletes who play at both ends of the court, who care more about the team than they do individual accomplishment, and yet, when they had that in the sui generis Spurs winning four titles, they not only didn't watch, they proclaimed the Spurs boring.

"If we were in New York, they would love us," Tony Parker told me years ago, and he was right on the money. The Spurs were the Knicks -- the Knicks of the early '70s. The suave Parker served as the new millenium's Clyde Frazier, right down to the gaggle of beautiful women in his wake. Tim Duncan took on the stoic, defense-first persona of Willis Reed and Ginobili assumed Earl Monroe's showman's role. (Maybe San Antonio didn't have a Rhodes Scholar and future Senator like the Knicks had with Bill Bradley, but Gregg Popovich did serve his country in the Air Force and afterward, doing, um, other stuff for the government.)

But the league came back strong with the resurgence of the Celtics and Lakers, the NBA's marquee franchises for six decades, who met twice in three years in The Finals. Its biggest markets are now thriving, and there is at least some hope for big-market teams like the Clippers, Nets, Warriors and Wizards.

Just as importantly, fans like the league's young marquee stars, who will have to carry the load for the next decade. They like Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose. They like John Wall, Kevin Love and Steph Curry. They like my Cousin LaMarcus and Rajon Rondo, and they're gonna loooooove Jimmer. They are all relatively personable and pleasant. The longer this lockout goes on, however, the higher the danger that they, too, will be tarred with the "greedy" brush. And that is just down the road from the litany of code words -- "thuggish" and "gangsta" and all the rest -- and we know what people mean when they say those things.

There are real challenges in markets like New Orleans, Sacramento and Charlotte. Small-market teams were rightly scared to death when LeBron James left Cleveland, and Deron Williams seemed ready to leave Utah, and Carmelo Anthony held the Nuggets hostage for seven months before getting traded exactly where he wanted to go. There will be changes in the trade rules to keep the rich teams from trading -- and trading for -- expiring contracts. The luxury tax will be more punitive, putting a brake on the biggest spenders. There will be more revenue sharing.

The owners are getting everything. And a kite. (Thanks, Ray Romano's kid!) It's time to declare victory and go home. It's time for all of us to go home.

Homer's Brain can take no more.

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Lawrence Frank has gotten to know what's important in his new home town.

"I went to a couple of Tigers games," the Pistons' new head coach said Sunday night. "I haven't gotten to any Lions games yet. But the city is so passionate. Anywhere you go, people want to talk about just how proud they are about the sports. I always felt that as a vistiing coach, and it's just great to see."

For Frank and his 29 fellow head coaches, the lockout is a cruel cut. They are prohibited from talking to their own players (and prohibited from talking about their own players), prohibited from working them out, prohibited from doing most of the things they'd normally be doing a week before the normal start of training camps. They have to make contingency plans for camp, because no one knows if they'll have a week, five days, three days or something in between once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. And there is no special dispensation for first-year or first-time guys.

Even though teams aren't supposed to talk about players, you can believe every team has broken down every player in the league, especially pending free agents. When and if a new CBA is written, there's not going to be any getting to know you time. You will have to know beforehand which players are the best fits for your system. And head coaches are obviously an intregal part of that process, having experiences with dozens of players over the years as they move from job to job.

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Pistons coach Lawrence Frank hasn't been able to do the kind of offseason work he usually does.
Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Coaches also compare notes. Several head coaches and more than 20 assistant coaches got together in Los Angeles a few weeks ago to talk about the game, with a follow-up session with other coaches in Denver shortly thereafter.

Some coaches have gotten closer to their families while they're in limbo. Wizards coach Flip Saunders spent quality time with his father, Walter, who is alone for the first time in 65 years after the death of his wife Kay -- Flip Saunders' mother -- last spring. Celtics coach Doc Rivers went to Dubai and China to watch his son Austin, a freshman at Duke, play in exhibition games.

"It's tougher on the new coaches like myself, [Lakers coach] Mike Brown, all the guys going into new situations," Toronto coach Dwane Casey said Sunday. "It's all about not knowing your players, not having had a chance to work with them. You're starting off from scratch. All you know is what you've heard from the former coaches and what you've seen on film. Every relationship is different."

Casey was hired in Toronto the third week of June, right after his former team, the Mavericks, won the NBA championship over Miami. That gave him exactly one week to communicate with his players. (The Raptors are still deciding between former 76ers general manager Ed Stefanski and former Hornets GM Jeff Bower for a player personnel position.) Frank didn't even have that luxury; he wasn't officially hired in Detroit until late July, after the lockout started. The Lakers hired Brown on May 31, roughly one month before the lockout began.

"For us, especially as a new staff, and a staff that was assembled basically at the end of August and the first week of September, what we do is spend a lot of time on the court offensviely and defeinsively, what were going to do and how we're going to teach it," Frank said. "Just cleaning things up and talking about what we're going to do as coaches."

Casey has tried to busy himself. He went to Lithuania for the start of the Euroleague schedule, and he's had constant conference calls and Skype meetups with his staff when they haven't all been able to get together in Toronto. He went back to Seattle, where he still has an offseason residence -- Casey began his NBA stint as George Karl's longtime assistant with the Sonics -- and spent some time with University of Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, walking through Xs and Os scenarios. (The NBA, as Yahoo! Sports reported earlier this month, is now allowing team officials and scouts to attend college practices after initially balking, as long as NBA personnel don't have any contact with college players.)

And while he can't talk to his Raptors players, Casey can look at their opponents on film. Unlike other head coaches, Casey will not assign his assistant coaches to break down and write advance reports about specific teams once the season begins.

"I found out when you do that, guys get competitive and kind of locked in and you don't get different ideas on teams," he said. "This way, guys get a better feel for the entire league."

For returning coaching staffs, the uncertainty is a little less stressful.

"My staff and I are at the office everyday," Bucks coach Scott Skiles texted Sunday afternoon. "We have prepared for camp like normal. Practice plans (are) all finished. We have used this extra time to do more work on our opponents, analyze our personnel and analyze ourselves as coaches."

With 20 percent of the league's teams having new head coaches, though, the learning curve is going to be steep and fast once the season begins. (If the season begins.)

"I think what you have to try to do is use this time to continue to grow," Frank said. "You want to take advantage of this time from that standpoint."

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Could NBA players leave en masse for another league?

This is, I believe, a more precise version of the question that has been all over the blogosophere and Contrived Argument Television -- could NBA players start their own league? -- since the Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire said such a thing was possible about 10 days ago. (Actually, as I've written before, The Starting Five's Michael Tillery broached the idea much earlier this summer, at the start of the lockout.)

Players could not "start" their own league. Even with the millions they make, they don't have the financial wherewithal or the background in marketing, law and public relations that would be necessary to even think about hanging out their own shingle. What they could do, one supposes, is make a unified decision to make themselves available as a group to a startup league if they are ever again locked out by NBA owners. (And even then, who knows if NBA players under contract would be legally allowed to play in another league, even if they were locked out.)

So, maybe the question is, is a new professional basketball league feasible?

The sports landscape, as ever, is littered with startup leagues that went nowhere--from the late, unlamented XFL, which spent exactly one year on NBC in 2001, to the World League of American Football (the unfortunately acronymed WLAF), to the American Basketball League (you do remember the WNBA had competition when it began, right?). There was even a league that tried to take advantage of a lockout -- the "new" World Hockey Association, which never actually began play at the major league level after being formed in 2003, when it became clear that the NHL was headed for major labor problems.

"Our problem was we could never decide whether the XFL was entertainment or football," former General Electric chairman Jack Welch wrote in his book Jack: Straight from the Gut.

"The dilemma began when they brought the Vegas bookies to the training camps," Welch wrote. "The bookies didn't want the crazy rules the XFL had proposed because that made it more difficult to put odds on the games. Our sports department thought we needed the credibility and publicity the betting lines would provide. That closed the door to doing some things that would have made the XFL far more entertaining."

A league is a little different animal than a charity game or a barnstorming tour. At base is the idea of competition, which means you have to have rules, coaches, referees, scorekeepers, etc. You have to have enough cities available that could actually support yet another pro sports team in their towns, and you have to have venues in those cities that are not only available, but have enough modern amenities to generate the revenues prospective owners would demand. As we've seen this summer, players have to be insured. And unless you're planning to play in a studio, you'll need public and media relations staffs, and marketing executives to sell your tickets, suites and corporate partnerships.

All of those people and things cost money. Hundreds of millions of dollars.

"The hardest thing would be to put together an infrastructure of individuals to run the organization," former longtime pro sports executive Andy Dolich said on Sunday. "It might seem simple. But just like you see the players now saying 'I have some friends. Let's put on a game.' 'How are we getting there?' 'My agent has a plane.' 'Who's paying for security? What do you mean pay?' Who's selling the tickets? Who's doing maintenance? Oh, my agent will do it.' It's not that simple."

A first, and clearly imperative, step would be securing a national television contract. There are networks out there that have had the NBA in the past and may be looking for new programming, and there are several former TV executives who have substantial contacts. But any network that did business with a new league would risk being out in the cold if the new venture didn't get off the ground.

The XFL cost NBC $60 million -- "the equivalent of a couple of failed sitcoms," Welch wrote. "...While it wasn't pleasant, it wasn't a large financial hit. Taking those swings is one of the big benefits of GE's size. You don't have to connect all the time."

Dolich, the former president of business operations of the Memphis Grizzlies, executive with the Oakland As and ex-COO of the 49ers, said that a new league should embrace both international investors and corporate co-sponsorship.

"You would say, 'We're going to give you the name of a league. You are the Microsoft Basketball League,'" Dolich said. "Every team will have jerseys with a corporate name on it -- a division or a separate team. Here's the real challenge. We won't do anything until we've teflon coated this proposal." And, in the interest of honest reporting, Dolich says a new venture would have to hope that the current NBA lockout wipes out the entire season, which would give a new league a year to get up and running before the NBA is back in business.

A lot of people who've hypothesized about a new league throw Nike and Jordan Brand around as potential sponsors. Of course, this assumes those shoes companies, or others of their size, want to start a fight with the NBA -- which is not going anywhere, which will eventually have labor peace and will fight fiercely against a startup competitor. So Dolich says a new league could look outside the existing sports landscape for new sponsors.

"Someone like, I'm saying, it's (Facebook co-founder Mark) Zuckerberg or Groupon," he said. "If I was looking, if I owned one of those media companies -- not a conservative media company, but new media -- and I wanted to capture a different audience, there really hasn't been anybody in new media that's really embraced sports from a sponsorship level. Those types of entrepreneurs could attract big money. I would be happy talking to any of them about services."

Could it work? The ABA made a go of it for more than a decade before four of its teams merged with the NBA. If there's a Sean Parker type venture capitalist out there with a couple billion dollars burning a hole in his pocket, anything is possible. But it would take a long time. It would require superstars in the prime of their careers to gamble the tens of guaranteed millions they have in their NBA contracts on a total flier -- something their agents would support wholeheartedly. (Sarcasm should be noted.)

It would be crazy to try. But this lockout has allowed the notion, which is reason number 7,132,304 that this lockout is so damaging.

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This was actually edited down; he had a lot on his mind. From Vishal Sacheendran:

I am a 33-year-old Indian citizen, born and raised in the United Arab Emirates, educated in Houston (U of H) and making a living for myself back in Dubai now. I was introduced to the NBA in '90 through my elder brother (who played ball back in India) and have been religiously following the NBA since. In those days there were absolutely no ball courts anywhere in this country, no internet and the only news that filtered through would be a small little column in the local papers covering the NBA - even more prominently towards the playoffs. I finally held a ball and started playing the game in '93 and still play on occasions with friends. Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson have been literally father figures to me. The lessons you learn on the court and from such visionaries are lessons you keep for the rest of your life...

Anyway, since then, i have moved back to Dubai and believe me - it is not easy to follow the Lakers from here. And i mean catching EVERY single game of an 82 game season. Because of the time differences (especially on East coast games), i have had to wake up as early as 3:00am, watch and then head off to work. Luckily now i work for a manager who understand my crazy passion for the NBA. We do not get the League Pass here. We have a channel called Al Jazeera (they relay from Qatar) that have been covering basketball to this region exclusively along with NBA TV and the International edition of ESPN. But again, i only watch them if the Lakers are not playing but every single day i DO watch a game of NBA basketball. I have a blog (www.vishalsacheendran.blogspot.com) in which i try and educate the people around me in various aspects of life (not that i am perfect, but a lot of people have not had the opportunities that i have had!!!). I have quite a few followers and have also been invited to blog for a very prominent Indian daily...I continue to blog about life and basketball and my followers go nuts if i don't blog at least once a month...

I know the NBA promotes the game heavily in Europe, China and India - last year Hakeem The Dream was here in Abu Dhabi conducting a clinic as well. The game is growing bigger. Basketball has reached homes. It is now only second to football (soccer) in global sports. And i am proud of all this cause the NBA is where it all began.

Until now.

I have no comeback. I am at a loss for words. I don't know who to blame. I am a fool in the eyes of my friends and blog followers who accuse me of being a little too naïve. I work in the global finance industry and i KNOW what the economy is like GLOBALLY. For these people ( i don't CARE who anymore - the owners OR the players), to fight over millions of dollars - when with each passing lockout day, there are EMPLOYEES in these franchises who have mouths to feed and don't have jobs - is just something that cannot sink in. After the '98 lockout (when some players made those now-famous comments about cars and the cost of maintenance), you put that to the economy being on the rise and everyone taking care of themselves. The NBA was still growing outside and cable television was still beginning to enter a lot of homes in this side of the world. The players IN the NBA at that time were not exposed internationally like what the guys do to promote the game now (Kobe in Philippines, LeBron in China, Dwight in India). But now, i just don't have answers...

I have emails from my blog readers with questions like "so, it's always about the money huh?" and "whatever happened to your catch phrase "for the love of the game"?" whatever happened to that phrase DA? I grew up in a real dysfunctional family and the NBA was my rock i leaned on through the hard times. And you live the 11 rings (Phil's 11) in your head again and again and again. When winning mattered. When commitment mattered. When team-mates mattered. NOT money. When Jordan asked for 30 million, i was mad that he was not making that before! But THAT was a different time, a different economy. Not these days. The NBA is indirectly bringing down a bigger house right now and they don't even realise it yet. And the only way to win fans back is offering them something big preceded with a HUGE APOLOGY.

Anyway, i just wanted to vent after holding my breath for the last 16 ours hoping the mediator would get results. None, i guess. I know myself. I love the game a bit too much to NOT follow it when they do begin again. But today, i lost respect for the conductors of the game. Starting with the Union till the owners and their organisations. My passion has taken a beating and so has my will to fight all my friends and readers.

Your passion reaches across the ocean, Vishal. Thanks for writing.

Archeologists, examining the ruins of the Bay Area, will covet the missing 2011-12 Warriors Media Guide like the Honus Wagner T206. From John Motroni:

That comment you printed from the recent NBA fan and her husband who are giving up on the season, the league, and the sport was, as you pointed out, the most poignant and pregnant in it's meeting. Out here on the left coast, all the anticipatory buzz about the new Warrior season is rapidly fading away with the lockout and the surprising success of the Niners and Raiders and last season's Giants championship. The new Warrior ownership was ready to take advantage of a "we believe" year but now are facing another season of "we bereave". As NBA owners, Lacob and Gruber can't say "it's not our fault."

Golden State's new crew is among the many fascinating story lines that are in danger of going pfffft, John. I was really looking forward to seeing how Mark Jackson took whatever cache he had as a TV guy -- certainly more than he has as a former player for today's generation of ballers -- and parlayed it into respect, focus and all the things coaches need from their players if they're going to be successful. I wanted to see what he planned to impart onto Monta Ellis and/or Steph Curry about playing the point. I wanted to see how the Warriors' brain trust worked together. Who knows when I'll get the chance?

As my friend Tony says, if you don't like it, you can go pump gas somewhere. From Nathan Chance:

I just read your article posted today "Competitive balance? NBA has always been about dynasties". Very informative on both sides of the story. Got me leaning towards the owners. The bit with John Wall putting his two cents in bugged me. He's a great player and everything, but it bothered when he said, 'Like I said, we want to play basketball. But it comes to the money at some point. And the veteran guys have played years. They say, 'We'll take 50-50,' because they've already made what they needed. They're not thinking about us. So we're just really thinking about the young guys."

It's mind boggling to me to hear somebody complain about money who is making more than $100,000 a year to play a game. Especially someone who was a freshman in college two years ago. How much money does it take to get what you "need"? I would think that these kids would have a passion for the game over money. It was a fantasy when they were kids and now they are living it out. Now they have, at a minimum, six figure contracts to play basketball every day.

I get an hour to play basketball 3 days a week before work, and now when I go home I have to sit and wait longer to watch the fantasy displayed on my TV because the players want more millions than the millions they already have. How many millions does it take to enjoy life while you are playing basketball for a living? Let the owners know that I will play for $50,000 and a company car. I've got a decent jumper and will ball my butt off every day.

I'm sure there are business ends to this mess that I don't understand, but I do understand that you don't "need" a million dollars a year to live anywhere and have a cushy life.

And there is that point of view, Nathan. Many fans share it. And it's part of the dangerous choice the owners are making with their insistence that they have to have everything they want in order to re-open the league, as well as the union's insistence that it has to preserve every dollar possible now even if it means losing millions later.

Send your comments, questions, criticisms and better Sunday Night Football matchups to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently interesting, funny, thought-provoking or snarky, we just might publish it!

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42 -- Points scored Sunday evening by Kevin Durant in his charity game in Oklahoma City. Durant posted a triple-double, adding 26 rebounds and 11 assists, in his White team's 176-171 overtime victory over a team featuring Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul.

$200,000,000 -- Estimated value of the Utah Jazz's local television deal with DirecTV's ROOT Sports through 2021, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

126 -- Days since the lockout began.

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1) Here's hoping the owners and players come to their senses, beg George Cohen's forgiveness and get the federal mediator back into the negotiating room this week. Cohen may be the only thing standing in the way of complete disaster at this point.

2) This should be required reading for every NBA player, whether you agree with Bill Guerin's opinion or not.

3) Looked like a two-seamer there.

4) Who cares why they did it? It's a terrific first move for the 76ers' new owners.

5) Good God, Albert Pujols is gonna get paid this winter.

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1) I understand the point Bryant Gumbel was trying to make with the "plantation overseer" comments he made about David Stern on HBO's Real Sports last week. Hyperbole is a perfectly good way to make a point; I think if you asked Bryant -- who is a journalistic hero of mine, by the way -- if he thinks David Stern is a racist, he would say no. But race is a subject where nuance and subletly are of little use. Too many people on all sides are quite sensitive to the racial history of this country, and the implications of that past on future behavior, to be able to have a rational discussion about the impact of race on public perception of the NBA and how it impacts the decisions of everyone involved.

For instance, it would be natural for African-American players to be a little defensive when they constantly hear that the African-American Executive Director of the union, Billy Hunter -- who received his law degree from Howard University, the celebrated HBCU in Washington, D.C., and who prosecuted the likes of Jim Jones' People's Temple and the Hells' Angels for the Justice Department in the 1970s -- is dumb as a post when it comes to negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.

But it's equally hurtful to Stern, I'm sure -- and I haven't talked with him about this -- to be cast as just another white guy willing to throw out racial dog whistles to prejudiced and/or racist patrons. He has spoken openly of the perception that whites had of his league when he became commissioner in 1984, and no sports league has been more progressive and aggressive in making sure people of color are hired and given the opportunity to succeed in high-profile positions.

No one knows better than he, I suspect, how precarious the NBA's standing with white America is at any given time -- many of those under 30 love the music played in the league's arenas as much as blacks do, and watch Basketball Wives as well. But it's corporate -- white -- America that buys the suites and season tickets and sponsorships, and they are decidedly not watching Basketball Wives.

What would be best, of course, is for Gumbel to sit down with Stern and conduct one of his great interviews, with everything on the table -- what he said about Stern, what Stern thinks about race and his fan base, and how it influences his decision-making, and anything else that comes to mind. Because it would be thought-provoking, must-see-TV between two really smart guys.

2) So Bill Simmons says he didn't mean anything bad by referring to the "limited intellecutal capital" of NBA players when it comes to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, that he would say the same thing about NFL players and baseball players and hockey players. Except I don't recall him saying anything like that during the NFL lockout (and I'm sure someone will correct me if he did), nor do I recall him saying anything like that during the various labor troubles in baseball and hockey. I didn't go to law school, either, but I'm fairly certain I can add and subtract, and if someone asks me to take 10 to 12 percent less than I made the year before, I might object, and express said objection through the people that represent me in such matters.

3) Has any team been so dependent on one player as the Colts appear to have been on Peyton Manning? Maybe they're going the San Antonio "let's-stink-the-year-David-Robinson-got-hurt-and-get-Tim-Duncan-in-the-Lottery-" route, with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck as the prize. Or maybe they just stink.

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Somebody please explain how @swish41 is ranked 5th in the N.B.A after last year? Name 1 player that played better? & don't worry I got time.

-- Free agent center Tyson Chandler (@tysonchandler), Wednesday, 12:26 a.m, responding both to ESPN.com's survey of the top players in the league -- including Chandler's teammate in Dallas last season, Dirk Nowitzki -- and the continuing lockout. In the survey,LeBron was ranked first; Kobe was seventh. Do with that what you will.

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"No useful purpose would be served by requesting the parties to continue the mediation process at this time."

-- Statement Thursday evening from mediator George Cohen, after three days and nearly 30 hours of talks between the league and the union on a new collective bargaining agreement broke down.

"Every year, our residents pack the arenas where NBA teams play. They buy the NBA's products. They cheer for their favorite players with passion and intensity. They attend games and make lasting memories with family and friends. Many own or work at small businesses that depend on NBA games for survival. No matter how you look at it, our NBA are a vital part of the economic and social fabric of our cities. Unfortunately, lost in the debate over a new NBA collective bargaining agreement has been the perspective of those very residents and the negative impact a cancelled season might have on them, our cities, and our local economies."

-- Text of a letter sent by 14 U.S. mayors to David Stern and Billy Hunter last week, imploring them to reach a settlement to end the lockout. Former NBA stars turned mayors Dave Bing (Detroit) and Kevin Johnson (Sacramento) were among the signees.

"There's more you can do in a bigger place. I'm stuck in a tough position because I feel like right now, where I'm at, I've done so much. And I just don't know what else I can do. I can't live for everybody else."

-- Dwight Howard, in an interview with Esquire magazine, on whether being in a larger market will be a major factor in his decision to re-sign with the Magic after this season.

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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