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Hopes for smooth road to future labor peace looks bleak

Salary cap's growth has NBPA, team owners bracing for impasse.

POSTED: Mar 16, 2015 10:17 AM ET
UPDATED: Mar 16, 2015 1:34 PM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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Commissioner Adam Silver, team owners and the NBPA have a myriad of issues to resolve to prevent a lockout.

In This Week's Morning Tip

  • Is a 2017 work stoppage inevitable?
  • Grizzlies trying to recover their first-half mojo
  • Blazers, Thunder on rise in DA's latest Power Rankings

Don't want to bring you down from your Kyrie High, but there's traffic up the road.

Last week's official decision by the National Basketball Players Association to reject the "smoothing" concept suggested by the NBA -- the union had already made it clear during All-Star weekend it had no idea of accepting the proposal -- continues the game down the path toward a 2017 work stoppage.

It doesn't have to end that way, of course. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement that came out of the 2011 lockout was a huge win for the owners, most of whom are now making money, propped up by the three-legged financial triad of enhanced revenue sharing amongst themselves, substantial salary savings from the players and the massive injection of $24 billion into their bloodstreams by ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports (which runs NBA.com) over the next nine years.

But that very largesse is part of the problem.

HangTime Podcast: Commissioner Silver

The HangTime crew sits down with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to discuss the upcoming weekend and the state of the NBA.

Both the NBPA and the league have incentive to opt out of the current CBA (which runs through the 2020-21 season), as each can do by Dec. 15, 2016. That means owners could impose a lockout as early as July 1, 2017.

Gulp.

Both sides need to tread lightly going forward. There are a lot of moving parts that will come with the new TV deal, and there aren't many easy answers. Both Michele Roberts, the Executive Director of the NBPA, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver have some tough choices ahead.

Without smoothing, the cap will spike in 2016 -- from its current $63 million to an estimated $90 million for the 2016-17 season. And the floor -- the minimum amount that every team must spend on salaries -- would increase from the current $56.579 million (90 percent of the total cap) to around $81 million per team in '16-'17. A year from now, just about every team in the league will have significant cap room to spend on free agents.

But.

Silver on Scheduling

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver addresses the media about the issues surrounding scheduling and its effect on players safety.

Players now receive up to 51 percent of Basketball Related Income -- a lower chunk than the 57 percent they received under the old deal. With almost all of the game's financial metrics going north, the union surely is feeling the heat from its members to do something to recoup at least some of the estimated $3 billion in future salaries it surrendered to owners in '11.

But owners also have their spatulas out for a bigger slice of that money pie. Getting the players to give so much the last time may embolden some of the league's hard-line owners rather than placate them. The game is going great, they may well argue, so why not be even more aggressive this time around in getting a bigger share of BRI?

Remember, the league's initial proposals to the NBPA before the '11 lockout began called for a hard cap, salary rollbacks by players and giving players just 41 percent of BRI. The players didn't seriously consider any of those proposals. Later, in November of that year, former Commissioner David Stern said if the players didn't accept the proposed "band" of 49 to 51 percent of BRI from owners, the league would reduce its offer to 47 percent. (Just typing "BRI" again gives me a headache behind my left eye.)

Silver on Preseason Change

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver addresses the media on change to current preseason format.

There are still some hard-liners out there. The question is whether they're running things.

In 1998, owners said they had to stop contracts like Kevin Garnett's $126 million deal with Minnesota from becoming commonplace. In 2011, owners said the current financial model was unsustainable, and the league decried the lack of competitive balance (though some of us have repeatedly written and said that the NBA has never had competitive balance).

But today, teams like the Milwaukee Bucks are now making money because of revenue sharing. The Los Angeles Clippers' $2 billion sale may have been an outlier, but franchise values have never been higher, and show no signs of dropping. And the huge repeater tax on teams that have paid luxury tax the last three seasons (next year, it will be three out of the last four seasons) has chilled salaries at the top end. By all available metrics, this system is working.

So wouldn't it make sense to let things continue as they are?

Have you ever met a rich guy who said 'you know, I've made enough money. I'm good'?

Silver on Playoff Format Change

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver addresses the media on change to current playoff format.

That's a separate issue, though, from the smoothing proposal.

The NBA proposed a deal that would gradually work in the new TV money over a three-year period, while not reducing the overall payout to the players. The idea (at least, how the NBA spun it) was that the smaller increases would give more players an opportunity to get good deals.

The NBPA didn't buy that version, saying it would not sign off on any deal that artificially lowers player salaries for any reason. Players that were under contract in 2016 wouldn't see any of that new money, the NBPA argues, and those who became free agents in '16 would have less money available to them if the cap increase was smoothed.

But the NBPA's rejection of the plan wasn't a shock to the league; the NBA has told teams all along to prepare flexibly for 2016, and have plans for both smoothed and unsmoothed salary caps at the ready.

Going forward, each side has to address issues that should give it pause.

Michele Roberts Interview

The new NBPA Executive Director, Michele Roberts, joins GameTime to talk about her new role.

There is the obvious issue of players who won't be free agents in 2016 sitting on the sidelines while those fortunate enough to be free that summer line their pockets. And there are already murmurs of discontent that the jump in the cap will be primarily enjoyed by the game's superstars, who'll all get maximum slices of the pie if they are 2016 free agents -- like LeBron James, the NBPA's newly elected first vice president, who has made it clear he'll sign a one-year deal with Cleveland this summer in order to be free again in '16 -- at the expense of the rank and file.

"Either way, they were getting the short end of the stick," texted one player, a prominent member of the NBPA, on Sunday. "I mean, you could say the same for 'Melo (Carmelo Anthony, who signed a five-year deal to remain with the Knicks last summer)."

True. But Anthony also makes millions off the court every year in annual endorsements -- a perk to which most other players don't have access.

And if the NBPA opts out of the deal, it will not only be giving up a guaranteed slice of a growing pie, but will be walking away from taking a likely second big bite of the pie in the summer of the summer of 2017 -- when Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Jeff Teague, Jrue Holiday and Tiago Splitter all become unrestricted free agents. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward and Kyle Lowry could also become free agents that summer if they opt out of the final year of their respective deals, as could Dwight Howard if he opts in for the final year of his current deal in 2016-17.

GameTime: Silver's Response To Roberts

Jared Greenberg reports on Adam Silver's response to the NBA Players' Union Executive Director, Michele Roberts' comments on the Association.

(The Summer of '17 would also be the summer in which Anthony Davis finally becomes unrestricted, if he and the Pelicans didn't work out a new contract before then.)

This second expected huge spike in the cap in 2017 has not been reported or discussed much. But both the NBPA and the league anticipate it happening -- which would likely drive the cap past the $100 million mark that summer.

If the current formula works out the way it is now, there would be another big jump in the 2017-18 season, because even though the salary cap is based on revenues, it is also adjusted from year to year. And the huge guaranteed money that would go into the system in 2016 because of the new TV deals would artificially inflate the cap the following season, creating another spike. It will be a tough sell to the '17 free agents to walk away from the same tidy payday their brethren received a year earlier by opting out of the CBA.

However, that cuts both ways.

If teams use all the available cap room they're expected to have in 2017, there is a chance the cap would then decrease for the 2018-19 season. (Remember, the '17 spike would be based on an artificial inflation of the '16 cap. Once the artificial inflation of the cap goes away, the cap goes down.)

That could be a recipe for disaster for both players and owners -- for players who become free agents in '18, and for teams that try to lock up players in '16 and '17 because their deals would be relative bargains going forward, only to have less room than expected in '18.

Owners also have to juggle a lot of conflicting ideas when deciding what to do.

If Silver said it once during the last lockout, he said it a hundred times -- fixing the economic system was a necessity to increase the competitive balance of the league. If the high-revenue teams weren't coerced, strongly, to not spend going forward, the player givebacks would be meaningless. Thus, Silver and Stern wrestled the high-revenue teams to the ground and got them to accept greater revenue sharing, while also imposing the dreaded repeater taxes.

Teams will be more motivated to get quality players under contract as their salary on a percentage basis will decrease significantly in '16.

– Anonymous NBA team executive

The strategies have worked. Only the Brooklyn Nets spent like crazy the last couple of years, and they have since put the brakes on future spending and taxes while owner Mikhail Prokhorov looks to sell at least part of the team. The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have kept their powder dry, looking to rebuild through free agency in '15 and '16.

But the new TV money will be very tempting for the previously high-spending teams to tap into.

They won't be able to sign three max players in the summer of '16, even if they conceivably had the full $90 million in cap room available. Max contract amounts for the LeBrons and Kevin Durants of the world (players with 10 or more years of service can get up to 35 percent of a team's cap, though they don't get exactly 35 percent for reasons I leave to the estate of Albert Einstein) will also increase, well north of $25 million per year. While it is technically conceivable to sign three such players with a $90 million cap, it's practically impossible, leaving less than $15 million to sign the other 9-12 players while three max players take up 90 percent of the cap.

But a Miami Scenario -- in which three stars take slightly less than the max to come together, as James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did in 2010 -- is certainly possible. And given that the max salaries will be stratospheric in '16, asking three stars to live on, say, $20 million a year to allow a team to build around them, isn't farfetched. (Although, with so many teams having major cap room in '16, veterans will also have more options. And, it could make it easier for teams like New Orleans to put players around Davis and keep him from considering other, greener, pastures.)

And that cuts to the very heart of competitive balance.

The system isn't supposed to allow high-revenue teams that can live off of their local TV deals and/or gate to pay their superstars. Talent is supposed to flow through all 30 teams, with the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunders of the world to be able to remain competitive with New York, L.A. and Chicago.

In the interim, though, teams at least now have firm estimates for 2016 that they can use to decide how to attack free agency that year.

"Teams will be more motivated to get quality players under contract as their salary on a percentage basis will decrease significantly in '16," one team executive said Friday.

There are a few teams and players that will be interesting to follow as 2016 approaches:

The Hawks: Atlanta has had a dream season so far and has understandably high hopes for a long playoff run. But Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll are free agents this summer. GM Danny Ferry, still on leave for his Luol Deng comments, positioned the Hawks to have a shot at major free agents this summer (can you imagine, say, Marc Gasol as the spoke of Atlanta's attack?). Given the Hawks' run so far this season, though, they may not want to do anything but retain the players they already have. But what incentive would, an All-Star like Millsap, who is finishing a two-year, $19 million contract, have in signing a long-term deal when he can sign a shorter one and cash in a year later?

2012 Draft superstars: Davis and the Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard, both All-Stars, are the top candidates for maximum contract extensions next fall as allowed under cap rules. Bradley Beal, Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jared Sullinger are also along the spectrum of '12 players who could get big offers.

Inside Stuff: Damian Lillard

Inside Stuff spends time with Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard in the latest "Quick Take".

New Orleans and Portland can each give Davis and Lillard the five-year "designated player" extension each team has at its disposal to use once during the life of the current CBA. If signed this offseason, Davis and Lillard would basically be getting new, six-year max deals -- with the big extension numbers starting in 2016.

Davis and Lillard are also both eligible for the "fifth year 30 percent max criteria," which allows eligible players on rookie deals to get a four-year extension and make up to 30 percent of their team's cap if they reach certain criteria. In Davis' case, he could reach the criteria if he is voted in as an All-Star starter for a second time in 2015; for Lillard, it would be again being named third-team all-NBA or better (he was third team last season). Davis was voted in as an All-Star starter this year, though he was injured and could not play in the game.

Davis' representatives have not yet decided how to proceed with the Pelicans, two sources said over the weekend.

Draymond Green: The third-year forward has been an indispensable part of Golden State's rise to the top of the Western Conference. Starting every game at power forward for the Warriors, he's averaging 11.6 ppg and 8.2 rpg despite giving up several inches and pounds just about every night.

He's shooting 34 percent on 3-pointers. He leads the league in Defensive Win Shares (4.4), per basketball-reference.com, and is 19th overall in Total Win Shares (7.2). With Green, the Warriors have simply been a dominant team.

Draymond Green-Dahntay Jones Beef

What was The Starters' reaction to Jones bumping Green during his postgame interview?

But Green will be a restricted free agent this summer. The Warriors can match any offer he receives from another team, but Golden State already has more than $78 million committed for salaries next season -- including Klay Thompson ($15.5 million), David Lee ($15.4 million), Andrew Bogut ($12 million), Andre Iguodala ($11.7 million) and Stephen Curry ($11.3 million). The Warriors will have to ultimately pay Barnes, too, as mentioned above.

Warriors owner Joe Lacob told Bay Area columnist Tim Kawakami last month that the team was prepared to be "very likely very substantially" in the luxury tax next season, which would seem to indicate Golden State's willingness to match any offer for Green. The Warriors have long been rumored to be willing to deal Lee, who'll be entering the last year of his deal next season and would be a valuable trade chip.

Green, though, has hired high-powered agent B.J. Armstrong from the Wasserman Group in preparation for next summer's negotiations. The blogosphere has speculated all year that Green, a Michigan native, has designs on returning home to play for the Detroit Pistons next season. Green is a very good player, but not a superstar. Can he afford to turn down a big offer this summer, even if there may be more teams with more cap room in '16?

So many decisions, for everyone. The NBPA's decision last week makes it a certainty -- unless there's a change of heart (maybe in exchange for other things that are important to the NBPA, such as keeping the age limit for entering the Draft at 19?) -- that the Summer of 2016 will be the most insane free agency summer yet. It will surely be the calm before an increasingly likely storm.

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(Last week's record in parentheses; last week's ranking in brackets)

1) Golden State (3-1) [1]: Warriors are 34-0 this season when holding opponents to fewer than 100 points.

Knicks vs. Warriors

Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry combine for 52 points as the Warriors defeat the Knicks 125-94.

2) Atlanta (3-1) [2]: Eighth consecutive playoff spot for the Hawks, the longest streak in the Eastern Conference and in franchise history. Atlanta's magic number to clinch the Southeast Division is five following Sunday's win over the Lakers.

3) Cleveland (3-0) [4]: The Force is strong in Young Kyrie Irving.

4) Houston (1-2) [3]: If Sunday's scrap with the Clippers is any indication of what a potential first-round series would bring, let's make that happen.

Rockets vs. Clippers

James Harden (34 points, seven rebounds and seven assists) helps lift the Rockets over the Clippers 100-98.

5) Portland (3-0) [6]: Six of next seven on the road after starting five-game trip with a win at stumbling Toronto Sunday.

6) Memphis (2-2) [5]: Mike Conley can't get right.

7) L.A. Clippers (2-2) [7]: Blake Griffin back after missing 15 games with elbow injury.

8) Dallas (1-1) [8]: Team Incoherent continues up and down roll: blown out at home against Cavaliers last Tuesday, blows out Clippers at home last Friday.

9) San Antonio (2-1) [9]: Manu Ginobili out a week, per Gregg Popovich, after spraining an ankle Sunday against Minnesota.

10) Oklahoma City (2-1) [11]: Scott Brooks said late last week that Kevin Durant was one to two weeks away from returning. OKC's schedule the next two weeks: at Dallas, Boston, Atlanta, Miami, L.A. Lakers, at San Antonio, at Utah, at Phoenix.

Bulls vs. Thunder

Russell Westbrook has 36 points and 11 rebounds and the Thunder hold off the Bulls 109-100 on Sunday afternoon.

11) Toronto (1-2) [12]: Haven't beaten a team with a winning record since routing the Hawks in their first game after the All-Star break.

12) Chicago (1-3) [10]: Bulls allowing Washington to get back in the hunt for fourth in the East and home-court advantage in a potential first-round matchup.

13) Washington (3-0) [13]: Maybe it's not all Wittman: in the Wizards' first 33 games, Rasual Butler shot 49 percent (51-104) on 3-pointers. In the Wizards' last 33 games, Butler has shot 28 percent (28-100) from deep.

14) Milwaukee (1-3) [14]: Injuries doing a number on Bucks, with Jared Dudley (back) the latest, after Milwaukee played without Jerryd Bayless (ankle) the last three games.

Bucks vs. Grizzlies

All five Memphis starters score in double figures as the Grizzlies defeat the Bucks 96-83.

15) New Orleans (2-1) [15]: A court-ordered evaluation to determine the mental health of Pelicans owner Tom Benson was reportedly completed last Friday. Three physicians are charged with deciding whether the 87-year-old Benson is mentally capable of running the day-to-day affairs of his two pro teams, the NBA's Pelicans and the NFL's New Orleans Saints. Benson's daughter and grandchildren filed suit against him in January after he announced he'd amended his will to leave the Pelicans and Saints to his third wife, Gayle, after his death.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Utah (3-0): Okay, four of the five teams the Jazz has beaten during its five-game win streak are dreadful at present: the Philadelphia 76ers, the New York Knicks, the Brooklyn Nets and the Detroit Pistons. But Houston is not dreadful, and the Jazz smoked the Rockets by 18 on Thursday, with Rudy Gobert continuing his below-the-radar great season with 19 points, 22 rebounds and four blocks. Utah's got some real pieces.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Minnesota (0-4): Closing in on the Knicks for top pick in the Draft, which I'm sure delights 38-year-old Kevin Garnett.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

Is this a thing with the Memphis Grizzlies, or no big deal?

The Association: Marc Gasol

In this episode of "The Association" the focus is on Marc Gasol and his steady rise to become a NBA all-star and his quest to win a NBA championship.

Going into the All-Star break, Memphis looked as formidable as any team in the league, and a true threat to come out of the West. Marc Gasol was voted an All-Star starter at center, Zach Randolph was beating people up per usual in the paint, Courtney Lee was knocking down 3-pointers, Mike Conley was orchestrating the team's enhanced halfcourt attack and Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen were doing what they do at the defensive end. Memphis won 14 of its last 17 before the break, and was 39-14, in striking distance of first-place Golden State in the West.

But since the break, the Grizzlies are just 7-6. Some of the losses were explainable -- no shame losing to the Clippers or Pelicans -- and some (Sacramento, Utah, Boston) less so. Over the last month, Memphis is just 26th in the league in offensive rating (97.7 points per 100 possessions). Gasol, an MVP candidate most of the season, is down two points per game since the break; Randolph is down 2.3 points per game.

The Grizzlies insist that they're only the victim of a bad patch of the schedule -- they'd played 13 games in 21 days through Saturday's win over the Bucks -- bad weather and the usual orneriness that comes with a long season. Everybody's been a little grumpy lately, including the coaches.

Which may explain, at least in part, why coach Dave Joerger decided to rest Gasol, Randolph and Allen last Thursday in Washington, along with Conley -- who was legitimately laid up, in a walking boot after aggravating his sprained ankle Wednesday in Boston after stepping on Avery Bradley's foot.

Joerger said he was sending no messages, just giving his tired starters a night off. Lee and Jeff Green were the only starters on the floor as Memphis played JaMychal Green and Nick Calathes and Beno Udrih extended minutes.

The Association: David Joerger

Grizzlies coach David Joerger reflects on the grit and grind it took to make it as a head coach in the NBA.

'We've got some complacency going on," Joerger said after losing to the Wizards. "Hopefully we have addressed that. We've been talking about it for two weeks, trying to even out our performance night in and night out. But we had 11 days between games at the All-Star break. I mean, that's like -- what would that be like in the NFL, having three bye weeks consecutively? So now you're going to play a Monday night football game, a Thursday night game and a Sunday game. We had 20 of our 29 games post All-Star break back-to-back. That's 10 back-to-backs."

Every team has stumbles during the season. The goal is to make them last as short as possible. The Grizzlies, who play eight of their next 12 games at FedEx Forum, hope they're finished with theirs.

"You can feel when the 82 games you play is taking a toll," Lee said. "Being in the position where we're at, and how we started, when you come back from the All-Star break it's like, 'hurry up, playoffs.' You want to get to that. But through all that, you still have to handle your business and perform and win the games you're supposed to win."

The offensive woes can be linked rather conclusively to an outbreak of turnovers and a significant dropoff in the team's shooting.

Memphis has shot just 30.7 percent behind the arc since the break, after shooting 34 percent on 3-pointers before the break. Lee was just 13 of 61 from the floor (21.3 percent) overall over a six-game stretch before making 6 of 10 Saturday against Milwaukee.

And the Grizzlies need a healthy Conley. He played at an All-Star level the first half of the season, and has been but has been battling two sprained ankles for weeks. "Mike's really banged up," a member of the organization said.

Randolph was unstoppable for long stretches in December and January, but he's also shooting a lower percentage since the break (49.2 before; 47.8 percent afterward).

Being in the position where we're at, and how we started, when you come back from the All-Star break it's like, 'hurry up, playoffs.' You want to get to that. But through all that, you still have to handle your business and perform and win the games you're supposed to win."

– Memphis Grizzlies shooting guard Courtney Lee

"It's little details. It's little things, and doing them consistently," Gasol said. "Everybody's got to do their jobs -- that's a lot easier said than done -- and just keep doing it consistently. Of course, the shooting's going to go up and down, because that's the way life is. But the little things, you've got to do them anyway. To me, that's the key. Hopefully we will be better and we'll do them, and we can come back from this rest night a lot stronger and with a fresher mind."

And the Grizzlies have had three games with 20 or more turnovers since the break, which doesn't allow them to set up their still-formidable defense nearly as often.

"It's not only the defensive end, but the way our team's built, we start at the defensive end," Gasol said. "We feed off of that energy. Because defense creates so much trust. And when we give an easy bucket in the paint, and everybody's just looking around, it slows it down. Because then we don't get to the offense quick enough, and we're already playing in a deficit in the shot clock."

The Grizzlies gambled with their chemistry when they traded Prince to Boston in February for Jeff Green. The idea was to get a better shooter at small forward than Allen, who volunteered to go to the bench in favor of Green after the deal was made.

The Association: New Additions

In this episode of "The Association" the focus is on the new players the Grizzlies have added and how they have bettered the team.

Memphis hasn't dropped off defensively since Green has started -- the Grizzlies have allowed fewer points per game since the break than before, and actually have a better defensive rating with Green starting than with Allen.

But the offense has dropped noticeably. The Grizzlies' offensive rating has fallen from 105.2 the first 41 games of the season, when Allen started, to 100 the last 25 games. And their scoring has fallen from 101.8 per game during the former stretch to 94.5 per game in the latter.

Joerger said, cryptically, on Thursday: "Jeff Green is the least of our problems. Most people on the inside know what it is. And it's not Jeff Green."

Independently, Gasol concurred. In fact, he put the blame on himself.

"Everybody goes through rough patches," Gasol said. "It's just a matter of making it short. This one has gone longer than we wanted it to, and I'm not going to make any excuses. It starts with me offensively. I've got to impose my will a lot more. If I've got to break off plays for me to get the ball down there, then that's what I'm going to do. Trust me, that's not how I think it will go. But if the team thinks that's the best thing for me to do, I'll do it. It's not the way to do it. But if we have to break plays, I'll break plays, understanding what we get out of this."

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU EITHER

I'm pretty tired. I think I'll go home now. From Karen Perrone:

I would seriously like to know why the NBA coaches today feel men in their 20s who are not injured need rest? When I see these players resting and look out my window at my 65-year-old neighbor getting home at 7 p.m. after working 12 hours six days a week and I shake my head. It's appalling and truly a shame. I guess jockeys truly are the fittest athletes on the planet. They fall off a horse going 40 mph and get back up to ride eight more races, and then do it all over again. A league where one of the greatest coaches, Tom Thibodeau, is being destroyed by the media because he plays his players. I say Thibs is the only coach in the league who still has a set ...

I'm truly sympathetic to fans who come out of pocket to pay for tickets -- maybe just once a year -- and expect to see the game's stars play. It was such a downer last Thursday to be in D.C. for the Grizzlies' lone appearance in Washington this season, and see Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen on the bench for non-injury, rest reasons. Yet I'm not sure how you can make a coach play people that he feels are worn down -- and more susceptible to injury -- or need a night off to be ready for the playoffs. Teams aren't guessing about this now, with technology able to show when a guy is slowing down. If San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich plays Tony Parker night after night down the stretch of the regular season, and Parker aggravates his hamstring a week before the playoffs, is that fair to the Spurs or their fans? There isn't an easy answer here.

I wish they all could be California Guys. From Jay Flores:

Do you think there's potentially gonna be a trade with Kevin Love heading to the Los Angeles Lakers? Coach Blatt seems to be out of place in not knowing how to use Kevin Love...

GameTime: Kevin Love Struggles

The Game Time crew break down Kevin Love's struggles adjusting to the Cavaliers.

It's impossible not to notice Love is not playing down the stretch for the Cavs. And it's not that Cleveland's trade for him has been a disaster or anything. But if he isn't on the floor at Winning Time, how can you project him getting a max deal when he becomes a free agent? I'm not blaming David Blatt here; it's not like Love has been awful this season. He could well find his equilibrium. And, of course, nobody asked me (again). But I think it would make sense, this summer, for Love to opt in for the 2015-16 season, and then give his approval for a trade -- not to the Lakers, but to the Suns for the Morris Twins. It's a deal that would truly help both teams. Markieff Morris, enjoying a great season in Phoenix, would be a much better complimentary player to LeBron and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, and he and brother Marcus would give the Cavaliers quality frontcourt depth. Love would be an upgrade at power forward for the Suns as well as a boon for young center Alex Len, who would see single coverage in the paint most every night with Love on the floor. Love, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight would provide a pretty strong one-two-three scoring punch for the Suns, and allow them to continue to play fast. And, Phoenix would be set up better to give Love a max deal in 2016 than Cleveland would.

Stay put, Bumper; you're gonna sit this one out. From David Gross:

Is there a team in the East that would be better off in the long run if they missed the playoffs?

Celtics vs. Pacers

Tyler Zeller leads with 18 points, Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass add 16 points a piece as the Celtics top the Pacers 93-89.

While I'd give my left arm to see Miami Heat president Pat Riley squirm his way through being on the stage for the Lottery drawing, I think the one team in the East that could stand falling short in the playoff chase is Indiana. Even if Paul George returns this season, it's going to take most of next season to see if he's truly back to All-Star form. Roy Hibbert and David West both can become free agents this summer. Rodney Stuckey, who's had a great season in Indy, will be unrestricted (but he wants to stay put). Indy could stand to add some young talent in the Draft.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and ... Holy God, what is that on the 16th green? to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(last week's averages in parentheses)

1) James Harden (22.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 6.7 apg, .354 FG, .833 FT): Sunday marked the 30th game this season in which Harden attempted 10 or more free throws (he finished 17 of 18 from the line in Houston's win over the Clippers).

2) Stephen Curry (23.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 9 apg, .481 FG, .800 FT): Turned 27 Saturday. We only will get another decade or so of this. Enjoy while you can.

3) LeBron James (26.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 9.3 apg, .604 FG, .737 FT): LeBron Returns II at South Beach Monday night -- if he can go.

4) Russell Westbrook (29.7 ppg, 10 rpg, 11.7 apg, .451 FG, .833 FT): So dominant lately that "only" 36/11/6 with the game-clinching steal seems like a meh kind of afternoon.

5) Anthony Davis (31.3 ppg, 10 rpg, 4.7 bpg, .567 FG, .783 FT): Monster numbers (30.8 points, 11.2 rebounds) in his six games since returning from a shoulder injury.

Nightly Notable - Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis goes off for 36 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and nine blocks in the double-overtime loss to the Nuggets.

Dropped out: Marc Gasol.

BY THE NUMBERS

26 -- Years since an NBA player had 10 rebounds and four steals in four straight games, a feat achieved by the 76ers' Nerlens Noel. The last player to do it was Hakeem Olajuwon, in 1988. Noel is also currently sixth in the league in blocked shots.

10 -- Consecutive victories by the Cavaliers over the Magic, after Cleveland defeated Orlando on the road Sunday night with Kevin Love resting.

Cavaliers vs. Magic

LeBron James scores 21 points and dishes out 13 assists as the Cavaliers beat the Magic at the Amway Center.

9 -- Points scored by the Hornets in the fourth quarter of their 95-69 loss to the Wizards last Monday. It was the fewest points Washington gave up in a game since 2004.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Still groggy this morning because I had to stay up into the wee hours Friday morning to watch Kyrie Irving's performance against the Spurs. Well worth the bags under the eyes.

Kyrie Irving's Incredible 57-Point Performance

Re-live Kyrie Irving's amazing career-high 57-point performance against the San Antonio Spurs with some of the best angles and calls of the night.

2) Of course, Irving's theatrics overshadowed the fact that the Spurs look like they've gotten their act together at the right time. If Kawhi Leonard makes one of two free throws Thursday, San Antonio would be riding an eight-game win streak.

3) Many wondered if coach Brad Stevens could make the jump from Butler to the NBA when Danny Ainge gave him that six-year deal in 2012. Question answered. The Cs are a half-game out of the final playoff spot in the east, and they're just starting their talent rebuild. His guys are playing for him, and that's the sign of a good coach.

4) My beloved American University Eagles women's team won its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid Saturday by beating Lehigh in the Patriot League finals! Congrats!

5) Not going to pretend I'm a fan of everything Howard Stern does. But he conducted a revealing, fascinating 90-minute interview of Madonna on Wednesday on his Sirius XM Radio show. The format allowed for the kind of verbal honesty that satellite radio can create, but Stern also got a lot out of the pop icon through good questions that came from good pre-interview research. Quality work.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) So, last week was the flip side of the Hassan Whiteside Winter Wonderland. And it put in stark relief the stakes for the Heat if they want to put big money into Whiteside in 2016.

2) That whole "getting rid of Josh Smith turned the Pistons' season around; he's the worst ever" meme isn't getting as much traction these days. (Of course, the memers will say that Brandon Jennings's injury wrecked Detroit's season, in which case Brandon Jennings should get some MVP consideration.)

3) Been feeling a little uneasy about Paul George's rapid return to the Pacers' lineup before the end of the regular season. While you hope there have been no setbacks in his recovery, it might not be the worst thing for everyone -- starting with PG -- to slow their roll and take a breath. Indy's playoff push shouldn't in any way dictate when, or if, George should play this season.

The Starters: Are The Pacers Contenders?

Are the Indiana Pacers a legitimate playoff contender when and if Paul George comes back?

4) Bulls apparently serious about enforcing that 32-minute limit on Joakim Noah. Thibs apparently serious about not being happy about it.

5) Anybody seen Vlad Putin? Asking for a country.

Q & A: GEORGE KARL

He is a man who's moved into a house that will be extensively renovated. How much emotional capital do you put into that area rug you know you're tossing in three weeks? So George Karl is an observer as much as the new coach of the Sacramento Kings, trying to put in a new, faster system without the point guard he expected to have (the injured Darren Collison), but with the Ancient Mariner, Andre Miller, now at his side.

Karl took over Feb. 11 for a Kings team looking to stabilize itself after a year of turmoil, centered on the sudden firing of Mike Malone in December.

GameTime: George Karl

George Karl joins the Game Time crew in-studio to discuss the current state of the Sacramento Kings.

Karl -- currently sixth all-time in coaching victories (1135, just 20 behind Phil Jackson) -- is in this for an extended run, and he's ready to win again, as he has everywhere he's been. He hasn't had a losing season as an NBA coach since 1987-88, his last with the Warriors. Since then, in 21 seasons, he's had one .500 season and 20 winning campaigns. He's healthy, having twice beaten cancer, and he's happy, with son, Cody, soon back from his season playing in Europe.

And, he's intrigued by the potential of DeMarcus Cousins, whom he believes can play up-tempo as well as halfcourt. Cousins reportedly had questions about the Karl hire, but so far, he's said all the right things about the 62-year-old Karl, who'd spent the last year-plus in ESPN's studio as an analyst after his own controversial firing in Denver following the 2012-13 season.

That year, the Nuggets won a franchise record 57 games in the regular season, and Karl was named Coach of the Year. But Denver's management did not like the Nuggets' first-round loss to the Warriors, and they didn't feel comfortable giving Karl an extension with a year remaining on his contract.

But Karl is now back on the sidelines, respectful of his players' jagged feelings about the season while trying to get them to get through a brutal schedule and finish the last month of the season with focus as he determines both who is worth building around going forward on the roster and who'll be on his staff next season.

"They're the ones that lived it," Karl said Saturday. "And I've got to respect that it might be harder than what I'm asking."

Me: Was there anything that you took from your time in television that was at all helpful when you returned to coaching?

George Karl: Two things that come to mind. I didn't hate the referees as much as I do now. So observing the referees from a distance, you really do realize that they're the best in the world. But when you are on one side of that fight ... I think what the NBA is trying to do with the referees is pretty cool. They are trying to figure it out. They are trying to make it great. It never will be for a coach, but from the outside, it's pretty impressive.

The second thing is just understanding the pace of the game. For years, everybody said you can't win playing fast. I think that's going to be broken here very soon, with Golden State, Atlanta. At Denver, we felt you had to be balanced. I think most championship mentalities in the last 25 to 30 years has been tilted toward being defense first. I think now it's tilted now toward maybe it's balanced, and offense could be first. You could win ... I think the superstar syndrome, I think it's important. I mean, you want the best players. But I don't think the best players necessarily means you're going to win. I think San Antonio showed us a team, magnified and multiplied the idea of a good team. It's probably the way a coach should play when he's not in a big market, or doesn't have the superstar. I think more coaches, more organizations are figuring that out.

Me: Did you have an epiphany when it comes to pace?

GameTime: Karl to Kings

Dennis Scott talks about the challenges that await new Kings coach George Karl in Sacramento after Karl's day with the media.

GK: It may have been my second or third year in Denver. 'Melo was still on the team. And we went to Durango, which is where our training camp was ... I met with Vance (Walberg, now back with Karl in Sacramento as an assistant coach) through the summer. I just thought the NBA ran the same plays. Everybody had the same stuff. I just wanted to try something different. And a couple of members of my staff, I remember them saying, 'Coach, we're in the top five in offense. Why are you worried about your offense?' I just said, I don't like the way we play. Isolation, low possession, wrestling match. And my thoughts have always gone back to how much fun I had playing at North Carolina. And the one thing I felt Carolina did when I went there was, they taught me the game. And I think you can teach the game better playing fast than slow. Slow is controlled direction. Fast is innovative versatility.

Me: Fast is trusting the players to make the right decisions on the floor.

You really do realize that they're the best in the world. But when you are on one side of that fight ... I think what the NBA is trying to do with the referees is pretty cool. They are trying to figure it out.

– Sacramento Kings coach George Karl on referees

GK: It's harder to play fast than it is to play slow. You don't have as much control. I was at a stage in my career where that started. With 'Melo, you always had to cater to him a little bit, so you couldn't do it all out. And I think at that stage, we still were a top five scoring team in the league, but Phoenix probably scored more points than we did. They were doing more no middle, open middle. But with 'Melo, he was good enough to cater to. So we did. But the first year, it might have been 25 percent more open and creative. And I've always wanted to run. Maybe back in Cleveland, I thought about slowing it down some nights.

Me: You ran in Seattle off your defense.

GK: Yeah. So running has always been, I've always said, coach from wild and crazy down rather than trying to kick them to play wild. I want them to be aggressive. I want to be the team that creates the action more than be the reactor. And they evolved after that year to where we did it a little bit more. The next year was when I got sick. Maybe the next year we got Chauncey (Billups). So the progression was go into kind of trying to figure out balance. And then we got Chauncey, who was a great quarterback. He was more of a possession guy, but he liked some of this stuff. So maybe we got it to 50 percent. And the second unit, we got Ty (Lawson). And it was all of a sudden, here's the guy that makes this stuff really work. So you had Ty and Chauncey. And then we made the 'Melo trade. And so it's just progressed from 25 percent to 50 percent, and then after the 'Melo trade, it became the dominant personality for us. We were a good team. Everybody thought we were going to be a horse (bleep) team when we traded 'Melo, and we were pretty good.

The year we won 57, we put no plays in for the first three weeks. It was, play basketball. And this is the spacing. And we talked about spacing, we talked about pace. I like the words, 'space, pace and pass.' Now, everybody says, 'DeMarcus doesn't fit.' I said, I think DeMarcus fits? Why? Because his shots are going to be easier. I don't want the wrestling match.

I know the cloud of him wanting to be on a winner is important to him. And I want him to know that I haven't had a losing season in 20-some years. I know it's going to change, or I'm not going to be real happy. And just get enthused about that.

– Sacramento Kings coach George Karl, on DeMarcus Cousins

I don't want the old school, mud and push. Sometimes, you're going to have to go there. But I saw San Antonio win the championship. And I saw (Tim) Duncan, in the last two games of the series, I think he caught the ball in the paint 10 times. Duncan's still one of the best guys in the game on the low block. But when the game has rhythm and flow, and the big guy feels like he can fit into that, unless you have three top 10 players, or three of the players in the top 20, you've got to magnify your talents by being a team. And I think this system does that.

Me: And DeMarcus will be more effective getting the ball before the defense gets a chance to set up, and bring the doubles.

GK: If he's a rim runner? Any time he rim runs, it's 1.5 (points per possession). It's 1.5. Running efficiency is about 1.2. So when you get good numbers in the open floor, you score about 1.2, 1.3 per possession. Unfortunately, we only get him (in transition) two or three times a game. I think if we get him in condition, that gets close to 10. And then the other ways of putting his passing -- he's very good at the high post -- and then just putting professional guys around him that want to play fast. People don't understand, the creation of this system is a rebound. And he's the best defensive rebounder, probably, in the NBA. Maybe (DeAndre) Jordan might be the best. I think that's another progression. We didn't have, in Denver, we told the big men to get out of the way. But that was what their talent was. With 'Cuz, it's how do we fit you in here, baby? 'Cause this is a puzzle that's got to be built around you.

Me: You like him as a person?

GK: I've had some really good, serious talks about him. I think it's hard, because of the skepticism of his agent and all that. It's a process right now. I'm not saying the trust is with capital letters yet. But I think it's on the page. That's all I can ask for. I hope he understands that the process is not going to work coming in the middle of the season, taking a team that was basically a possession, defensive-minded team, and turning it into a running team. I think we're getting a good pace, but we're not doing it that well.

Nightly Notable: DeMarcus Cousins

Highlights form DeMarcus Cousins as he scores 27 points and grabs 17 rebounds in the Kings loss.

We're careless. We're worst in the league in turnovers, and worst in the league in assists. Well, we've got to improve at some point. I don't think it's at the point where you want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. And again, we've got to figure out, with 'Cuz, where every night he feels confident he's going to get this, this, this and this. And on the big nights, he's going to get more. And every once in a while, he's going to have to be the guy who has to sacrifice. If they're overloading and double-teaming, he's going to have to sacrifice. So it's just a process of him understanding my passion to be back in the game. And my passion is to win games.

I know the cloud of him wanting to be on a winner is important to him. And I want him to know that I haven't had a losing season in 20-some years. I know it's going to change, or I'm not going to be real happy. And just get enthused about that. It's tough losing. But losing, sometimes, is a part of the process. I told him, the year we won 57, we were 17-15 on Jan. 1st, because the schedule was incredibly impossible ... so I'm just fired up. We've got 18 more swings.

Me: Have you had to make any accommodations for getting older?

GK: Not yet. I can't deny that coming into the middle of the season, you dominate all the practices. I'm not at the stage where I'm letting the assistant coach's voice be supported by my voice. I think through the remainder of the season, it's got to be me. Maybe in the last 10 games of the season, I can experiment with the coaches. I've never done it before. But if I had my staff in Denver and I was in this situation, I might let John Welch or Chad Iske coach a game, and I'd sit there next to them. Well, I wouldn't let them coach the game. I'd let them dominate the timeout.

But I think my comfort zone in the way I live my life in coaching, changed since my last cancer. I'm five years out. It's been five years in April since my last treatment was done. And every year, I've given more and more responsibility to my assistants, delegated things I never thought I'd delegate. And I think I'd like to get back to that. But the circumstance now of not having your staff, and the circumstance of being with a struggling team, it says they've got to hear my voice. And I'm crazy excited. I'm going to make it through the next 30 games.

Me: What have you found out about the city living there as opposed to just passing through?

GK: I think I'm really gonna like it. It's got everything you need. I love good weather. They say it's too hot. I can handle too hot. Every day I've been there, I think it's been 60 or 70, sunshine most days. Once in a while, it rains. Napa Valley, which is the greatest place in the world to go relax. Tahoe, up the mountain. And any time you want to go to the city, San Francisco is about as good as it gets. And I kind of like not being in all that. I like being around all that.

One thing I'll tell you is the food in Sacramento is off the charts. You've got good Asian food, the farm system where everything is natural, which I believe in. I like organic. And the city has a little country to it. I hope that doesn't offend Sacramento. But it's more country than it is city. And I'm saying that because it's a lot of government, and a lot of farmers. I think, by far, the most diverse city I've ever lived in ... you've got Asian, you've got Hispanic, you've got Black, you've got military. It kind of fits my mindset.

Me: You said a long time ago, you could see yourself finishing your coaching career back in Madrid (Karl coached European powerhouse Real Madrid for two seasons in the late '80s and early '90s).

GK: I'm not saying that's out of the question. Two games a week? That excites me. College doesn't excite me, because you just deal with so many nightmares of getting grades, getting them in school, and keeping them eligible. That stuff doesn't turn me on. Dealing with pros, having two or three days to prepare, that's good stuff. That motivates a coach.

Me: Can I ask you the last time you spoke with Coach Smith?

GK: It's probably a year ago. It's hard. It's still very hard. We all knew it was going to come. I was with Doug (Moe) about a week ago in San Antonio, and I said 'Doug, we've got to do something. We've got to get all the guys together, some way, somehow, and just, whatever -- yell and scream, tell stories, drink beer, play golf. Just get it all out.' Because he meant so much to me. And not just to me. He meant so much to so many people.

I walked into, my first day in Sacramento, I met a lady named Linnea, which is Coach Smith's wife's name. The only other person I know named Linnea. And I just started crying. She was so strong for the last five, six years. It was hard on her. I think three or four years ago, I went back for a reunion with my NIT team, and I spent a lot of time with him. It was probably the last time. He was going the wrong way at that time. A special man.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Was about to go to sleep but I ain't bout to miss this Kyrie show ‪#thatboycold

-- Hornets guard Mo Williams (@mowilliams), Thursday, 11:29 p.m., bearing witness to Kyrie Irving's 57-point masterpiece in the Cavs' overtime win over the Spurs.

THEY SAID IT

"For me, it's not through the draft, because lottery picks are living a life of misery. That season is miserable. And if you do three or four years in a row to get lottery picks, then I'm in an insane asylum. And the fans will be, too. So who wants to do that?"

-- Pat Riley, in an extended interview with Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skoknick, on his philosophy to go after big-talent players through free agency or trades rather than build through the Draft.

"If I'm playing marbles or jacks, I'm trying to win. If I'm playing checkers, Candy Crush, I want to win. There's just something about it. When you have integrity and you're doing the right thing, no matter who's watching, no matter what the situation is, I think good things happen."

-- Nuggets interim coach Melvin Hunt, to the Denver Post, pushing back against local concerns that Denver's uptick since he took over for Brian Shaw will hurt the team's long-term (read: Lottery) prospects. The Nuggets are 6-2 under Hunt after Sunday's double-overtime win at New Orleans.

"If you seed teams from one to 16 based on record, we would no longer play an unbalanced schedule. It would require a wholesale change in the schedule, which potentially would require more travel. That works against trying to provide maximum rest for our players over a long season. It's a complex issue. I'm open-minded at taking a fresh look at it."

-- Commissioner Adam Silver, to the Portland Tribune, on the challenges to simply seeding the playoffs 1-16 regardless of conference, as some have advocated, because of the disparity in quality teams between the Western and Eastern Conferences.

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.