NBA PM: Is David Stern To Blame?
Much has been made of Bryant Gumbel’s recent comments about NBA Commissioner David Stern, in which he referred to Stern as a plantation owner. Utah Jazz guard Raja Bell is always one to put things in perspective, and in a recent interview with 790 The Ticket in Miami he set the record straight.
“Some of what he says in that interview or on his show I think is accurate,” Bell said of Gumbel. “I don’t mean the racial part of what he said. I mean commissioner Stern, in my personal opinion, I feel like he’s a bit in the way of us making progress here. I feel like he might be in his last few years as commissioner and he is looking to make his legacy on what kind of deal he get can get these owners this time around. I feel strongly about that. I feel like he has been one of the biggest problems in this whole lockout. It’s unfortunate we have not been able to get past that, but as far the racial part of what he said; I don’t necessarily touch on that. I don’t know what David Stern’s motives are. I don’t know how he views us as players. I do think he rules the NBA with an ‘iron fist,’ and it is his way or the highway. I don’t necessarily agree with that philosophy, but the rest of it…I don’t know. I don’t know where Bryant is coming from. I don’t know what he was thinking at the time. I am surely not on the same page as him with some of that.”
The players have been very consistent in their primary complaint through the negotiation process. They feel that they have made a number of concessions, only to find the owners even more resolute in their own demands and less willing to make any concessions of their own.
“I feel like first and foremost there is a deal to be made,” said Bell. “I feel like if we could somehow come to a middle ground, I feel like there is a deal to be made. I know this always comes across wrong to a fan, but I feel like us as a union we’ve made concessions. We’ve tried to get to a position where we felt like the owners would meet us and it seems like every inch we give up they ask for another one. For me that has been the most exasperating part of it.”
Bell gave a specific example, and it’s the one fans are likely most familiar with. The much-publicized BRI issue has been one of the most-debated issues in the negotiations between players and owners.
“I think initially let’s say we are making 57% of BRI (Basketball Related Income)…let’s say off the top. That is what was under the current or past collective bargaining agreement that just expired. We were willing to come down and we came down incrementally to let’s say 53%. That wasn’t enough and then it became you guys take 49% and the numbers just keep moving and if you are talking about let’s say middle level exception…Right now it is $5.8 [million]. If we come down to let’s say $5 million, now the owners want it to be $3 million. The numbers are so low. It’s like any bargaining. If you shoot so low you know you can’t get the deal done. I feel like that is their target to shoot just below the bar, so it looks they are negotiating and in fact there is not a real attempt to negotiate.”
One issue for the players is that before calculating the BRI for a season the NBA takes their operating costs out of the money pool. Bell said he understands why fans would feel players should just take their 50% and play ball, but also explains why the BRI is the big sticking point.
“No to a certain degree I do understand a fan’s perspective on that, but at the end of the day like – let’s use Shell Oil as a corporation. Shell Oil – whoever runs that company – makes billions and billions of dollars, right? But without the oil they make nothing. The oil is the product they are selling and the owners are selling us as the product and without that product there is nothing. You understand where we are coming from when we say 50-50 (split of revenue) isn’t exactly 50-50, when you take your operating costs off the top?
“50-50 is not an accurate depiction of what it breaks down to be once an owners has recouped all of his operating costs,” Bell continued. “You have to understand these owners are crafty. They are building in operating costs that they are paying to themselves. I mean some of these guys own their own arenas and they are paying rents in essence to themselves as they own other corporations and they are calling it a operating cost? When you are doing that over 82 or 100 games and then you are saying okay now I want to split whatever is left with 50-50… it’s not 50-50.”
Bell also wanted to make it perfectly clear that what’s going on is not the players striking, but rather the NBA preventing the players from playing basketball.
“Unfortunately, I don’t know if there is anything that can be said at this point. I think the NBA has done an awesome job and I have to commend them on this of spinning this in their favor, as far as media goes. I think most people who listen to ESPN and listen to TNT and what not…they get what the NBA wants them to get. I always go back to the essence and the basics of it. It is a lockout not a strike. We were in favor of extending the current collective bargaining agreement. Now we understood that the owners didn’t necessarily want that and we wanted to make concessions and try to make our league healthy, but it’s not us on strike. It’s the owners telling us they won’t let us play. On top of that the fans need to understand that we really do want to play. These celebrities games that have gone on this summer have been in an effort to let the fan who necessarily doesn’t get a chance to go to NBA basketball games because the prices may be too high for them. It’s a chance to come out and see people. We are going to be going to different countries to do different games. We are making an effort to keep the game out there and to keep fans involved as best as we can because that is the only way we can do it right now.”
A Scarier Joakim Noah?
Chicago Bulls big man Joakim Noah may not ever rank among the all-time great NBA centers, but in an era where good centers are hard to find he is certainly making his mark on the league. His defense is the anchor for one of the NBA’s best defensive clubs, and he posted a career-best 11.7 points per game in 2010-11, which would have been the best of his career if he hadn’t missed nearly half of it with an injury.
How does Noah take the next step in his basketball evolution?
Why, make his way to Houston to work with Hakeem Olajuwon, of course.
This has been a common theme of late, with everyone from Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard to Miami HEAT forward LeBron James scrambling to spend a few days with the retired Houston Rockets MVP. He works with them on footwork, on post moves, and especially on the mental aspect of the game. Who couldn’t use a little help in those areas?
“Everything,” said Noah of what he would like to work on with Olajuwon. ”I have the chance to train with the best, I have the best training rooms available, the best weight room, I really just have to get there. Now it’s up to me to grow. Sometimes it’s boring, sometimes it’s hard, but it’s my job.
Lots of players have signed contracts to play basketball overseas while the NBA lockout drags on, and while that’s a great way to stay in shape and make a little extra cash, it’s unlikely that veteran players like Noah would actually improve their games by playing in the radically different world of FIBA. When it comes to actually improving, it takes a very specific training regimen, and for a big man like Noah there are few opportunities to improve that carry the promise of a few days under the watchful eye of “The Dream.”
Perhaps Noah might even make some strides towards that all-time great category if he takes Olajuwon’s words to heart.
At the very least, the news that Noah is going to work with Olajuwon has to be music to the ears of the Bulls organization. He’s certain to be better for the experience.
Lockout Toughest On New Coaches?
The lockout is hard on everyone involved with the NBA, of course, but while much time has been spent analyzing the issues on the side of players and owners, there’s another side that deserves its fair share of discussion.
What about the new NBA head coaches, who are likely to be thrown into the fire with little time to really prepare? What about Mike Brown, who will be expected to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a championship right out of the gate? What about the young coaches like Lawrence Frank and Dwane Casey, who have new personnel to learn and roster moves to anticipate?
“It’s tougher on the new coaches like myself, Mike Brown, all the guys going into new situations,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey told NBA.com recently. “It’s all about not knowing your players, not having had a chance to work with them. You’re starting off from scratch. All you know is what you’ve heard from the former coaches and what you’ve seen on film. Every relationship is different.”
Frank is spending much of his time working with his coaching staff on exactly how he wants to define Detroit Pistons basketball when the lockout lifts.
“For us, especially as a new staff, and a staff that was assembled basically at the end of August and the first week of September, what we do is spend a lot of time on the court offensively and defensively, what were going to do and how we’re going to teach it,” Frank said. “Just cleaning things up and talking about what we’re going to do as coaches.”
Preparing for the new season on short notice and with precious little time to prepare the players promises to be a huge challenge, one that new coaches, especially, will have to be prepared to face head-on as soon as the lockout lifts.
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