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David Aldridge

After OKC's brass doled out big dollars to several of its stars, will James Harden (right) get his payday, too?

New world of finances could halt Harden's time in OKC


Posted Sep 17, 2012 8:24 PM

First of all, many, many thanks to my Guest Tippers over the last month while I was on vacation: the NFL Network's Michael Lombardi, superfan Stuart Smith, Kristen Blake, wife of NBA player Steve Blake, and NASCAR superstar Denny Hamlin. They were all terrific reads and I hope you got out of them what I did: the NBA has a wide and diverse group of fans all over the world, from the little-known to the quite famous. Whether you play the game or not, the intimacy of basketball provides entrée for so many people to fall in love with the game -- the game, not the business of basketball, which so often gets in the way. Anyone who's ever picked up a ball and shot it at a basket, or played two-on-two in a driveway, knows what I mean.

Now it's back to the grind. Camps begin in just a couple of weeks. Players are already reporting to their respective cities and are getting some runs in. Optimism runs high everywhere; every GM thinks he has a team that can make a playoff run; every coach thinks his underachieving 2011-12 veteran is poised for a bounceback season.

But with the start of the season imminent, the clock begins to tick, loudly, in Oklahoma City.

The same forces that forced Memphis to let O.J. Mayo walk to Dallas for nothing, that made the Pacers deal Darren Collison to the Mavs and also swallow hard before matching Roy Hibbert's offer sheet from the Blazers, are pushing against the Thunder.

The Thunder got power forward Serge Ibaka signed to a four-year, $48 million extension a couple of weeks ago, locking up their 23-year-old big man through the the 2016-17 season (the extension kicks in beginning with the 2013-14 season, after Ibaka plays out the last year of his rookie contract this coming season). OKC now has Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Ibaka, Nick Collison, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins all signed to long-term deals.

But that leaves one guy -- James Harden, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year -- still looking for an extension. And there may not be a way to keep him around.

Unfortunately, Kendrick Perkins' hopes last week that there was a deal within reach was either misinterpreted by reporters or wildly off base. It's going to go down to the wire with Harden and his agent, Rob Pelinka.

The Thunder have until Oct. 31 to get Harden signed to a contract extension. Otherwise, he'd become a restricted free agent next summer. And while everyone wants to keep the party that led to a Finals appearance going, the Thunder allow that there's a chance they may not be able to afford Harden.

"James is somebody we value," Thunder GM Sam Presti told The Oklahoman newspaper last week. "We think he's an important part to what we're trying to do with our team and we're hopeful that he'll be with us ...

"By the same token, we've been very upfront and transparent with everybody that we have some inherent challenges that we face as an organization as a result of the new collective bargaining agreement. I know we'd love to have him here. I think James would like to be here as well. But at the end of the day ... you have to find a way to make it work for everybody."

Make no mistake -- the Thunder want to keep Harden. OKC knows how important Harden is. The Thunder know how he's the guy that makes so many decisions with the basketball down the stretch, how his presence makes things so much easier for Durant and Westbrook, how he's probably the best passer on the team. Problem is, Harden and his agent know he does all of those things, too. And they want to be paid accordingly.

But OKC is up against two realities, each of which conspires against its being able to keep Harden.

One, the league's dictate that good teams not be able to hoard good players -- exemplified with the increasing amounts of luxury tax teams will have to pay in the next few years -- will work against the Thunder down the road just as well as it did against the Bulls this summer. Math is math. As Grantland's Zach Lowe pointed out last month, if the Thunder were to give Harden anything approaching a max deal, it would have to pay something along the lines of $85 to $90 million going forward to keep its current roster together -- and OKC's ownership has never paid luxury tax since moving the team there.

Two, while OKC sells out Chesapeake Energy Arena, and does an excellent job producing revenue in the NBA's 28th-largest market, it still doesn't have the financial firewall to protect it that the bigger-market teams do. This is the difference between producing revenue and being profitable.

According to Forbes Magazine's most recent evaluations of NBA franchise wealth, OKC had the fifth-highest amount of operating income -- the club's earnings before interest, taxes, appreciation and amortization -- in the league, at $24.9 million. Only the Knicks ($74.9 million), Bulls ($59.4 million), Cavaliers ($32.9 million) and Heat ($26 million) did better. And Forbes rated the Thunder as the NBA's 15th-most valuable franchise, worth an estimated $348 million. At first glance, it's all good.

But OKC has limits to what it can produce. With a base of tickets holders that is the second-smallest of any city in the country with a pro sports team, the Thunder cannot gouge its fans for season tickets, or charge its corporate sponsors exponentially more year to year for suites or signage.

What continues to separate the NBA's haves from its have-nots is the gaping, Grand Canyon-like separation in each team's local television deals.

The Lakers' new deal with Time Warner that will create two local TV channels in L.A. -- one in English, one in Spanish -- that will broadcast Lakers games for the next two decades is, again, worth $4 billion over the next 20 years. Four billion. The entire league generated about $4 billion in revenue this past season. That is $200 million per year that the Lakers will get just for their local TV deal, 10 times more money than the Thunder are believed to get from their local TV deal.

And the Lakers are not an outlier. The Rockets are launching a new regional sports network in Houston this fall in partnership with Major League Baseball's Astros that is expected to be worth $3.2 billion over 20 years. The Rockets will own about a third of what will be called Comcast SportsNet Houston; the Astros will own about 45 percent. The spine of that deal allowed the pitiful Astros to nonetheless be sold for $610 million.

The Celtics now own up to 20 percent of Comcast Sports New England, as part of a new deal reached last year that will keep the Celtics on CSNE through 2038 -- and dramatically increase the team's yearly rights fee, to a factor several times what the Thunder bring home.

With that kind of cash coming in from local TV every year, on top of what they already bring in from ticket and suites sales and signage deals, the Lakers, Celtics and Rockets (and their brethren) have a prohibitive, baked-in advantage over teams like the Thunder. The Thunder may have made money in recent years with their low payroll, but they're now going to start spending at a much higher level, as the extensions for Durant ($85 million) and Westbrook ($80 million) kick in.

But, you say, the Thunder can make up for that with the millions they'll get from the new revenue sharing program. Indeed, the league's smallest-revenue producing teams are supposed to at least triple their revenue sharing income over the former arrangement; those teams will start getting up to $16 million annually in revenue sharing checks.

But NBA commissioner David Stern reportedly told The Oklahoman last year, right around the end of the lockout, that based on current revenues, the Thunder would pay into the revenue sharing program, not receive money from it.

OKC is in the same relative position as the Spurs found themselves at the start of their dynasty. San Antonio made its choice, building a four-time champion around Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Only Duncan got a max deal out of those three, and San Antonio has been able to keep its core together for a decade. But the Spurs had to let Stephen Jackson go to Atlanta in free agency in 2003, and it took them nine years to get him back. They had to let Hedo Turkoglu head to Orlando as a free agent in 2004, and, painfully, trade the rights to Luis Scola to Houston to keep their financial house in order.

OKC has consistently said it wants to keep Harden. But it never said it would automatically match any offer for Harden. There will be any number of suitors for him next summer if he becomes a restricted free agent -- Dallas, Houston and Atlanta are poised to have tens of millions in cap room to spend.

The Thunder can still win big with a core of Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and Perkins, with Sefolosha and Collison and a rehabbed Eric Maynor. (Maynor also is a restricted free agent next summer, and he'll be in great demand as well.) But can they win a title without Harden?

Ibaka chose to take a little less to stick around. Hibbert got $56 million as a restricted free agent when Indiana matched Portland's offer sheet; Eric Gordon, a guard, got a $58 million offer sheet from Phoenix, but the Hornets have cap room galore and matched easily.

"Man, I'm going to tell you," Ibaka said at his news conference last week, "you know, money is very important, too. It's important for everybody here because everybody wants to work hard to have a good life, same like you. But also, it's not the only thing. Money will not make you happy. It's most important that you need to be happy. You need to do something you want to do. I have a contract right now that will help me, my family, everything. But it's not all."

It really is Harden's call. He can take the money and run, and no one would blame him. He could take less money and have a chance to win two or three rings, just as Ginobili and Parker did. And no one would blame him.

It's business. It's always business.

Dribbles

Our friends in Seattle were busy last week.

On Tuesday, a city council committee took a big step toward making Seattle an NBA-ready town again, approving a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would authorize the construction of a $490 million multi-use arena in the city's South Downtown area, near the sites of the Seahawks' CenturyLink Field and the Mariners' Safeco Field. The arena would be home both to a relocated NBA and NHL team.

There are still several hurdles to overcome and it will likely be at least 18 months before the first shovel hits the first patch of grass. But the deal is a sea change for the city. Its inability to convince the Washington state legislature to approve a new arena deal in 2007 and 2008 was the death knell for the Sonics, whose new owner, Clay Bennett, had a foot out the door anyway and soon moved the team to Oklahoma City.

Hedge fund manager Chris Hansen has pledged to buy an existing team and move it to his hometown. But without an arena deal, there was no chance the NBA would approve such a move. That big obstacle has now been removed.

Five years ago, when Bennett was looking for the city and county to foot the bill for most of a $500 million building in suburban Renton, many locals blanched, both at the cost and at another multi-millionaire sports owner asking them to pay for a palace, as the Seahawks and Mariners had in recent years. There was arena fatigue.

But in the four years since the Sonics left, sentiment changed. And supporters of an arena produced people from a broad cross-section of social and economic strata -- from heads of construction companies to public school teachers -- who told city council members they were on board.

Seattle fans
Thanks to last week's political events, Seattle-ites got a step closer to getting the NBA back.

"We won it with numbers," said Brian Robinson, the old Save Our Sonics co-founder now running Arena Solution, a local coalition of business, community and entertainment leaders in town that has lobbied for a new building to lure a team. "That's how we did it. We had more people."

A final vote of the full council to approve the deal is schedule for a week from today. But after a 7-1 committee vote -- supporters were surprised they'd get eight people to vote, much less seven supporters -- approval is expected. Hansen went ahead and bought celebratory beers for 1,500 fans last Thursday at a local bar.

The city got several concessions from Hansen's original proposal that had been worked out with Mayor Mike McGinn in May. Hansen had already pledged $290 million of the total $490 million to build the arena. Now, he has committed to repaying the $200 million the city and county will put toward construction if the new arena doesn't generate enough revenues over 30 years to pay the city back.

Hansen had to double, from $15 to $30 million, a reserve fund established to pay the city back immediately if there is a financial shortfall in the first years of the deal, and has agreed to an independent, annual audit of his finances to ensure he is worth at least $300 million personally. And he pledged to pay up to five years of the debt service on the arena if need be.

The city also got Hansen to agree to spend $7 million in the interim to make improvements to Key Arena, where the Sonics played from their inaugural season in Seattle in 1967 until they moved, including refurbishing of the locker rooms.

According to a source with knowledge of the negotiations between Hansen and the city, the NBA has indicated, informally, that if Hansen is successful buying a team and moving it to Seattle, the league could live with the team playing temporarily at Key until the new arena is completed.

There are opponents to the deal. There is concern that the agreement violates the state's environmental protection laws that require municipalities to consider alternative sites and conduct environmental impact studies before committing to specific areas for public projects.

There is still opposition from officials at the Port of Seattle, the sprawling nexus of commercial docks, cruise ship terminals and shipping lanes that is the sixth-busiest in the United States and third-busiest on the west coast. The Port also owns the land on which Seattle-Tacoma Airport lies. But some of the Port's busiest areas are in Sodo, and some Port officials claim the proposed arena and its subsequent affects on local traffic patterns could cost up to $3 billion in annual revenues at the Port, impacting up to 33,000 jobs.

But Hansen also committed $40 million to a transportation fund designed to try and alleviate potential traffic issues, including construction of roads and bridges that would help ease congestion. And the city agreed to a year-long environmental review that would explore potential alternative sites to the Sodo location favored by Hansen, who has spent $50 million the past two years buying land in that area.

Ominously, though, there appears to be opposition from the Mariners. The proposed site for the NBA/NHL arena is near one of the parking lots at Safeco. The Mariners released a statement Thursday in which they indicated they'd prefer the new arena be built elsewhere.

Hansen told the Associated Press last week, "about the only comment I would make is the Seahawks and [Major League Soccer's] Sounders have engaged with us and are interested in what we are doing, expressed their concerns and are willing to work with us. We have made a lot of outreach to the Mariners and they are not interested in having a dialogue. You can't reach a point with people if they're not interested in having the discussion about what it would take to make it happen and make it acceptable for them."

There also remains the not-so-small issue of finding basketball and hockey teams to buy and move.

The Sacramento Kings are always first on everyone's lists these days, though the Maloofs would have to sell to Hansen, obviously, before they could be moved, and the Maloof family has given no public indication that they're ready to do that. But there isn't a single soul in the league that doesn't think the Kings are again looking at Anaheim as a potential destination after this season in Sacramento. There are rumblings that the Kings have lawyered up.

But everyone has a price. Hansen has a few hundred million, a commitment for a building, and time on his side. It's not inevitable that he or anyone else buys the Kings, nor is it a fait accompli that they are leaving Sacramento. But it's worth watching.

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

What do you call someone who makes hundreds of millions of dollars over 26 years without lifting a finger?

Good businessmen!

The greatest boondoggle -- and that is said with admiration, not pejoratively -- in NBA history was revisited about a week and a half ago, in a lawsuit heard in a New York court. The lawsuit was filed by two brothers, Ozzie and Daniel Silna, who have, for nearly three decades, cleared more money than just about any current or former NBA owners, despite not having owned a basketball team since 1976. The reason is that 26 years ago, the Silna Brothers made a deal with four ABA teams that is still paying off today, to the tune of a quarter of a billion dollars, and counting.

The Silnas owned the Spirits of St. Louis ABA team, and in 1976, they wanted to join the other ABA teams that were going to be part of the then-upcoming merger with the NBA. Four teams -- the Nets, Pacers, Spurs and Nuggets -- made the cut, but the Spirits, along some other teams -- most notably, the Kentucky Colonels, who had been one of the league's top teams -- didn't. The Colonels took a $3 million flat payment from the ABA as compensation for not being part of the merger. But the Silnas didn't.

The other four teams agreed to a deal with the brothers, who had come up with a potential solution for any of the ABA teams that were left out of the merger. The terms were these: Each of the teams that made it would give the ones who didn't one-seventh of one share of the money those teams received from the NBA's national television contract. And the deal would be in perpetuity -- legalese for "forever." The Silnas took the deal.

At the time, in 1976, the national deal the NBA had with CBS -- and there was no national cable deal, as there was next to no national cable television at the time -- was $21 million per year for the entire league. Two years later, the NBA got $74 million over four years from CBS, but the ABA teams that were coming into the league didn't get full shares of the TV money until 1980. At the beginning, the ABA teams only received $116,000 each per year, according to an article that year by the New York Times. So no one thought much of the Silnas' deal.

But times changed.

The NBA had a harmonic convergence of superstar players enter the league throughout the 1980s: Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, David Robinson. The two most important, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, came into the league in 1980, and soon built the Lakers and Celtics back into championship squads, each with a telegenic style of play that wowed both paying customers in NBA arenas and casual fans watching at home. Isiah Thomas built the Pistons into a hard-nosed contender that finally became a champion in 1989. And Michael Jordan took basketball to a level it had never reached before, making the NBA into must-see TV, and making NBA players credible pitchmen for advertisers, which only enhanced the value of the league further.

That value was reflected in the TV contracts, which grew to $88 million, then $175 million, then $600 million, then $750 million, then $1.75 billion, then $4.5 billion, and, now, $7.4 billion over eight years from ABC, ESPN and my company, TNT. And, in every year since 1980, the Silnas have gotten their 1/7th of one share of that money from the Nets, Spurs, Nuggets and Pacers.

Their up-to-date haul? Somewhere north of $250 million, with no end in sight.

And now, they want more.

The brothers in a new legal filing that was argued in a Manhattan district court Sept. 6, claim that the deal they signed almost three decades ago not only applies to the network and cable TV broadcast contracts, but should also apply to the hundreds of millions in revenue the league now gets from international broadcast television rights, the NBA's League Pass package and from the regional sports networks (RSNs) that most NBA teams own or buy time from to air their local broadcasts. The NBA, as you would imagine, disagrees.

Yes, many franchises have sold for more than that over the years. But the Silnas haven't had to pay a single coach, player, usher, secretary, PR person or janitor a dime since 1976. That $250 million is pure profit.

"Worst deal in the history of sports," lamented a team official of one of the teams Friday, "and unfair to start four teams in the hole every year ... it's an issue that no one really wants to deal with except the four teams, so it kind of keeps getting pushed to the exterior."

Pacers owner Herb Simon told Forbes Magazine last year, "something went wrong somewhere. The intent of the deal was not to have it in perpetuity. It was to compensate them for the loss of their franchise. It's just an egregious situation now."

The league's position is that the original deal never talked about local television broadcasts. And since the games on League Pass and on RSNs are satellite transmissions of local broadcasts, the NBA argues, the revenues generated by those broadcasts should not be part of the deal with the Silnas.

If the Silnas had had their way in the '70s, the source said, their franchise would have been brought into the NBA, and they most certainly would have sold the team by now -- and likely for less profit than they're clearing now. "These guys have gotten over unbelievably," the source said, "and you'd think they'd say, 'What a great deal,' and they'd leave it at that."

Over the years, the NBA has made at least three official attempts to reach a settlement with the Silnas, through increasingly creative means. But the Silnas have said no each time.

The presiding judge in the current case, Loretta A. Preska, indicated that she'd prefer the NBA work things out with the Silnas before she has to get involved. There are, as they say, no meetings currently scheduled, though potential dates are being worked on by the parties.

Either way, it's a win-win for the Silnas; they either will get more money from the league or the judge will agree with them and order the NBA to give them more money ... in perpetuity. Or, they'll be denied more money but keep the current tap flowing.

Is this a great country or what?

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

I'm much better at history. American history concentration, post Revolutionary War Era. From Jared D:

I am a fan of your column and noticed a slight mistake in your "Morning Tip" from 8-13-12. The mistake, to be honest, is not even yours but given what you wrote, I thought you might appreciate the clarification. You quoted Justin Jacobson as saying, "5) Mitch Kupchak made a deal with Dr. Faustus and traded earthly rewards for his eternal soul, and well, there is not much that can be done about that." You then thanked Mr. Jacobson for his illumination of the phrase "Faustian Bargain."

The only problem is Mr. Jacobson did not make an accurate allusion to the classic Faust tale. Faust is the tragic protagonist of a German folktale. He is a highly successful, yet dissatisfied scholar, who makes a deal with the devil exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. What happens next to Dr. Faust (or Faustus, according to later English translations) differs greatly depending on the author -- either the Dr.'s soul is dragged to hell or he is somehow given a reprieve. Generally, the earlier works see him dragged off to hell at the end as deserved payment for his bargain and daring to value "medicine" over theology.

So, I apologize for the long explanation, but I wrote all of this to say that Mr. Jacobson has it wrong. A "Faustian Bargain" does not entail making a deal with Dr. Faustus. It is the classic deal with the devil. Either way, though, the analogy isn't far off given what Mitch Kupchak was able to pull off this summer.

Can you write my book report for my "Shakespeare: It Wasn't All Fun and Games" class? And, thanks for the lesson.

With hindsight...we'd all have four eyes. Which would not be a good look for me. From Jeff Carlisle:

Hey, David. In your Top 10 offseason moves, you ranked the Lakers No. 6 prior to acquiring Dwight Howard. Where would you rank them at this point? I'd be interested in a brief synopsis of why if you don't mind.

No doubt that the Lakers would be ranked a little higher than six with this new information, Jeff -- like, No. 2, with everybody else dropping down a spot. When you get the best center in the game in the prime of his career, on top of getting a Hall of Fame point guard, you've had a great, great summer. The only reason I'd leave Miami at one is because the Heat already know how to win a championship with the team they have, and supplemented that strategy further with the additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.

Unclear on the Concept, Vol. MLVII. From John Steppling:

With respect:

The Hornets wont be top ten. Rivers is a poster boy for bust ... and AD is gonna take a year. Even without those assertions, this is a team luck to crack 20 wins.

Dallas ... Brand is DONE. Beaubois better blow up.....

How is Denver not top ten? Let's see: JaVale, Faried, Lawson, Wilson Chandler, Danilo, Mozgov and Andre Miller and improved second-year Jordan Hamilton, and ... you get the idea. This is a seriously good team.

Lakers ... old, and Mike Brown = not so great. Nash is 38 ... a defensive sieve. Why do journalists pretend he is still a star? I mean he never could play D. Kobe is a year older, same is true for Pau. Who else is there? Metta is done. Shot. So who plays defense on this team???

Clips ... well, Kardashi ... er ... Odom was lost without Kobe carrying him. I dont see him suddenly rebounding. Grant HIll is FORTY. Let me say that again, FORTY. They have a semi-gimpy CP3 and a fragile Blake. They lost the heart of their defense with Evans and KMart leaving. To be replaced with Ryan Hollins? Jamal Crawford is a lateral or down move from Nick Young. They might be a six seed.

I think actually Memphis and Utah are bigger threats.

This is a very weird list to be honest. I love your work ... but since you had Kim English going in the first round, I'm starting to wonder.

Let me try this one more time. The offseason rankings were for the offseason. Not the regular season. I don't think the Hornets are going to be one of the top 10 teams in the NBA next season. I do think they were one of the top 10 teams in the league in improving their team since the end of last season. Which was, again, the point of the rankings. Please tell me you understand the difference.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and better suggestions than this for a neck tattoo for a guy who was rightly vilified for ... beating up his girlfriend ... to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, interesting or snarky, we just might publish it!

I'm Feelin'...

1) When LeBron James fired Aaron Goodwin as his agent a few years ago and said he would hand over more of his business opportunities to a company run by his high school buddies, I smelled disaster. But other than, you know, The Decision, James' inner circle has done pretty doggone well. And it was thus not a big surprise that James announced last week he would leave the mega-agency CAA to be represented in contract deals by his close friend Rich Paul, who also left CAA to start his own agency, and will take his current clients -- the Cavaliers' Tristan Thompson and the Bobcats' rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist -- with him. The bottom line is this: James has not caused a moment's problem off the court, and neither have any of his close associates. He has empowered a group of young African-American men to represent him and protect his brand, and allowed them to develop skills they may not have otherwise had a chance to develop. That is a kind of Decision I can wholeheartedly support.

2) Two weeks until camps open!

3) Kevin Ollie was always a pro in every NBA locker room in which he played during a 12-year career, usually as a backup point guard. Can't expect he'll do anything less in his new job as the head coach at the University of Connecticut, replacing the legendary Jim Calhoun.

4) Cleveland is the place to be Dec. 21 ...if we're all still around.

5) Make love to the camera, Rondo!

6) You can reasonably assume I am pulling for a Washington-Baltimore World Series, also known as the Beltway/I-95 Classic.

Not Feelin'...

1) Can't say I'm surprised by this, as I think we all forgot that back surgery is, um, back surgery.

2) Bill Russell says his heart procedure last week was fairly routine. Hope so. Best wishes for a speedy recovery back to normal.

3) After 7-59, what did you expect him to do?

4) Still a lot of good veteran guys available out there, including Kenyon Martin, Tracy McGrady, Leandro Barbosa, Mickael Pietrus, Derek Fisher, Josh Howard and Michael Redd.

5) The NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement expired at 11:59 p.m. Saturday. The lockout began a minute later on Sunday ... oh. Wait. I don't have to do that for a long, long time. Again, sorry, hockey fans. It's going to stink for a while.

6) The officiating by the NFL's replacement refs is, in a word, horrible. Roger Goodell cannot continue to insist otherwise with a straight face.

Q and A: Deron Williams

So sometimes you have to do interviews with players when they're hawking something. It's a trade: access to a newsmaker in exchange for letting them talk a little about their new product. In this case, the Nets' Deron Williams was making the rounds last week, promoting his first-ever cover on a video game -- NBA Baller Beats for Xbox Kinect. It's a game that makes you dribble, and dribble, and dribble, to -- naturally -- help you improve your dribbling, as you try to keep up with the beat of the music playing. (Full disclosure: my TNT colleague Kenny Smith is a paid endorser for the game, too.) But Williams' first job is being the face of the Brooklyn Nets, having signed a five-year deal worth nearly $100 million to stay in New York, spurning the advances of Mark Cuban and the Mavericks. With the Nets moving into the new Barclays Center, and having committed more than $330 million in new salaries in a spending spree the likes of which has rarely been seen in one offseason -- $89 million for the rest of Joe Johnson's contract, $61 million for free agent Brook Lopez, $56 million for power forward Kris Humphries, $40 million for free agent Gerald Wallace, along with adding veterans like C.J. Watson, Josh Childress, Keith Bogans and Andray Blatche coming off the bench -- there are great expectations for the Nets this season. And no one has more pressure on him than D-Will. Whether or not he reaches "baller" status on Baller Beats.

Me: So, tell me about Baller Beats...

Deron Williams: That's it?

Me: Yeah! How'd you get involved with it?

DW: Well, my marketing agency, I think they spoke with Baller Beats and they had this idea for a new game, this new concept coming out, and told me about it. And I was kind of intrigued. I was a little skeptical at first, it didn't really make sense to me. It was like, it's like Guitar Hero, but with a basketball. So I went and saw the game in person, saw the game being played a little bit, and I was blown away. How real it is. Anybody of any skill level can pick up a basketball and play. It's a great way to develop skills for novice players, but also for skilled players like myself can even get a challenge from the game. It's just a fun way of playing basketball. Most video games, you're playing as one of us, NBA players. But in this game, you're playing as you, and try a lot of different things. It's an exciting game.

Me: So in this game, the young player, who maybe doesn't have a left hand, for example, they can develop that?

DW: You have to use your left hand. That's what the game teaches you. It's dribbling to the beat, but it's different crossover moves, I think it's 20 moves, that you have to master in order to play the game, especially on the high levels. You just work your way up from level to level.

Me: Is this an out-of-the-box way for a player like you to keep up their skill level?

DW: I think so. I think if you're home, you don't want to leave the house, you just turn on the game, pop in Baller Beats, and you're there. You put it on the highest level, and it's going to give you a challenge. I can't even do it yet. I played the game several times, and I can't do it ... the Baller [level], I can't even finish those. It's just too fast. And the color schemes, you've got to get the color schemes. Different colors mean different, you know, either behind the back, crossover, or in front of you, crossover. I still have to memorize those.

Me: How excited are you about the season?

DW: Very excited. Very excited. We had a lot of guys in today, doing a lot of testing and start working out together as a team. Most of the other guys will start funneling in by the end of the week. We're excited. We were talking about it today, how excited we are about the season. It's just a totally different team, a totally different vibe going into Brooklyn. We're really excited about the move.

Me: A building is just a building, but having the opportunity to be settled now, and there's not going to be any more moving, how important is that for the franchise?

DW: It's very important. Moving to Brooklyn has been looming over the team for the last 10 or so years. They didn't know if it was going to happen, they thought it was going to happen. Trade turmoil has been going on, even before I got there, with Carmelo [Anthony], and then it was Dwight [Howard]. And me re-signing. Now we have a team, we have a core group in place, and everybody's locked in pretty much for at least the next four years. We'll see what we can do in these next four years. It's a process. It's going to take some time. But I think we have a great nucleus and we're definitely excited about the move to Brooklyn and the new arena.

Me: What designs do you have for the Nets challenging the Knicks for supremacy in New York?

DW: We're not really worried about just the Knicks. We're worried about the whole east. Really worried about us, worried about getting better and being a playoff team. I think that's our first goal, getting to the playoffs, because anything can happen in a seven-game series. So, you know, we're not too worried about the inner-city battle, the battle across the bridges. We're just worried about us coming together, forming a great group.

Me: What do you expect the dynamic with Joe [Johnson] to be like?

DW: I was with Joe last week in the Hamptons and we talked a lot. He's excited. We're both excited, because we've never played with a player like each other. I've never played with a two guard who do the things he can do, and he hasn't played with a point guard like me since early in his career, with Steve [Nash]. So we're both excited for this opportunity. We'll take a lot of pressure off of each other. And it's not just us. We have a great group. Brook [Lopez] is a great player that people sleep on, I think, because he got hurt last year, and he's been on bad teams. And Gerald [Wallace] as well. He was an All-Star two years ago, and people forget that. I think we're ready for a fresh start. It's kind of a fresh start for all of us. I think the move to Brooklyn is a fresh start for the franchise and a fresh start for all of us as well.

Me: What kind of style do you think you'll play as a team?

DW: Only time will tell. But I think we have a great group of guys, first and foremost, and then we have a lot of veterans, we have a lot of seasoned guys. So it's really no excuses. We should be ready to go and compete in training camp. We talked about that today. Jerry Stackhouse was there, who's going to be a great locker room guy. We have no excuses. I think the biggest challenge is to see how we're going to play defense. I don't think we'll have any problems scoring the basketball. What we have to work on earliest is getting our defense where we need it to be.

Me: Can you be a shutdown defense?

DW: I think so. I think a lot of us are underrated defenders. The biggest thing is team defense. It's hard to stop players one-on-one in this league, no matter who it is, just because of the way the game's called, the way the rules are set up now. So team defense is what it's about. We have a good system, I think. Coach [Avery] Johnson is a great defensive coach. We had a great defensive system last year. We just didn't have the players to implement the system. I think things will be different this year.

Me: Who is the one guy on your team that you think people are sleeping on?

DW: I think all of us. I think top to bottom. I had a bad year last year, by my standards. People are sleeping on Joe, even though he was an All-Star last year. I think people forget how good Gerald Wallace can be, and, like I said, Brook, because he was hurt last year. I think all of us have a lot to prove, and we're excited about that.

Me: You said during the Olympic training camp that you really thought you were going to Dallas. At the end of the day, was it just the Nets getting Joe that turned the tide?

DW: No. I mean, I think that made us a lot better. It was just the way the meetings went, I had more confidence in how things were going here than I did in Dallas. I'm not going to really get into what went on in the meetings, but I just felt more comfortable in my decision to come here.

Me: How much did living in the city last year impact that decision?

DW: I think it was great. If you had asked me five years ago, I would have never lived in New York City. There was no way I would live in New York City, [that] I'd be driving to New York City and know my way around it, because it was just so foreign to me. I never thought I could live in a big city like this. But it's been great. It was a fun experience for me and for my family. We definitely enjoyed it.

Me: Did people leave you alone here?

DW: Yeah. It happens. A lot of times you get noticed as well. But it is different than being in, say, Salt Lake, the small town feelings. Just because it's so convenient. You can walk to everything, and I really like that.

Me: Miami is obviously the team to beat in the east, but how do you see the Nets stacking up against the rest of the conference?

DW: I think we have a chance to get home-court advantage. Where we fall in that, I don't know. Like I said, that depends on how we mesh, how we gel, how training camp goes, how the first month of the season goes. I don't see that really being a problem. I think where all the guys are at in their careers, we all want to win. That's the most important thing. We don't have any contract issues, where guys are playing for contracts. Hopefully we don't have any off-court distractions. We just play basketball.

Me: This will be the first time in three or four years that you personally haven't had anything hanging over you -- whether it was Carlos Boozer's free agency, your future in Utah, getting traded, your own free agency ...

DW: That's all I wanted to do, was just focus on basketball. We have veterans. We have guys that have been to the playoffs. We have guys on every level. We added a great bench. We have great guys coming off the bench as well. We're excited about getting to training camp, getting to work and getting going.

By The Numbers

$1,000 -- Opening suggested bid for Michael Jordan's expired American Express green card, which is being auctioned by an outfit called Goldin Auctions (here they are). Question: if you have a spare $1,000, why wouldn't you spend it on something you actually need?

$270 -- Reported price of the new LeBron James X shoe, leaving it slightly under the predicted $300 price. I wonder who would spend $270 for any pair of kicks, no matter how fresh. I am out of my depth here.

21 -- Position on the New York Times E-Book Best Seller Nonfiction list for Dwyane Wade's bio, "A Father First," as of next Sunday. That puts D-Wade ahead of sports books like the Joe Paterno biography (No. 33 on the list), but behind cyclist Tyler Hamilton's expose of drug use on the cycle circuit (No. 3).

Tweet of the Week

Andre 3000 is the truth! I mean RG3. #httr
-- Hornets guard Roger Mason, Jr. (@MoneyMase), Sunday, 4:19 p.m., after his Redskins ("httr" stands for "Hail to the Redskins") took an early 14-3 lead against the Rams. Alas, neither Andre nor RG3 could hold on as St. Louis rallied for a 31-28 victory over Washington. As far as their supposedly similar look, judge for yourself.

They Said It

"They look better on paper. They look really good on paper. So does a counterfeit $100 bill until you try to spend it. They have work to do."
-- Lakers Hall of Famer James Worthy, during a conference call announcing he will be part of the team's television broadcast team next season, on the new-look Lakers of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.

"I have this theory that it's impossible to play against ghosts -- past, present or future. That kind of discussion in that guy. I always thought that it was like playing against ghosts. Past, present and future and I never get into that discussion. You can only play against your contemporaries."
-- Bill Russell, making way too much sense in an interview with NBA Entertainment, on why it's impossible to judge whether the 2012 Olympic team would have beaten the 1992 Dream Team.

"I'm a competitive person, and I like to compete. This makes you feel like you're competing for something, very, very important. I want to win this thing, and it's not for me. This is vital for our community. I'm not saying I wouldn't like to still be coaching, but there's no question this is more important."
-- Fomer Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy, in an Orlando Sentinel story detailing his involvement with a community organization seeking an increase in local property taxes in the November elections to restore public school education funds that have been cut in recent years.

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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