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David Aldridge

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Billy Hunter (left) and David Stern took a big step Saturday toward finally ending everyone's NBA nightmare.
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Forget the score ... at least we (finally) got the game back


Posted Nov 28 2011 5:51PM

So, that happened.

NBA fans, your long (inter)national nightmare is over.

You could write a book about what actually led to Saturday morning's breakthrough that should -- should -- officially end the lockout within the next few days.

Was it the injection of longtime labor man Jim Quinn into the proceedings? Could have been, but George Cohen was equally respected by both sides, and whiffed twice when given an audience with the players and league. Was it the walling off of the combative attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who wasn't involved nearly as much in the final discussions as he had been previously? Maybe, but Kessler was returning from Russia on the morning of Oct. 28, the day that the talks, inexplicably, collapsed. Just 12 hours before, David Stern had appeared giddy, yelling 'tomorrow!' when Billy Hunter had indicated the two sides were "within striking distance" of a deal.

Much will be written in the days and weeks to come about who won and lost, about the details of the agreement. Forgive me. I'm detailed out.

Everyone lost.

The people who depend on the NBA for their livelihoods, who work at the arenas and in the surrounding neighborhoods lost. The players, who gave up $3 billion in future salaries based on the previous collective bargaining agreement, lost. Stern, Hunter and union president Derek Fisher lost; each man had his intelligence, effectiveness and character questioned, and Stern and Hunter in particular took a major hit in terms of legacy.

And you lost. Big time. You lost faith with, and in, this league. You thought no one was listening, or cared. Anyone who is a fan of the orange leather lost, because this episode did nothing to help the league's reputation compared with the NFL, which got through a lockout of its own without missing any regular season games.

Even the owners lost. Those owners who, for many years, have conned their fan bases into thinking there's nothing they can do to compete compared with the Lakers and Bulls and any other big money makers. They've convinced many of their fans, and maybe themselves, that the rules had to change, and they got most of -- not all -- of those changes in the new CBA, with the limits on how tax paying teams can spend their money. Now they're out of excuses when their GMs take a bust in the first round or spend tens of millions on guys stiffer than the maitre'd's shirt at Sardi's. (Sardi's still exists, right?)

But you don't want to read about that any more. You want your game back. So do I.

So, in quite particular order, here are 10 things I'm really looking forward to seeing, hearing or tasting when the NBA gets back in business beginning Christmas Day:

10) Rings, cars ... or gift certificates to Dillards?: After the Mavs won the Finals, Mark Cuban said that the gaudy, diamond-encrusted championship rings were a cliche and that he wanted to do something completely different. After, oh, all of his players objected, Cubes said he'd relent. But I don't call him the Gray Matter for nothing. I suspect he'll have something up his sleeve on Christmas Night for the ring ceremony at the AAC.

9) We're sorry. We're really, really sorry. Did we mention how sorry we were?: If, in the next week to 10 days, the league and its teams don't commit to the following --announce that two games -- one preseason, one regular season -- are "on the house," meaning free tickets for both season ticket holders and single game buyers, with the remaining seats given out to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis, concurrent with "Fans' Night" celebrations and viewing parties around the country during the first week of the season, with the food (no booze, for obvious reasons) paid for by the NBA, along with season-long discounts on "lower bowl" seats in all arenas (maybe a "band" of 49 to 51 percent off for selected games?) along with increasing the $10 seats in each building from 1,000 to 2,000, along with bringing one fan from every NBA city to All-Star Weekend in Orlando and providing them with A-list tickets and interactions with the players, and doing the same for one fan in every NBA city for the Finals, and next year's Draft, along with giving everyone that has access to DirecTV or Dish Network or whatever cable systems have NBA TV a free month of NBA League Pass, along with taking out full-page ads in each city that simply read "We're Sorry. We Will Do Everything In Our Power to Get You Back. Sincerely, the Players and Teams of the National Basketball Association" -- then I'm gonna be really ticked off.

8) Guys who've been inhaling cheesesteaks trying to fit back into those size 32 shorts.: "Who's gonna be this year's Shawn Kemp?," a GM asked recently, referring to the horrendous look the former Reign Man sported when he showed up for an agent-driven exhibition game in Atlantic City during the '98 lockout. It was one of the rare times when I actually did a double-take; you couldn't believe how fat Kemp was. And you know that some player this time, maybe thinking the lockout wouldn't really end until late January, or not at all, has been less than stellar when it comes to maintaining his offseason conditioning program.

7) The return of some favorites: Bad Blake, Year Two; KG scowlin' and cussin'; Nasty Nash surveying, probing, going baseline, coming back out, then cuffing the ball in those meathook hands and finding the open man; Cousin LaMarcus, getting all swole; the Thunder. God, the Thunder; a full season of 'Melo and STAT and Smooth together; Rick Adelman making a palatable stew out of all those assorted legumes and stock he has in Minnesota; CP3, playing for a contract; Dwight Howard, playing for a contract; the Magic's GM, Otis Smith, as he figures out the best possible resolution to a horribly difficult situation; what escape mechanisms (underground, under ocean tunnel? diamond mine trolley like in the Indiana Jones movies?) that Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith use to get out of China; Jimmer!!!!; my man McHale back on a bench in Houston; Frank Vogel: real or mirage in Indy; finding out who will bite and give J.J. Barea a huge contract; Kyrie Irving, who has played in about 20 games since the end of his high school career and is now the No. 1 pick with No. 1 expectations for the Cavaliers; the Spurs, loading up for one final run behind one great group of players and coaches; Tanter, behind the mic again at Staples; nights with Prokhorov in Newark as he counts the minutes until he can open the wallet wide and say, 'Come to Brooklyn, my friend. Come to Brooklyn'; Doug Doin' Work in Philly; 3 Deezy Without the Beard; the Grizzles with real fan expectations in Memphis to live up to; Diesel in the Studio with the Chuckster; the goofy "Kiss Me" arena segments in every city, even the ones that end with Kendrick Perkins smooching Thabo Sefolosha on the cheek; Caron Butler, back and ballin' for the Mavs again (or, maybe, the Clippers? Or the Nets? Or the Heat?); Dwane Casey trying to put a winning foundation down in Toronto; the Grand Experiment finally getting under way at Golden State with Mark Jackson, Jerry West, Bob Myers, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and a cast of thousands.

6) These. At first, I hated them. Then they kind of grew on me.

5) The first time Mike Brown really gets all hip deep up into the Kobester for a missed assignment, or a forced shot, or ... just because. The rightness or wrongness of whatever Brown is upset with is irrelevant. It's how Bryant responds to it that will tell the tale.

4) Rookies, rookies, rookies: Can't wait to see Kyrie Irving (see below), Derrick Williams, Enes Kanter and Jan Vesely; Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, Nolan Smith and Kenneth Faried.

3) The Sublime Derrick Rose (a phrase that somebody smarter than me should trademark, immediately). How will Rose follow up his MVP season -- one that could get him a ridiculous raise on an extension under the new CBA rules? How will he use his failures against the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals? Remember: Most great players never win a championship. Rose is a great player. Which way will he fall?

2) How will the SuperFriends respond? Everybody outside of South Beach had a big ol' laugh watching LeBron and D-Wade fall to the Mavs. But this isn't an episode of CSI: Miami where the plot is wrapped up in 48 neat minutes. There's a next season, and the Heat now have a year of experience with one another. They should have a full season -- kind of -- with Udonis Haslem in the middle. They'll almost certainly add another significant free agent. And LeBron, like the later-generation Terminators, is a learning computer. He forgets nothing. And should keep getting better. I suspect you haven't heard the last from him.

1) Cats and Dogs, Living Together ... Mass Hysteria!: I watched with envy when the NFL lockout ended and that league began a week-long free-agent signing frenzy. Everyone up for grabs, no time to think, just pure, unfettered capitalism at work. But now, the NBA will have the same crazy signing period the same day camps open! Do you understand that there are some teams with four or five guys under contract? How do you do a three-man weave when you only have four guys to run it? We heard for months that the previous system was a killer for small-market and small-revenue producing teams. How much discipline will they show on Dec. 9? It will be great fun to find out.

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Remember Kyrie Irving?

They still do down in Durham.

Irving, taken with the first pick in this year's Draft by the Cavaliers, took a full class load during the lockout at Duke, where he played in just 11 games as a freshman, missing much of the regular season with a broken foot. But the 19-year-old nonetheless opted out, a fact that his now-former classmates reminded him about often.

"It was really tough for me to go to school, especially when the (college) season started with Duke," Irving said Sunday afternoon. "I had to deal with everybody saying, 'You should have stayed.' I had to see everybody on campus, and they're practicing and stuff. My job was to go to class, then work out and go home. It felt like it wasn't leading to anything."

It's been quite the summer for Irving, whose dream came true in June when the Cavs made him the centerpiece of their franchise rebuilding effort. But days later, the lockout brought everything to a screeching halt and forced Irving and the other rookies into scramble mode. There was suddenly no offseason training program with the Cavaliers' strength and conditioning coaches, no summer league in Las Vegas, no contact with Byron Scott or the rest of Cleveland's coaching staff.

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There is a (No. 1) reason for hope in Cleveland again.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

But like all the other first-year players, Irving improvised. He took the classes at Duke -- including two psychology classes (his major), a theatre class and an African-American studies course. He worked out with former Duke teammate and fellow first-rounder Nolan Smith -- who was taken No. 21 overall by Portland -- in North Carolina. He lived with his agent, Jeff Wechsler, for a few weeks down in Miami, where he worked out with veterans like James Posey and Juwan Howard under the eye of trainer Irving Roland, the former video coordinator for the Hornets who now works with players. The vets told him to stay positive but it was difficult not knowing if there was going to be a season. Irving and Smith would pass along the latest rumors they'd heard with one another.

"It's been a lot of scrambling and stuff, but a lot of joy for me and my family," Irving said. "I'm excited for the season to get started."

The Cavs haven't been able to say much about Irving, obviously, and he hasn't talked with many of his teammates other than his fellow rookie, Texas forward Tristan Thompson, who was taken with the fourth pick. The expectations of a young point guard and a young big man to go with newly acquired Omri Casspi give Cleveland a new foundation on which to build after You Know Who did You Know What. Having spoken to Irving before, I know he doesn't believe the comparisons with James are fair. But life isn't fair, is it? If Irving struggles, life will be difficult for him in Cleveland. But he believes he can be part of a turnaround.

"I want to bring back Cleveland to the point where people actualy want to come there," he said. "Cleveland's a great place but I think it's an underrated organziation. They're going to get players. I know Mr. (Dan) Gilbert's going to do anything to get players. They want to be great right away."

While he waited, he could be a student again. (He hopes to go back to school every offseason). He took the theatre class with his former Blue Devils teammates Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston, though he didn't act in the same group with them ("They're just comedians"). From one of the psych classes, he found out more about human development, and how the body and mind work together. He saw how perceptions could be created by studying the films of Spike Lee in the African-American studies class. And he plans to keep learning during the season. His father, Dredrick -- Kyrie's hero in every way -- is going to live with him in Cleveland until Kyrie turns 21.

"It starts with the people I have around me," Kyrie said. "I have a tremendous supporting father, a great sister. They've always keep me grounded. My father being in Cleveland and my sister being accessible, they're going to help me."

But there's only so much a parent can do when his or her child is ready to fly the coop. Kyrie Irving is still a kid, but he's not going to be treated like one. He's going to be expected to not only produce on the court, but be a leader of men, a resurrector of a city again looking for an athletic savior, another great young point guard in a league full of them. How does he keep from being overwhelmed? How will he cope?

"Those both fall in the same category," he said. "Just being with my teamates and being used to being an NBA player. I'm still going to try to live the same life I've been living during the lockout, but I know it's going to be a little bit harder. I'm going from being a freshman to being a professional."

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Go crazy, NBA fans. Go crazy. From Brett Owen:

Hey DA, this is the happiest I have been in a while after 149 days of gloom! As an Aussie fan heading to America in January, this means that I will be able to see some basketball! Thank you for all of you brilliant coverage of this, I have checked nba.com every night, holding my breath and hoping every time the page loads, losing hope every time. Now we have a 66-game season to look forward to and I finally get to see Kyrie Irving ball!

Oh, how long it's been since getting a happy fan's e-mail, Brett. Thank you.

I'm about to fall. I have no ... competitive balance! From Christopher Harris:

I never write in response to articles but after reading your article about competitive balance I had to make an exception. Your argument boils down to two statements: 1) the league having a few loaded teams is acceptable because that's how it's always been and 2) smart small-market teams can beat the system and be competitive. I think you're missing the boat in both areas.

First point: I'm a 31-year-old, die-hard Houston Rocket fan. I grew up in the [Michael] Jordan, Hakeem [Olajuwon], [Karl] Malone, [Patrick] Ewing era. I remember how exciting just about every game was. There were great teams in both conferences and the season was exciting from the opening night tip-off. Now, there are only a handful of "good" teams so there are a ton of fans that just aren't as engaged. People tuned in last year to watch the Heat, but what happens when that LBJ hate fades? The thing that makes the NFL so amazing is that every team has a legitimate shot at being successful year in and year out (look at the Lions and Bills). Hope is what keeps your fan base in place. The NBA doesn't sell hope to a large chunk of its fans (ask fans of the Kings or Bucks what they expect from the season) and that's a flaw. The NBA seems bent on catering to the casual fan at the expense of the die-hard fan. The dynasty teams are normally dynasties because they have one or two transcendent athletes, which brings me to point No. 2.

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Will NBA competition resemble the days of the 1990s when the new labor agreement is enacted?
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

You left out a key ingredient in the Spurs' and Thunder's success: blind luck. You have to a) be REALLY bad to get into the top 5 of the lottery b) you have to win (or come close to winning) the lottery and c) it has to be a year where an amazing (and durable) basketball player comes out. These stars don't align yearly. A cap system (that also incorporates a cap floor) allows talent to spread out more evenly throughout the league. Of course, better run organizations will still be better teams, but at least we'd be rewarding merit and not market. I think it's very short sighted of the players (who have been talking a lot about the fans) to not see the merits in change.

I didn't say acceptable, Christopher. I just stated it as fact, which it is: the NBA has never been competitive. It has never had a league like the NFL where 15-20 teams, every year, have a legitimate chance of winning a championship. Yes, there were great teams in both conferences in the late '80s/early '90s. A few. The Celtics and Pistons and Bulls in the east; the Lakers and Blazers and Rockets in the west. And that was about it. Yes, the Sixers were good, but no one really believed they could win it all. Same with the Pacers and Spurs and Warriors. And they never did.

And while, yes, the Spurs got David Robinson and Tim Duncan with the first picks of their respective Drafts, you leave out that the Spurs got Tony Parker with the 28th pick in 2001 and Manu Ginobili with the 57th pick in the 1999 Draft. Was Oklahoma City lucky that Kevin Durant was there at number two in 2007? Absolutely. If the Thunder (then the Sonics) had gotten the first pick, they probably would have taken Greg Oden, too. But they also took Russell Westbrook fourth in 2008 and insisted he could play point guard, even though a lot of people around the league disagreed. And because they did that, they were able to take James Harden in 2009.

I agree with you that increasing the floor that teams must spend on salaries could help, but we've seen in the NHL that that's not a panacea in and of itself. You still need to spend the money on the right people. The qualities of a championship team are the same as they've been for 50 years.

I'm sorry; whose political leanings are showing? From Jeffrey Soule:

Enough with the gushing praise of Bill Clinton. He got impeached and his two terms were painfully corrupt.

Keep politics out of sports. You showed your political leanings with that ass-kissing piece on Slick Willy.

You are usually a straight shooter who tells it like it is, and I almost never e-mail anyone like this, but enough with the Clinton Idol Worship. We get it, you love the guy, but keep your man-crush to yourself and focus on the reality of the NBA Lockout.

I was focused on the "reality" of the lockout for two years, Jeffrey -- much more than you, I suspect. And I'm afraid you're the one who's bringing politics into sports. My hope that President Clinton would get involved had nothing to do with his, or my, politics, but with his proven ability to quickly understand and help to solve very complex and seemingly intractable issues, including wars in Northern Ireland and Bosnia. The fact that you clearly don't like the President ("Slick Willy?" "painfully corrupt?") has nothing to do with what he was able to do while in the White House. And, again, if I thought either President Bush, or Mitt Romney, or were interested in getting involved, I would have happily welcomed their assistance.

Send your comments, questions, criticisms and answers to the questions,'Why on earth do people feel compelled to stand in lines overnight for Black Friday sales? Can't you let the turkey digest slowly and on its own time?' 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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50 -- Points scored by Deron Williams last week in a 105-94 victory. Thankfully for his Turkish team, Besiktas.

$2,800,000 -- Amount that the Magic would have owed the city of Orlando, according to the Orlando Sentinel, if the lockout had cancelled the entire season. The paper broke down last season's per-game revenues produced at area garages and what the city got in facility fees through ticket sales.

149 -- Days that the 2011 NBA lockout lasted. You don't know how thrilled I am that I don't have to add the year 2012 to that sentence.

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1) This is what a season saved looks like.

1a) Shouldn't we seriously consider naming something important after Jim Quinn after all this? And can we send him to Capitol Hill next?

2) A genuine and sincere thanks to all the fans all over the world who stuck with me and all the other lockout scribes during these months of negotiations. I have gotten Tweets from fans on every continent on earth except for Antarctica, and that's probably because the bird froze on the way to my computer. Don't you believe those haters who do nothing but troll NBA fan page message boards and comment boards, who say, 'Nobody cares about the NBA' and. 'Everybody hates the NBA' and all that crap. You know, as I do, that this is the true global game, that only football (soccer, as we call it in the States) is bigger around the world. We love the game when it is played well, and it isn't played better when it is played well than in the NBA. I hope you can forgive them from taking it away from you, but I will understand if it takes a while.

3) A shoutout to the excellent reporting done during the lockout by many of my brethren, not limited to but including: Ken Berger of CBS Sports.com, who broke the story of the tenative agreement early Saturday morning; Howard Beck of the New York Times, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports; Brian Mahoney and Rachel Cohen of Associated Press, Chris Broussard from ESPN, Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com, Alan Hahn of Newsday, Mason Levinson from Bloomberg News, Zach Lowe from SI.com and my man Steve Aschburner from NBA.com. This was an extremely difficult story to condense and make clear to people who understandably didn't care a whittle or jot about many of the details. But you had to have the details, and have them right. These people did.

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The cadre of reporters covering the lockout have had an all-but thankless task.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

3a) Another shoutout to the NBA's blogging community, guys like Tom Ziller at Sactown Royalty and Henry Abbott at ESPN's TrueHoop, and Sekou Smith here at NBA.com, for providing passion and insight to the discussions.

4) Many thanks, also, to all the local organizers in summer leagues around the country, like Miles Rawls (Goodman League) in D.C. and Rahim Thompson (the Chosen League in Philly) who kept the game alive for so many of us this summer and did their very best to open up their facilities and make us feel at home. It wasn't about the game on the floor; it was about the community that those of us who love the game understand basketball produces, here and around the world. Nothing but love, fellas.

5) Christmas is going to be great fun, isn't it?

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1) This whole 'I'm going to China for the year' thing isn't working out for J.R. Smith, is it?

2) A sad, sad story from our man Scott Howard-Cooper on Magic president Pat Williams, who is dealing with multiple myeloma with his usual grace and good humor.

3) I don't know Bernie Fine at all, but this is going south in a hurry. I don't know Jim Boeheim, either, though our paths have occasionally crossed. It's hard to see how he couldn't have known more about what was going on than he's said he knew.

4) I shall miss you, @NBA_Labor. Your witty exasperation at writers and bloggers who made run-of-the-mill errors of omission and commission during the labor talks were must-read Tweeterdom. Harken back to those halcyon days of late October and early November... @SportingNews: Incorrect. Amnesty $$$ WILL count towards plyrs' total share of BRI and WILL NOT increase overall payout to plyrs.

Memories.

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Grandmother just said she could "out-eat me today" It's gonna be a long thanksgiving for her...

-- The Clippers' Blake Griffin (@blakegriffin), Thursday, 1:58 p.m., after Nana's mouth wrote a check her gullet likely couldn't cash.

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"Well, we've reached a tentative understanding that is subject to a variety of approvals and very complex machinations but we are optimistic that will all come to pass and the NBA season will begin December 25th, Christmas Day, with a triple-header. I won't give you the details to tune in yet. We are very pleased that we have come this far. There is a lot of work to be done in a lot of places, with a lot of committees and player groups and alike but we are optimistic that it will hold and we will have ourselves an NBA season."
-- Commissioner David Stern, Video in another early morning media gathering, with the news everyone who loves the NBA has been waiting for for five months.

"I think it was the ability of the parties to decide it was necessary to compromise and to kind of put this thing back together in some kind of way to put and end to the litigation and everything that that entails. We just thought, rather than trying to pursue this in court, that it was in both of our interests to try and reach a resolution to save the game and to be able to provide the kind of superb entertainment that the NBA has historically provided."
-- Billy Hunter, the executive director of what should soon be, again, the National Basketball Players Association, Video on getting the deal done.

"You never can be sure with how a new system will work but we feel ultimately it will give fans in every community hope that their team can compete for championships and that their basis for believing in their team will be a function of management of that team rather than, as I have said before, how deep the owners' pockets are or how large the market is."
--Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, on how the NBA hopes the proposed new Collective Bargaining Agreement will improve competitive balance between teams by imposing greater financial penalties on teams that repeatedly exceed the luxury tax threshold.

"The parties commenced bargaining with strongly held competing positions and agendas motivated by understandable self interests. But here's the good news: this is a classic case where those differences eventually were overridden because the parties have a powerful common interest-providing professional basketball to the public so that players could ply their trades and be compensated and owners could operate their businesses successfully. In my considered judgment, that mutual interest enabled the parties to make the accommodations necessary to achieve an agreement."
-- Mediator George Cohen, who had unsuccessfully attempted to broker a deal last month betweenthe NBA and union, in a statement Saturday morning following the announcement of a tentative deal.

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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