NBA AM: Blazers Staying Healthy Is The Key
Getting Healthy: No team in the NBA has seen more lost player games to injury than the Portland Trail Blazers. Saying the team has been snake bit is an understatement. Getting and staying healthy has become the number one priority for a stacked Blazers team that’s ready for things to break their way for a change.
Wesley Mathews was last year’s free agent signing and even Mathews suffered a torn tendon mid-season. Mathews says he is 100% recovered and has been in Las Vegas at Joe Abunassar’s Impact Basketball Competitive Training Series trying to get ready for the season, whenever it may start.
“We have a lot of talent,” Mathews says of his Blazers’ team. “We have a lot of people that can do a lot of things. It’s just a matter of putting it together for the duration of the season.”
“I think health is a big factor, it’s always been a factor with the Trail Blazers – knock on wood, hopefully we won’t have that problem again.”
“It’s just putting it together for 48 minutes every game.”
Mathews says that all of the turmoil last year did create opportunities for guys to grow and learn despite the injuries.
“We’ve been through a lot, just in my one year with the Blazers. We’ve suffered a lot of injuries, a lot of different lineups, and a lot of rotations. That core is still intact and we added a big piece in Raymond Felton, hopefully that helps us out.”
Mathews didn’t have any answers for the depth of the Blazers roster. There are a large number of guys that play similar positions and all of them need playing time.
“I don’t know… training camp does that,” Mathews said of figuring out how to make it all work. “Our coaches and staff and everything have a big project ahead of them.”
Mathews, like many of the 60 plus NBA players playing each day in Vegas, is trying to stay ready as the NBA’s Lockout of its players reaches its 80th day.
“Stay positive,” explained Mathews. “I have a high motor. I love basketball. I love getting better. That’s what I have been doing. That’s what has been driving me. Just staying positive that we’ll be able to play the game we love very soon.”
The games in Vegas have been chippy and competitive and in some cases downright personal. It’s that level of competition that brought Mathews out to Vegas after spending the bulk of the offseason training by himself in Madison Wisconsin.
“We’re competitors. You take us out of the NBA setting, we’re playing basketball. We’re still just as competitive. That’s what drive these games.”
Mathews says he is 100% healthy and optimistic that a labor deal can be reached without claiming NBA regular season games. But until a deal is reached he plans to stay in Vegas and playing, making sure he’ll be ready to earn his minutes in what looks to be a very crowded Blazer’s backcourt.
Decertification: There has been a lot of talk recently about the prospect of the NBA Players’ Association opting to decertify as a Union as a means to jump start the labor talks between the Players and the Owners.
By now you have surely heard that most of the power agents in the NBA are urging their clients to explore decertification, and after sitting with a prominent NBA Player as his agent tried to sway him towards decertification there are a few things worth noting.
First, the Players’ Association is not ready to put that issue to a vote. Meaning in order to force a decertification vote there would need to be a petition circulated and signed by a large number of players, 30%, according to sources with knowledge of the process. After the petition is circulated the Players Association would have to put the issue to a Union-wide vote within 45 days. So until the Players’ Association leadership is ready, a decertification vote is not a quick solution.
Second, the Players’ Association has gone on the offensive with regards to talk of decertification. Mainly because it removes their voice from the process, but the central theme told to player last Thursday in Las Vegas was that agents and advisors “work for you, don’t let them influence your decisions making process”.
So why the push for decertification now?
The Agents’ stance, or at the least the ones that have chosen to comment on the subject, don’t feel that the Players’ Association is making progress. As one player explained, his agent feels like the Players’ Association has had two years to negotiate with the NBA and that they are no closer to a deal today than they were two years ago and that the tone of the talks have not changed at all.
The Agents, according to sources, don’t want to take over the process, but they do feel decertification and the lawsuits that would follow, would force the talks to progress more rapidly, especially if an antitrust lawsuit seeks an injunction of the lockout.
So what can be gained by Decertifying?
First, it can introduce new voices to the process. As things stand now the only party able to negotiate with the NBA is Billy Hunter and his Executive Committee. There is a sense that after two years of hammering at this issue maybe it’s time to get a fresh perspective in the room, and decertification would allow for that.
Second, is legal relief. The primary action after decertification would the filing of class-action antitrust lawsuits against the NBA. In the suits the players named would claim that the NBA’s lockout is unlawful. They would also claim that many of the systems in place such as salary caps and trade restrictions are unlawful and that the court should impose an injunction on the Lockout forcing the NBA back to work until a judge can rule.
The NFL Players briefly won an injunction in their lawsuit a few months ago, forcing the NFL to re-open before an Appeals court granted a stay.
There is also the prospect of damages if the NBA were to lose in court, which could amount to three times actual damages, in the NBA’s case the $2.1 billion lost to the players could become $6.3 billion if the case is lost in court.
All of these actions amount to starting a ticking clock, which counts down to a judge issuing a ruling, which is why they are viable negotiating tools.
Neither side actually wants the court system to have a say in their next labor deal, but the threat of a judge ruling is a heavy hammer that jump starts the talks.
So if this is so viable, why wait?
First, the Players Association feels like they have the NBA Owners where they want them. They have conceded the revenue issue. This was said to be the biggest issue in the process. The Players feel like at the end of the day they can get much of the mechanical parts of the last labor system into the new labor system just by holding the line.
They do not believe the NBA and its owners will scrap the entire season in order to get a hard salary cap, with NBA Players Association President Derek Fisher saying he did not think the NBA had the votes to cancel a season and that based on what he’s heard in the room there is not enough support for a hard cap to give in.
Second, the Players Association dissolves after decertification and many of the entrenched personalities that run the Union may not survive after a deal is reached. There is truth to the idea that Billy Hunter is on the hot seat, and if Hunter gives away his power, he may never get it back.
The Players’ Association points to November 16th as when all of this is real to their side, because that’s the date in which Players lose paychecks.
While fans are concerned about the start of training camp and the pre-season, the Players in essence do those tasks for free, so there is not a lot of urgency on their part.
The one thing they do not want to do, in what’s becoming the 12th hour, is show weakness. This is why the Players’ message on decertification has been so loudly proclaimed.
If the Owners feel the Players are fractured, they may not concede to the Players and that’s mainly why decertification has not been put into play.
If the Owners’ don’t cave as the Players expect they will, then decertification becomes the hammer in November. So until that happens, understand there is value to decertification, it’s just that the NBA Players won’t go there until regular season games are lost.
Gasol And The Grizz: Grizzlies’ owner Michael Heisley has said for months that keeping likely-restricted free agent center Marc Gasol would not be about money. It would be about Gasol wanting to be in Memphis.
Gasol who has been playing for the Spanish national team in Lithuania said recently that staying in Memphis was his first choice, which should be welcome news for the Grizzlies’ faithful.
“I grew up in Memphis. I feel like it’s my home,” Gasol said to Ronald Tillery of The Memphis Commercial Appeal..
Gasol actually attended high school in Memphis while his brother Pau played for the Grizz, so his mention of growing up in Memphis is literal and real.
“They always say it’s a business and there are bad sides to the business,” explained Gasol. “We have to wait until it plays out. But I’m looking forward to something good happening.”
Assuming restricted free agency exists in the next NBA labor deal, the Grizzlies would be able to match any offer Gasol receives and there are a few teams that will likely test Memphis’ pocketbook, namely the Houston Rockets.
Gasol for his part says he has tried to keep up with his teammates and that despite being several time zones apart he is trying to stay connected.
“The time change is a killer but we’ve talked,” Gasol said. “I’m happy that Mike [Conley] stepped up and organized the workout [around Labor Day]. That was really good. He’s taking ownership of the team. He’s growing and he’s getting better as a leader. I miss the guys. I want to see them. I want to practice with them.”
Gasol said he is unsure when he’ll return to Memphis, and said that as of now he is not looking to join an international team, but if the lockout drags on and actually claims regular season games he might rethink his plan.
The Grizzlies have eight players under contract for next season and $55.2 million in salary commitments before addressing Gasol’s free agency. Assuming the Salary cap is set somewhere close to last season’s $58.7 million the Grizzlies look to have room under the cap.
Assuming that there is some kind of salary cap exception for retaining your own players in the next labor deal, Memphis shouldn’t have much of a problem retaining Gasol, especially if he genuinely wants to come back, which it sounds like he does.
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